On tequila and community-based forest monitoring

Community-based forest monitoring has been gaining traction as a means to achieving the elusive win-win scenario of sustainable forest management and meaningful involvement of local communities. The question is – How can we make it happen? What does a successful community-based monitoring system look like?

FES Masters student Meredith Martin led a workshop on this topic, based on her personal experience with community-based monitoring of Agave harvest in tropical dry forests in Guerrero, Mexico. Most of you will know Agave as the plant used to make the Mexican traditional liquor, mescal, and its more widely consumed cousin, tequila. The Acateyahualco community has been monitoring wild agave in their communal area for four years, as a result of a collaboration with a local NGO and researchers from the New York Botanical Garden.

Meredith reported several positive outcomes that go beyond the mere collection of data —

  • The local community improves each year. The first year, it took them nearly two weeks to finish the inventory. The third year, they completed it in 2-3 days without any help from technicians.
  • The community has begun exchanging their expertise with neighboring communities also interested in starting their own monitoring schemes.
  • The community now plans to write their own management plan, based on data that they collect themselves.

Community-based monitoring has been gaining a lot of traction lately in the REDD+ debate, so no surprise that REDD+ came up during the workshop. The great barrier to using community-collected data on carbon stocks in REDD+ is proving that the data quality is good enough to feed into national carbon accounting systems.

Agave is a far cry from carbon, but Meredith raised an excellent point. In the case of agave, communities have a vested interest in collecting accurate information. If they overestimate, they’re going to harvest too much and face negative consequences in the future.

What about in REDD+, where overestimating might mean getting MORE carbon payments? This is a slippery tightrope to walk, and we hope that there is chance to continue this discussion. Any readers have stories or thoughts to share?

P.S. For those who want more information on community-based monitoring, check out the two resources listed below. (If you know others, please post in the comments section!)

Monitoring Matters – Finn Danielsen, Nordic Foundation for Development and Ecology, and Andrew Balmford and Neil Burgess, Cambridge University: www.monitoringmatters.org

Kyoto: Think Global Act Local Project – Directed by Dr. Margaret Skutsch, the University of Twente, the Netherlands: http://www.communitycarbonforestry.org/