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Monday, May 8, 2017

Building Capacity for REDD+ among Academia in East Africa

By Esther Nakkazi

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) is a complex subject and so is having academia research about it.

But a project to build capacity for higher education and research on climate change for improved ecosystem health through reduced greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable livelihoods has managed to do just that in East Africa.

The REDD-EA project is a five year project (2014 - 2018) that supports masters, PhD and post graduate studies at Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Dar-es-Salaam (UDS) in Tanzania with short stays at Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Funded to the tune of $3m by the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED), the project has largely remained on track- meaning they have so far achieved their target.

Prof John Tabuti at the department of Environment Management Makerere University said the first batch of fellowships is on track at both universities. In total, Uganda will build capacity for 34 and Tanzania 15 students.

But like all REDD+ projects, which remains a complex subject, implementers still think that like any other such to have an impact even the academia need to focus on one issue - community engagement.

Officials say that without doubt, community understanding is at the heart of REDD+ projects to be successful. Why? Most of the projects work with communities. Since REDD+ is defined as a multilateral policy that is meant to reward actions that conserve forests, communities are at the core of their success.

The REDD+EA project overall aims to strengthen scientific and institutional capacity of academic institutions to deliver quality research on REDD+ and to generate evidence based results for policy, said Tabuti also the principal investigator of the REDD-EA project.

So far Uganda has trained 7 PhDs and 24 masters, while the University of Dar-es-Salaam is training 6 PhDs and 6 masters. More students will be recruited this academic year said Tabuti.

In Tanzania, ‘Students are already at various stages of their research and dissertation writing. They are expected to translate their theses into scientific papers as a way of wider dissemination of their findings,’ said Dr Edmund Mabhuye a faculty member center for climate change studies at the University of Dar-es-Salaam.

The trained students will also ensure that functional and specialized training programs on REDD+ are created within universities, according to the REDD-EA project aims.

Kellen Aganyira a PhD student at Makerere university on the REDD-EA project fellowship said the opportunity for research and capacity building in higher education for REDD+ can only be got from such projects.

“Building our capacity as researchers is important. If we go down there and find out what is happening on the ground we inform policy makers,” said Aganyira.

“Training researchers is one way of reaching many practitioners since one researcher can disseminate knowledge to stakeholders across scales and levels,” said Mabhuye by email.

Doing it differently;

REDD+ is defined as a multilateral policy meant to reward actions that conserve forests. It involves payment through carbon credits. Since it is communities that should conserve forests, their participation and understanding is key for them to consent and protect forests if the projects have to succeed.

But it is a difficult concept to understand. For instance researchers report farmers asking them how they should pack carbon in order to sell it. Aganyira whose PhD is focussed on community participation in carbon projects agrees that it is a difficult sell.

“Communities do not seem to understand how they arrive at the amounts paid to them,” she said.
And that is not all. The carbon money delays so much that communities loose interest and land policies do not make it any easier. While payments require legal documents of ownership of land most forest land is communally owned.

It was therefore imperative for the REDD-EA project to focus on a deeper understanding of one topic - community engagement. Instead most REDD-EA fellowships students focussed on a wide rage of topics ranging from land tenure, community understanding, carbon in wetlands, carbon credits, REDD+ law, economics and a wide range of other topics.

“The challenge was that we went into many directions. I am a bit unhappy because we have not gone so deep,” said Tabuti. “It should have been narrowed down so that all PhDs focus on one theme to deepen our understanding.”

At Makerere University the next intake promises to be focused. “If I had to do this again I would go for community engagement. At the community you want them to understand and make informed choices,” said Tabuti.

ends

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