Caspar Verwer

IUCN National Committee of the Nederlands
The Netherlands

Local solutions work!

October 22, 2014

From the 8th to 12th September 2014, the seventh conference of the Ecosystem Service Partnership (ESP) was held in San José, Costa Rica. With this year’s theme being ´Local action for the common good´


Family picture with COBRA’s sister EU Projects

The conference offered the opportunity to five projects funded under the European Commission´s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to present their results of the past three years. A delegation from Project COBRA attended the conference and organised a whole day session on the methodological approach and the results achieved within the project.

The focus of the conference was on local involvement in ecosystem services schemes. While the majority of presentations were dealing with issues of valuing and monetising ecosystem services and approaches for scaling up existing Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, little attention was being paid to the role of local actors like indigenous communities in these schemes. The discussion on monetising ecosystem services in relation to local communities is rather fundamental and needs to be addressed. Bernardo Aguilar, Director of the Costa Rican research institute Fundación Neotropica and keynote speaker at the conference said: “Money means nothing to many communities and it certainly means nothing to nature”.


Setting up handbooks and briefings for participants

This is where the projects funded by the European Commission had their main contribution. They all stated that early involvement of local communities is key to developing viable PES schemes. In fact, rather than being imposed top-down, local communities must play a key role in designing and implementing such schemes. Project COBRA, which has been working on identifying and promoting community owned best practices in the Guiana Shield region, mentioned that there are risks related to the implementation of PES schemes in indigenous lands. Potential risks include the ´commodity focus´ (mainly on carbon sequestration) which may in fact induce ecosystem degradation by stimulating conversion of natural systems to rapid growing tree plantations, the lack of local ownership caused by ignoring communities´ interests, and a potential conflict of worldviews between the ecosystem service concept and indigenous cosmologies.

All of the FP7 projects used participatory approaches to engage with local communities. Some of them, most notably COBRA, adopted visual methods such as video and photography to identify local challenges and solutions. On reflection, the projects mention that participatory visual methods have been very useful in engaging and communicating with local communities who often speak local languages and may not always be able to read or write. Using photography and video may also help in community empowerment, creating ownership and improving community voice and representation.

According to the FP7 projects, community owned solutions can lead to more systemic (holistic) ways of managing the environment. Analysis by project COBRA indicates that these solutions are and could continue to be undermined by national and international policies that support large scale processes such as mining and infrastructure development and agricultural expansion. An illustrative example of a community owned solution comes from the North Rupununi region in Guyana, where local communities initiated an Indigenous association, the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) in order to improve self-organisation and communication among villages. Through the NRDDB, the communities are now better able to defend community interests and to initiate and coordinate sustainable development.


Participants discuss Handbook methods

This conference was a great opportunity for Project COBRA to share some of the lessons learned during the past three years. A joint press release stating the main messages of the FP7 projects was produced and presented at the conference and can be downloaded here. A handbook on identifying community owned solutions using participatory visual methods was launched at the conference by Project COBRA and can be downloaded here.

On the last day of the conference, Lakeram Haynes, a community researcher for COBRA from the NRDDB, took part in a panel to share his views on the role of Indigenous communities in local solutions for conservation. “We should let local and international proven solutions blend to tackle emerging global challenges”, he said. In order to find effective solutions, it is crucial that local communities and national and international actors respect each other and work together to tackle rising environmental challenges.



QUICK DOWNLOAD: Check out the English version of the COBRA Handbook for Practitioners.