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Indigenous Communities, Land Use and Tropical Deforestation

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - INCLUDE (Indigenous Communities, Land Use and Tropical Deforestation)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-09-30

Tropical deforestation releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, making it a major contributor to climate change. The main direct cause of deforestation in tropical is agricultural expansion. The project examines deforestation in the dry Chaco of the Argentine province of Salta.
Encompassing over six million hectares of forest, the Chaco Salteño belongs to the Great American Chaco, the second-largest tropical forest on the American continent after the Amazon. The Chaco Salteño also exhibits one of the fastest deforestation rates in the world: between 1970 and 2015, an area of forest about the size of two football pitches was cut down every minute, on average.
The region is home to considerable ethnic and cultural diversity, including criollos (small-scale livestock farmers of European descent) and indigenous peoples.
The research project examines five main themes, as discussed below.

Theme 1: The governance structure behind the land use policies in the province of Salta.
Ten years after the introduction of a new forest law, the project examines the governance structures that were created to implement sustainable forest management. The main project objective here is: a) to identify the relevant networks of stakeholders from state agencies, civil society, the private sector, universities, NGOs, and forest communities and b) to determine how the different stakeholders who make up the collaborative governance system influence policy implementation, forest management, and land use change.

Theme 2: Sustainable land management practices among small-scale livestock farmers in the province of Salta.
The introduction of genetically modified soybean varieties in the 1990s and high international prices for commodities like maize, soya, rice, and wheat led to expansion of agriculture in the province of Salta. On one hand this resulted in vast deforestation, to the detriment of displaced indigenous communities. On the other hand, marginal land areas, formally owned by absentee landowners, suddenly gained in value. As a result, small-scale livestock farmers (criollos), who lived in these areas for many years without any formal title, have been increasingly displaced. Land conflicts have increased – as has land degradation.
In this context, the project investigates: a) whether and how different agricultural practices help to reduce conflicts between criollos and other forest users, such as indigenous communities; b) how formal land tenure impacts the introduction of specific land/forest management practices designed to reduce land/forest degradation and improve economic viability; c) what major obstacles prevent smallholders from obtaining land titles.

Theme 3: Characterizing organizational structures, practices and attitudes of large-scale livestock farmers
Over the past 20 years the expansion of soybeans and other row-crops, in order to supply international commodity markets, has been the main driver for the expansion of the agricultural frontier and deforestation in the region of Salta. However, the expansion of this area has slowed down and has approached its natural limit. Currently, new pressures for deforestation and land use cover change in the region are coming from the expansion of pastures for the production of livestock, for both internal and external markets. To this day a detailed analysis of this sector in the region of Salta is lacking. The project objectives in this respect are: a) to identify the organizational structure of the main livestock business in the region; b) to characterize the network of operators (e.g. suppliers, merchants, financial institutions, investors) working with the livestock businesses; c) to describe the main origin of capital which is funding the operations (e.g. family wealth, external investors etc.); d) to understand the main attitudes of the livestock operators, the type of obligations they have (e.g. fiduciary obligations towards the owners, corporate social responsibility etc.), particularly with respect to the issue of deforestation, indigenous peoples conditions, development and land tenure insecurity among small-scale farmers.

Theme 4: Deforestation narratives from the indigenous people’s perspectives
Indigenous communities, whose identities are rooted in “traditional” uses of forest flora and fauna, are faced with finding other sources of livelihood. Lacking alternatives, they are often forced to sell their labour in activities involving deforestation. This places them in conflict with local environmental laws – and ultimately their own identity. These predicaments add to tensions within the community. In this context, the project examines: a) the complex ways in which local indigenous peoples are caught up in larger socio-economic processes (especially agricultural expansion) and b) how dominant ideologies and ideas interact with those of indigenous forest inhabitants, especially concerning the relationship of people to the land, and how these in turn influence land and forest use.

