Since 2013 we have been working in the northern province of the DRC on a pilot REDD+ project called Project Equateur. Our project is based out of Mbandaka on the Congo River and we work with government officials, civil society, students as well as remote villages to find ways to build capacity and improve livelihoods while at the same time reducing deforestation.

Dr. Bush is an environmental economist who specializes in welfare economics, resource valuation, and environmental cost-benefit analysis. His work has focused on quantitative valuation of forest conservation strategies for forest-adjacent households, as well as the microeconomic and social determinants of forest conservation. Dr. Bush has previously worked in Africa and in Central and Southeast Asia as a researcher, project manager, and consultant on natural resource management and conservation projects in the public and private sector. He has held positions with the UK Government Department for International Development, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. He obtained his M.Sc. in Agricultural Economics from the University of London, Wye College, and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Stirling, UK.

Melaine Kermarc is development practitioner interested in environmental issues and sustainable development in a developing country context. He received his BS in ecology and population genetics from the University of Aix-Marseille in France and then received a joint MSc from Trinity College and University College Dublin in Development Practice. Most of his work has been in Africa exploring payments for environmental services and he has been living in Mbandaka for the last three years. Both Dr. Bush and Mr. Kermarc were part of the DRC delegation last month at COP21.

Eva McNamara will be helping run the session. She holds an MSc from the University of Reading in Food Security and Development and a BA in Religious Studies from Smith College. She has worked with Project Equateur on and off for the last two years and spent the summer in Mbandaka doing research about tertiary education and environmental literacy for her dissertation.

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9:12 AM: Ask us anything! We will be back around 9:45-10am to start answering questions.

Updates:

10:11 AM: Sorry to keep you all waiting, our staff meeting is running late. We'll be ready in a few minutes!

10:15 AM: We are here and answering questions!

12:44 PM: Taking a lunch break but we will be back in a couple hours. Thanks to everyone who's participated so far--we're having a lot of fun answering your questions.

2:55 PM: We're back!

Hi everyone, thanks for your questions--we're going to try to answer a few more tomorrow, but we had a great time and if you have anything else you'd like to ask us you can contact us through our facebook or through the WHRC website. Thanks again!

Comments: 42 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

CBtheDB3 karma

What is the best way the Average Joe like me can help fight deforestation?

ProjetEquateur3 karma

Look at your consumption. Think about how the goods you consume are acquired and produced and what effect that has on the environment. There's no silver bullet, however think seriously about what your actual needs are. Consume less meat and eat local and seasonal products as much as possible. Try to purchase Forest Stewardship Council certified products if you need to buy something new, but also consider re-using and recycling. Crops like soy, palm oil, coffee and tea are often produced on cleared forest land, so think about limiting your consumption of these products.

ButtMeUp3 karma

What do you think is the correlation between poverty and deforestation and "unsutainable development"? Do you think fighting environmental problems should always be conducted with a fight against inequality/poverty?

ProjetEquateur5 karma

There are many different definitions of sustainable development coming from various academic disciplines with different assumptions about the relationship between society and nature. These ideas are constantly evolving in light of new evidence and contextual crises and mainstream emphasis is in the context of climate, economy and persistent poverty.

Deforestation is caused by humans trying to maintain their lives and livelihoods through a process of using and converting forested lands to provide food, fuel and fiber. In the context of less developed economies that are heavily reliant on agriculture and natural resource use with high number of rural poor, poverty or the process of trying to get out of it can be a direct cause of deforestation. This is particularly true in the DRC where much of the deforestation currently is caused by small holder agricultural practices. In Equateur Province in central DRC over the last decade around 1 million hectares (a little less than 2.5 million acres) of forest have been cleared for small scale agriculture, yet the socio-economic condition of people has changed little in that same period. If this continues unchecked in the face of growing numbers of people, the forests will continue to be lost and at a provincial scale the environment will no longer be able to support them. Considering the impacts of this more broadly, this means that we will release more greenhouse gases (exacerbating climate change), which in turn will cause greater challenges in terms of local risk and resilience to erratic seasonal cycles. Forest cover loss will affect the hydrology of the Congo River basin which will cause other problems throughout the watershed etc. Such development in the long term will be unsustainable, particularly in the face of limited technological innovation and uptake to cope with the changes.

