Steps towards financing Participative Productive Restoration projects

Steps towards financing Participative Productive Restoration projects

Colombia - 27 January, 2022

To address the questions about the economic viability of local Participative Productive Restoration projects, Tropenbos Colombia organized the citizen´s lab “Innovative financial mechanisms for the restoration of the Amazon rainforest” in December 2021. In this meeting, many questions about financial strategies for local communities were identified and discussed in order to make proposals that contribute to the formulation of a sustainable financial mechanism for restoration projects.

In Tropenbos Colombia, the threat of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon has been widely debated as well as the importance of finding ways to recover the degraded forest areas. Climate change evidence teaches us it´s not only about stopping deforestation: We need a comprehensive strategy.

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In that spirit, we have supported communities and people living in the area of Solano, Caquetá, in the design of one hundred proposals to restore degraded plots and recover the diversity of the remaining forests of their municipality. Their proposals include, among other ideas, the use of hedges among neighbors, planting trees to refresh and protect homes and schools from extreme heat, and growing edible and timber varieties of trees with a commercial value. This situation is encouraging because it indicates that people are willing to change their relationship with the territory and start taking actions to recover their soils, water sources and forests, even in the frame of the extensive cattle rearing, extractive industries and illicit cultivations economies that predominate in this region.

Nevertheless, the lack of financial mechanisms available to promote restoration and projects directed to the sustainable use of the forest is evident. How can we make of restoration and the protection of diversity an attractive investment for communities living in forest areas? We need to analyze the different financial approaches and decide which are the most viable for restoration processes in the framework of climate change. 

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In December, more than forty persons from different disciplines —finance, administration, sociology, architecture, arts, forestry, psychology, journalism and woodworkers— and from indigenous and campesino communities participated in the creative lab “Innovative financial mechanisms for the restoration of the Amazon rainforest”. The objective was to identify and define the crucial elements that should be included in a financial mechanism for participative productive restoration projects as well as to contribute with ideas, solutions, examples and referents that may help find the way to make these projects sustainable.

The discussion groups in this lab session identified a series of financial questions implied in the model of participative productive restoration projects and in local contexts in general. Later on, these questions were classified thematically allowing the groups to dive deeply into certain topics and come out with some innovative ideas.

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The following were the main topics discussed.

Community organization

Community organization is crucial in participative productive restoration projects and it implies generating a flow of clear messages at the local level, developing strategies that make people work together instead of separating them, convince people engaged in illegal economies to reconsider their approach to the territory and support restoration initiatives, among other implications. Participative productive restoration projects requires a solidarian and association based economy model, therefore it is important to strengthen local relationships by promoting transparency, recognizing diversity, the different local necessities and capacities, the local social and individual conflicts and the role of the public and private actors. The suggestions for financial mechanisms that came up in this discussion group were the following: to strengthen existing organizations, to design an approach in scales and phases (capacity building, production, and commercialization) and develop several pilot programs in different contexts to identify the challenges in each scenario.

Building trust among actors

When discussing finance and investment one of the main topics is risk and subsequently the importance of building trust among partners. In the context of participative productive restoration projects there are multiple local, regional, national and even international actors involved, some are playing more active roles than others are and some have a more direct interaction than others do. This discussion group identified the actors involved in these initiatives and the type of relationship they had with communities and forests, i.e., a relationship of alliance, a threat, an uncertain or inexistent relationship, and etcetera). This exercise allowed the group to decide how to best build on each relationship. The suggestions for financial mechanisms that came up in this discussion group were the following: it is important to build trust among the different actors and to engage different organizations and citizens so they become investors of restoration projects. In order to do that we need more communication channels and a reliable research and capacity building on restoration that promotes close interaction with local communities and families. These kind of initiatives need to become tangible: restoration needs to have a face and the experience of seeing forests grow needs to be real. Another idea mentioned was the creation of a trustworthy certification of origin, legality and quality for products coming from participative productive restoration projects, including timber and other forest products.

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Responsible practices in consumption, production, commerce

This discussion group analyzed the value chain of participative productive restoration projects, the challenges that local production implies (such as transportation, certification and intermediaries), as well as the implications that extractivism has affected the ways business is understood locally and has promoted a short-term mentality and the instauration of illegal economies. One of the most challenging problems is the intermediaries because they become a very large cost for producers and they limit the possibilities of accessing responsible markets. This discussion group proposes more capacity building in responsible practices for producers and consumers, as well as the development of local certifications and regulations of products produced in participative productive restoration projects. The discussion group also suggests a cooperative approach in production and commercialization in order to reduce costs.

Perdurability and long-term sustainability

How can restoration projects become sustainable in the long-term? This discussion group worked in creative ways to make immediate economic necessities and the time of a growing forest compatible. Also in ways to integrate new generations in the participative productive restoration projects. The main message is to strengthen associations as a means to promote a culture friendly to restoration so people chose not to deforest the restored areas. Another idea is promoting a legal timber business culture and support projects on other forests products. It is necessary to accompany participative productive restoration projects with other businesses that complement and allow sustainability.

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The notion of value

This discussion group identified relevant background topics that make the panorama of participative restoration projects very complex. For example, the history of economic booms and their social impact, the differences in what each actor considers valuable (from an economic, affective, aesthetic perspective, etcetera), the logic of value in standing forests versus deforested areas, the logic of prices in local communities and the phenomenon of endeudamiento present in the Amazon since the colonial times. The main challenge is to generate a network of restoration and promote collective action that allow the emergence of new economies. New economic models may build upon current ones like the subsistence economy of indigenous communities. In addition, there is a need to identify the formal and informal financial mechanisms in these regions and analyze how they could be included to a restoration model.

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The debates that took place in this citizen lab have clearly contributed to enrich the panorama of our program in participative productive restoration. We now have research routes to discuss further with experts as well as the commitment to start some pilots with citizens and organizations interested in supporting restoration initiatives. Common people and organizations are interested in working together with indigenous and campesino families in keeping forests alive.

This event allowed us to understand more the complexity of financial mechanisms in forest and communities contexts. Also to recognize the importance in building trust, making actors come together, generating platforms that facilitate knowledge exchange, etcetera. It is important also to come closer to financial languages that are more friendly and innovative and to recognize the benefits that cooperative and associative economy models may bring to forest communities.

 

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