Community, Forest Carbon & Indigeneity: A Case Study of the Loru Project in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
Forest carbon farming offers customary landowners an alternative livelihood to socially and environmentally unsustainable logging, through the sale of carbon offset credits. REDD+, the global forest carbon scheme to address deforestation in developing countries, has attracted scholarly criticism for the risks it poses to communities. Critics warn that REDD+: (1) benefits may be captured by elites, (2) threatens forest-dependent livelihoods, (3) reduces local forest governance, and (4) a results-based payments mechanism can undermine conservation. Community-owned forest carbon farming may mitigate these risks by empowering communities to manage forest resources locally. The Loru project in Vanuatu is the first of its kind, and Indigenous landowners legally own the carbon rights and manage the carbon project. This thesis examines the community ownership and the social impact of the Loru project on its Indigenous project owners, the ni-Vanuatu Ser clan. The thesis uses a ‘semi’-mixed-methods approach, based primarily on interviews conducted in in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu with Indigenous landowners and supplemented with quantitative data from a monitoring exercise conducted by the author. Grounded in social constructivism, the thesis makes a genuine attempt to decolonize the research process, adopting a self-reflexive approach. The research finds that the project is leading to positive social and economic impacts at the community level. Further, the Loru project is legitimately community-owned and driven, meaning it adapts effectively to the local context. Overall, the findings suggest that implementing REDD+ through a multi-scalar institutional network and building local capacity could mitigate the risks of REDD+ to forest communities.