Theme 5: Actors perspectives on deforestation and Environmental Justice
Besides the three themes described above, the project has benefitted from the collaboration with an independently funded researcher, who has been looking at the problem of deforestation in the region of Salta from an Environmental Justice (EJ) perspective. In this respect, the main objectives are: a) to characterize the problematic in the region of Salta along the lines of the three categories of EJ (namely, distributional justice, procedural justice and recognition issues); b) to represent the perspectives of the various actors (namely, large-scale producers, small-scale producers, indigenous peoples, governmental actors, civil society and non-government organizations), within the EJ framework; c) to evaluate different scenarios for the future of the region, based on the views expressed by the relevant actors.
The first year of the project was dedicated to a preliminary understanding of the institutional context (i.e. the Forest Law in the province of Salta), the type of conflicts related to deforestation and land use cover change in the region, the actors involved in the institutional processes and in the conflicts, their motivations, interests and concerns. One important aspect that came to light is that, so far there is very little evidence that the promulgation of the Forest Law in the province of Salta can be associated with a slow-down in the process of agricultural expansion and associated loss of natural habitat (as discussed in the publication by Ceddia and Zepharovich, 2018). Another important aspect that came out is the relative lack of empowerment of indigenous peoples (and small-scale farmers to a lesser extent) compared to large-scale agricultural producers. These aspects were discussed in a number of papers presented at various international academic conferences in 2018 (Zepharovich et al., 2018a, 2018b).
A more intense fieldwork phase took place in the second year of the project, which resulted in a number of important achievements in terms of understanding of the context and the problem at hand. From the institutional point of view, a number of important policy fora, relevant to the implementation and the reform of the forest law in Salta, were studied through mixed methods. In practice, these methods included both using Social Network Analysis (SNA) to study the core beliefs of the various institutional actors and their relationships, and qualitative research methods to obtain an understanding of the actors’ discourses and policy orientation. The various actors participating to the policy fora include provincial and federal government organizations, large-scale and small-scale producers’ organizations, non-government organizations and international organizations. The preliminary results indicate that there are clearly three distinct groups of actors with three distinct belief systems, while the participation to the policy fora allows establishing connections across belief system, with a number of government agencies playing the role of broker. These results were presented at a number of international conferences in 2018 and 2019 (Inguaggiato et al., 2018, 2019a, 2019b, 2019c).
A second important aspect that has been studied during the second year of the project pertains to the identification of sustainable land management practices (SLMPs) among small-scale farmers and the drivers and barriers to their adoption. The increasing pressures on land, due mainly to the expansion of the production of agricultural commodities, has on one hand increased the number of conflicts among small-scale producers, large-scale producers and indigenous communities. On the other hand, easing these conflicts requires the adoption of better production methods on the side of small-scale farmers. Such practices include the implantation of various forms of pasture within the forests, the fencing of pasture fields, the sale of young veal calves and so on. Besides financial constraints, tenure insecurity (i.e. the fact that the majority of small-scale farmers occupy land without owning it) and the existence of conflicts are an important challenge. During the fieldwork, a number of important SLMPs were identified, jointly with experts from government agencies. Subsequently, 550 small-scale farmers were surveyed in order to ascertain the main drivers and barrier to the adoption of such practices. Semi-structured interviews were also carried with some of the respondents to get a better understanding of the survey data. The preliminary results indicate that land tenure security and land size play a role in driving adoption of SLMPs. The results were presented to a number of international conferences in 2018 and 2019 (see Tschopp et al., 2018, 2019). Future work will focus on the role played by length of land occupancy (a better indicator than land tenure security) and the characteristic of the network associated with the management of common pastures.
A third important aspect studied during the second year of the project looks at the perceptions of deforestation of the various stakeholders (namely small-scale producers, large-scale producers, indigenous peoples, government and NGOs) by applying the framework of Environmental Justice. Q-methodology has been deployed to carry out this part of the study. The preliminary results indicate that there are three main core perceptions among the various stakeholders, which have been labelled as “development”, “family agriculture” and “subsistence”. The three perspectives, reflecting the interests of various stakeholders, also show that a convergence of views between large-scale producers and government agencies exists. The results have been presented to a number of international conferences (see Zepharovich et al., 2018c) and are currently being reviewed for publication in scientific journals.
Finally, a part of the fieldwork has concentrated in building rapport with the indigenous communities in order to be able to understand their views on deforestation. A number of preliminary presentations have been given to various international conferences (see Schaumberg et al., 2018a, 2018b, 2019).
The most important results obtained so far, relate to the characterization of the governance structure associated with the implementation of the forest law in the province of Salta. The preliminary analysis provides a clear mapping of the core beliefs and orientations of the most important stakeholders participating to a number of relevant policy fora, and their relationships through SNA. The network topology provides important insights to the existing situation, which represents a political deadlock between the various factions, and will be extremely helpful in designing possible policy interventions to move forward.
The second most important result relates to the identification and systematic description of various SLMPs which could be adopted by small-scale farmers and reduce the intensity of the and conflicts in the region. Moreover, a preliminary analysis illustrates the importance of land tenure issues in stimulating the adoption of such practices.
The third most important result pertains to the characterization of the perceptions of the various actors in the region with respect to deforestation and the loss of natural habitat. The preliminary results show the existence of three distinct perspectives, which reflect different dimensions of environmental justice and can only partially be reconciled. Navigating these different perspectives will be necessary in order to conserve the remaining forest and attenuate the existing land conflicts in the region.
A number of additional results are expected until the end of the project. They include: a) the description of the narratives and perceptions of Indigenous Peoples in the region; b) the study of the organizational structures associated with the large-scale livestock producers, including an analysis of their attitudes towards deforestation; c) a detailed study of the network structures associated to the successful implementation of conservation projects in the region; d) the evaluation of different future forest policy scenarios, based on the views expressed by the relevant actors.