Picking Up Where Voluntary Markets Leave Off: Rural Reconfigurations of the State Around REDD+ in Colombia

Authors: Lauren Withey*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Environment, Development, South America
Keywords: REDD+, Colombia, Territorialization
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


“Private Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) markets only function in textbooks,” a colleague once informed me, discussing a watershed PES effort in the Colombian Andes: “The state is needed to make these work.” My ethnographic study of a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program on Colombia’s Pacific coast put her assertion to the test. USAID designed the program to avoid the Colombian state, concerned that funds for the effort would be trapped within bureaucracies in Bogotá and never reach the afro-Colombian and indigenous communities with which they worked. USAID later repented this decision, as the voluntary carbon market turned out to be far less robust than predicted, and the cost of developing the program far greater. The methodology for carbon measurement that BIOREDD+ used had to be altered to match the state’s national biomass carbon-measuring protocol. USAID ultimately asked the Colombian Ministry of Environment, relying on other bilateral partners for its funding, to help BIOREDD+ projects to generate carbon credits. This case illustrates how even “project” REDD+, and the interest that international donors have shown in it and other PES programs, has helped reshape the presence of “the state” in rural communities where it previously had minimal, or very different, roles. The precise form and results of this presence are still playing out in this case. Whether these state actors remain after donor funding and interest fades is uncertain, but history in the region foretells retreat and yet another reworking of state presence at that time.

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