Poverty and environmental degradation are inextricably interlinked, you cannot resolve one without addressing the other. Poor people trying to survive from one season the next do not have the luxury of thinking long term about how their actions today affect their case of survival in the future, even if the consequences are understood. Development interventions need to focus on helping poor people better use their available resources without the need to keep deforesting. For example, agricultural production is highly inefficient compared to 4 decades ago e.g. average production per hectare of land is declining, even though the total number of hectares under production has increased. The factors involved in making such changes are complex and take many years to change at scale, including issues related to ownership and control of land (governance), how markets function, availability of land, labor and capital and ‘know how”, functioning of markets to sell produce and buy inputs and not least of all, peace and stability.

Funds are needed to make these changes and that funding needs to come from the nations that have principally caused global warming. Now that industrialized nations are feeling the effects of climate change, keeping tropical forests intact is commonly viewed as a benefit by them and they are making public funding available to try to achieve the necessary changes. Increasingly “climate justice” is a concept used to understand global warming as an ethical and political issue and considering how its causes and effects relate to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice. This can mean examining political and economic systems and issues such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and historical responsibility in relation to climate change.

Frajer2 karma

What got you interested in the Congo ?

ProjetEquateur2 karma

Melaine here. The DRC has the second largest tropical forest in the world after Brazil, yet they are the least studied and we know virtually nothing about the expansive biodiversity that they contain. On the other hand, unlike Brazil, the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world and Equateur, where we work, is the poorest province in the country. This means that people are incredibly dependent on these natural resources. With no electricity, no running water, virtually no infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc) and a population still recovering from one of the worst conflicts in the past century, this makes the DRC one of the most difficult places to work in the world. Obviously this makes our work extremely challenging, but we are constantly learning and we never get bored! If we can help bring change here, that means that we (as humans) can manage it anywhere. The people of Equateur have a right to better living conditions and a more secure future, and should be able to leave behind their forests for future generations.

Lakieau2 karma

Are you working with the mining companies to help develop strategies for decent offsetting, regeneration etc or are you sticking to community based initiatives?

ProjetEquateur3 karma

We don't work directly with mining companies (we work in the northwestern part of the country and most of the mines are located in the east/south) but our work (the data, methodologies we develop, and the activities we test) could be used in the context of helping communities have a say in what happens to mineral resources on their customary lands (negotiating with companies and sharing compensation equitably). The communities we work with are more impacted by illegal logging, both "artisanal" and semi-industrial.

protekt0r2 karma

In the past 25 years, has there been any major progress in stopping or reducing deforestation? If you have any statistics or numbers to cite, that would be fantastic!

ProjetEquateur2 karma

Look into Brazil and Costa Rica. Costa Rica implemented a bunch of policies which protect forest resources and reduced deforestation while Brazil has been successful in strongly reducing deforestation (up to 80%) in certain Amazon states (there is a lot of criticism that they haven't addressed the "leakage"--meaning that the deforestation has just moved elsewhere). Additionally they have not necessarily tackled small-scale deforestation.

The interesting thing about both these places is that the deforestation policies have been implemented by political will, not because of immediate financial incentives (such as carbon credits and payments for environmental services).

rishi132 karma

What are your favourate movies ?

ProjetEquateur2 karma

Glenn and Melaine disagree on specific titles (as the British and French traditionally do), but they both enjoy a good western and, obviously, Star Wars.

rishi132 karma

Are you busy in something ? Not giving answers . Why ?

ProjetEquateur2 karma

Sorry, trying to be as thorough as possible!

TR_Ollington2 karma

Thank you for your work!

What is something about the Congo you've learned since working there you think more people should know but don't?

ProjetEquateur3 karma

Two things:

1) Our WHRC colleague Richard Houghton recently published a study that shows that one of the critical issues that needs to be adressed in fighting climate change is to look at our land use and land use change and how that affects our climate. Tropical forests, such as the Congo Basin forest, play a huge role in regulating global climate, and also provide many other essential services (i.e. clean water, biodiversity, medicine, food, rainfall regulation, etc). If we don't work to preserve these forests, we will see unprecedented rises in temperature and it will be catastrophic for the human population.

2) At independence in 1960, the DRC was the most developed country in Sub-Saharan Africa. This means that when you walk through major cities in the DRC, you can see remnants of once highly functional infrastructure--hospitals, universities, industrial car plants, breweries, and even paved roads. It is a very real reminder that the societies we build, no matter how large and advanced, can always fail and/or regress severely. The DRC is often used to illustrate what can happen when a state fails, but no country is immune to such failure.

YellowS2k2 karma

Have you found the lost city of Zinj and King Solomon's mines?

ProjetEquateur3 karma

Not yet, but it would really help us out with our funding!

