Changes in agricultural practices can play a pivotal role in climate change mitigation by reducing the need for land use change as one of the biggest sources of GHG emissions, and by enabling carbon sequestration in farmers’ fields. Expansion of smallholder and commercial agriculture is often one of the main driving forces behind deforestation and forest degradation. However, mitigation programmes such as REDD+ are geared towards conservation efforts in the forestry sector without prominently taking into account smallholder agricultural interests in project design and implementation. REDD+ projects often build on existing re- and afforestation projects without major changes in their principles, interests and assumptions. Informed by case study research and interviews with national and international experts, we illustrate with examples from Ethiopia and Indonesia how REDD+ projects are implemented, how they fail to adequately incorporate the demands of smallholder farmers and how this leads to a loss of livelihoods and diminishing interest in participating in REDD+ by local farming communities. The study shows how the conservation-based benefits and insecure funding base in REDD+ projects do not compensate for the contraction in livelihoods from agriculture. Combined with exclusive benefit-sharing mechanisms, this results in an increased pressure on forest resources, diverging from the principal objective of REDD+. We note a gap between the REDD+ narratives at international level (i.e. coupling development with a climate agenda) and the livelihood interests of farming communities on the ground. We argue that without incorporating agricultural interests and a review of financial incentives in the design of future climate finance mechanisms, objectives of both livelihood improvements and GHG emission reductions will be missed. Key policy insights REDD+ is positioned as a promising tool to meet climate, conservation and development targets. However, these expectations are not being met in practice as the interests of smallholder farmers are poorly addressed. REDD+ policy developers and implementers need more focus on understanding the interests and dynamics of smallholder agriculturalists to enable inclusive, realistic and long-lasting projects. For REDD+ to succeed, funders need to consider how to better ensure long-term livelihood security for farming communities.
- smallholder agriculture