Local participation in natural resource management initiatives: A case study of the Gola REDD+ project in Sierra Leone
The United Nation’s programme, Reducing Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is an international policy mechanism to mitigate global climate change. REDD+ has a significant global impact that is changing how forests are managed around the world, particularly in developing countries and where natural resource dependent communities live. Most REDD+ projects are expected to be participatory, and this builds on existing trends in natural resource management. Nevertheless, existing research has shown that participation in REDD+ is uneven, while the benefits from projects are often inequitably distributed. Using a case study of the Gola REDD+ project in Sierra Leone, this study aims to understand how local-level decision-making for forest management happens under REDD+ and the distribution of benefits for REDD+ projects at the local community level.
Analysis shows that project implementers’ choice of empowering non-elected institutions as representatives of the local people in natural resource management initiatives has undermined opportunities for the inclusive public participation in decision making, thus, leading to an inequitable distribution of benefits among the target population. The findings reveal that decision-makers i.e., the project implementers and non-elected local elites used their positions of power within the social field to gain control of the forest management system. As a result, benefits shared during such initiatives do not fully compensate the local people for the loss of livelihood opportunities. On this basis, it is recommended that there should be a review of the policies to ensure that intervening agencies work directly with elected local institutions instead of non-elected local authorities. This will empower elected local institutions to formulate responses and negotiate bureaucratic procedures in natural resource management interventions to better address local needs.