Our understanding is that King Solomon's empire was probably located somewhere nearer to modern day Ethiopia, so we'd need to plan an extensive field trip.

darthpuppies2 karma

What are youre personal gut feeling opinions about Accelerated Climate Change? I ve been convinced that things are accelerating faster than the worst case senerios and the worst model, and I am the last guy on earth to be alarmist, but recently the past few years the anomalies and unknown variables at the poles seem to imply that the climate change is vastly underestimated even by the most extreme models

ProjetEquateur2 karma

Overall, we think climate models have actually been quite accurate on a global scale. Having said that, it is very difficult to predict localized impacts of climate change--meaning that models are more uncertain when we start to look at what might happen in specific places. We know that overall there will be more extreme climate events (i.e. droughts, flooding, heat waves, etc) but it is really difficult to pinpoint where and when they will take place. We do know that the overall impacts of climate change on the poles and the equator will be more severe, and factors such as poverty make people more vulnerable to these weather events and changes in weather patterns (think small scale subsistence farmers).

We do agree that many people underestimate (or just can't conceptualize) the impact climate change will have on their lives, but things like the recent Paris agreement show that there is finally a will to do something on a political level, so we see it as a move in the right direction.

bezerker_Jobin2 karma

I am interested in this sort of economic research/work-- by that I mean the valuation of natural resources and development of tools and reports for communities to access and utilize to make more informed decisions. Are there any recommendations you have for gaining experience in the field as a recent graduate (Bachelor of Science) or otherwise? Certain agencies or other firms you would recommend looking into?

ProjetEquateur2 karma

So it really depends on what your interests are and from what field you want to address them. We used a valuation of natural resources in order to make estimates about how much dollar value communities extract from the forest, but the body of our work is more focused on payments for environmental services, meaning that we are looking at how to compensate people for the service of conservation (ex. How much does it cost to get people to rotate their crops or use an more efficient cooking method).

When it comes to working in the field, the best thing to do is get some experience. Volunteer with local or national conservation or development (or community) organizations to get a feeling of what the work is really like and to see which part of it you like most. This work can be managerial or more academic (which means you'd probably go back to school), so try to figure out what you see yourself doing. The most important part is networking--go talk to people, go to public events, go to lectures, and get informed about what's going on in the field. Glenn was a guest lecturer on my (Melaine's) course--you never know what can happen when you ask a question!

knitwasabi2 karma

Woods Hole shout-out! Born and raised on School St!

Er, sorry. What would your best outcome of the pilot program be? What would you consider a success?

ProjetEquateur3 karma

Good question! There are two ways to look at this, first from the perspective of the "project's objectives", which basically just means that we implement all the activities that we are funded to implement. This would be success from the perspective of our donors.

The other way to look at this would be in a less "measured" way, and would need to be looked at over the long term. This means that our work was a successful catalyst for change. For example, this could mean that the research we carry out is considered by policy makers and helps them to make informed decisions regarding their natural resource management. Or that students and professionals benefit from our training and use it in their professional careers. It could also mean that communities of farmers use new techniques to increase their productivity and conserve their forest.

So really, only time will tell. From our perspective, we have already had some success. We have learned and continue to learn a tremendous amount, and we have seen incredible passion and hope in the students we have worked with at the local universities.

And we love Woods Hole!

knitwasabi2 karma

Followup: How much work do you get done at the bar at the Kidd? :D

Do you feel that the gov of the DRC will listen and take on board your recommendations/observations?

ProjetEquateur1 karma

The government of the DRC has actually been very supportive and some of our work is already being used. We hope both donors and NGOs, as they are influential stakeholders in many developing countries, will also take into account some of the findings and maybe adapt their practices when possible. We are now looking at how some of our work (methodologies) could be applied in the context of private sector investment to foster more sustainable practices.

kosherkowboy2 karma

Hey guys, big fan of your work. I've been following some of your developments with REDD through my friend Zander.

As for me, I'm an economic historian and I've seen a pretty similar procession of development around the world. Start by exploiting natural resources, industrialization happens with textiles and then heavy industry, and so on. Is there a way to capitalize on the liberal global market in such a way as to bypass the early stages of natural resource exploitation and instead utilize the human capital of the Congolese?

As a caveat, I know we have to be realistic when talking about Congolese human capital, what with the wars, lack of education, infrastructure, etc. Essentially, what would it take to incorporate the most remote and impoverished area of the world into the global market in a way to skip the harsh exploitation/enslavement of people and their resources?

Sorry that was so longwinded, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Especially on the political economy of such underdeveloped regions.

