Rural Villager Aassociation Shows Leadership, Empowerment and Inclusivity in Restoring Watersheds
Kramer, Dave and Barbara Vallarino, 2016, World Development Perspectives, Volume 3, Pages 12-14
Honduras is a country beset by numerous challenges, not the least of which over the past two decades have included severe climate-related weather events (Hurricane Mitch in 1998), national government upheaval, economic shocks, and security. EcoLogic Development Fund (EcoLogic) first got involved in Honduras in the states of Atlantida and Yoro in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, and despite the challenges faced by communities, the work on the ground has been strongly locally-led and grown to influence a larger landscape in Northern Honduras. We conducted this study in an effort to better understand the social conditions and factors that have led to such resilience and success in community-driven natural resource management in order to distill lessons for other EcoLogic partners and other organizations and communities working in this space.
The people who live near or in a threatened ecosystem are those who are often best positioned to repair and protect that system for the long term, yet they are also often at a disadvantage from a socioeconomic standpoint and most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. However, when people understand that their quality of life is reliant upon the health of their natural environment and that they have a direct hand in identifying and creating ways to protect and sustainably use their natural resources, both nature and people are served. And when people are empowered as leaders of conservation projects, and even their own destinies, they can overcome and counteract some of the past injustices that resulted from conservation and protected areas management.
The success of local communities outside the municipality of Olanchito in Yoro, Honduras — who have helped conserve and restore over 7,500 ha of tropical forest — has been due to the combination of four key factors: (1) the focus on bridging disparate stakeholder groups to expand options rather than viewing natural resource management as a zero sum game; (2) the intentional project team design, where there has been an extraordinary amount of attention and design for equity between paid project staff and community-level project participants; (3) the inherent cultural durability of locally created incentive mechanisms; and (4) the pride generated from recognition of extremely remote households by generally more powerful and better resourced institutions such as the municipal government seat, particularly in a society known to be quite hierarchical and biased in favor of urban elites while too often condescending toward rural inhabitants.
Over the last year, the emphasis of restoration of the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed has shifted to increase focus on Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) compared to direct reforestation. Changing conditions in the project area, due to pine beetle infestations and forest fires, have made ANR a more apt restoration approach in order to address the scale of forest habitat loss due to these phenomena. When social and ecological conditions are favorable, ANR creates equal or better benefits compared to reforestation in terms of biodiversity and bird habitat for lower cost. These conditions are favorable within the project area. The ANR is being proposed within lands that have been purchased by the Municipality of Olanchito, in the Uchapa-Pimienta sub-watershed. The fact that the Municipality owns the land and is committed to the conservation and restoration of this Pine-Oak forest provides more certainty as to the long-term viability of the forest. Immature trees younger than about 5 years have not been as strongly affected by the pine beetle, which gives these trees a head-start for faster growth compared to reforestation. This change in approach has been proposed and endorsed by local project partners and authorities. There is significant local and community buy-in.
The PARTNERS connection
This paper originated at the second PARTNERS workshop in October 2015. One of the authors participated in the Governance group, which then mobilized to gather cases for a special issue on Governance Innovations for Forest Restoration. The group was looking for examples of governance innovations, including facilitating collaborations between existing institutions that foster restoration efforts. EcoLogic was happy to share our experience with our local partner organizations in Honduras. In 2017, the case study was used in an IUCN analysis of governance for effective restoration, which noted the limited number of published articles on “forest restoration governance” compared to just “forest restoration”.