ProjetEquateur2 karma

Thank you for your support and your question. It will be interesting to see how developing countries such as Congo can short cut the usual development stages and maybe preserve part of their natural capital. Ultimately, it is probably not by integrating the global market, because in order to do so you already need to have the capacity to produce goods to international standards. Right now the DRC is a net importer of food, there is huge demand for agricultural products that could be produced locally (which could create much needed employment opportunities as well as help create a more even distribution of the revenues of economic growth) after which they could begin to integrate into regional markets. New technology can help facilitate and speed up some of the development/organization of these markets (ex. using cellphones to access information about market prices, offer farm extension services and do net banking as is seen in parts of East Africa). The real challenge is for the government create an environment conducive to business and encourage private sector development (especially small and medium size enterprises). We can only make informed guesses about what will happen in the DRC. We hope they will find a more sustainable development path and find ways to profit from the country's huge renewable energy potential.

moryl2 karma

How is life for a foreigner in Mbandaka ?

ProjetEquateur1 karma

Life is not easy in Mbandaka, it took a while to get used to living without running water or electricity. Fortunately now I (Melaine) have a solar panel system, rain water harvesting system, little fruit and vegetable garden, chickens, a dog and a cat...and it's become quite enjoyable really! It is a simple life, but I've learned a lot of essential skills and I feel I could be happy with very little. My colleagues have also made me feel really at home. There are always some people that are not particularly welcoming to foreigners, but that's like everywhere else. People in the village are particularly welcoming and generous, and I'm always sent home with pineapples or honey!

Menaception2 karma

Do you feel you helped the Congo's forests with your work?

ProjetEquateur3 karma

It’s just the beginning, and I (Glenn) firmly believe that we will make a difference. Our project aims to assist the people who are responsible for these resources be able to better manage them through research, education and training. DRC’s forests are some of the least studied and understood from any perspective whether that be ecological, social, or economic. The recent war has destroyed most of the national infrastructure and depleted the nation of much of its knowledge base. The impacts of our work are not going to be felt in the short term. We need to ask this question again in 20 years!

Twister6992 karma

How are the people in the Congo and the there understanding of the problem?

ProjetEquateur5 karma

It's difficult to make generalizations about the people in Congo as the DRC is approximately the size of western Europe, and the province we work in, Equateur, is about the size of France. We see huge cultural differences between the northern and southern inhabitants of the province, but it is the poorest province in the DRC. This means that they have a difficult time accessing information and most people have a very low level of education. However most people are conscious of the impacts of climate change, they just don't necessarily understand the underlying scientific causes of the issue (i.e. CO2 emissions). The communities we've worked with are aware of long-term weather pattern changes, such as changes in rainfall, and we work with them to explain what is causing these changes and what they can do to help preserve their forest and resources in the long term. In northern Equateur, much of the forest has already been exploited, so people are more aware of the issue there simply because they have personal experiences with water shortages, firewood shortages, soil fertility loss and the decrease in accessible non-timber forest products (which include medicinal plants, edible insects like caterpillars, bush meat, etc). In the southern part of the province, where we primarily work, people are less aware because their forest has been exploited much less.

Tim5411 karma

Can you explain me, what is project Equateur about and what's your role in it?

ProjetEquateur3 karma

Project Equateur is a pilot REDD+ project run under the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development of the DRC. Woods Hole Research Center is the implementing agency, meaning that we contribute technical expertise about climate change and land use changes. The goal is to use the data we gather in this project to inform national policy about forest conservation and natural resource management.

The project itself has three components:

1) Capacity Building. This is probably the most important part, simply because due to the state of the education system in the DRC and limited state services, many people do not have the adequate skills and training to be able to manage their natural resources sustainably. Additionally, there is a lack of capacity to develop, manage and successfully implement development/conservation policies despite the great need for it.

2) Biophysical and Social Research. In order to learn as much as we can about this issue and the context we are working in, we carry out both biophysical research to measure the quantity of carbon sequestered by the forest as well as social research to understand the causes of deforestation and how forest resources are being used. We have also carried out education research to look at how higher education students understand the environmental, social, and political challenges their country faces and how we can help them better access relevant and current information.

3) Action Research. Essentially, our project is a huge experiment, and we are testing activities with people in local communities to see what can be done to improve their condition of living while at the same time conserving the forest. This could be things like building improved cook stoves, introducing better agricultural techniques and crops or developing activities that provide alternative sources of revenue (fish farming, bee keeping, etc). We also look at how these activities affect different social groups--we want to make sure that the most vulnerable groups (which in our context is generally women, pygmies, migrants and youth) are not negatively impacted or left behind. We try to find the most efficient and effective activities as our resources are pretty limited. We also want to be able to assign a real cost to reducing deforestation and fighting climate change.