Avoiding forest Degradation through Fire Management: Meet MCDI’s REDD project by Abigail Wills

Friday, Jun 19 2015

Fire is one of the most significant drivers of forest degradation in dryland forest ecosystems, and contributes to global warming. Regular and uncontrolled bushfires in these areas usually occur late in the dry season when the grass that fuels them is very dry. This means that the flames burn hot, and steady breezes fan the fires across vast areas where they kill off large trees and suppress natural forest regeneration.

This is particularly a challenge in the miombo woodlands where the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative (MCDI) (www.mpingoconservation.org) operates in south-eastern Tanzania. Regular and uncontrolled bushfires are common in these areas, and fire control has therefore long been seen as an integral element of effective forest management. However, managing fire over large areas is an expensive and labour intensive task, and therefore will not be performed without adequate financial (or other) incentives. Despite this, there has previously been no way for communities to benefit from international carbon markets by using fire management as a strategy to reduce unwanted carbon emissions. MCDI has changed this.

MCDI is developing a REDD project - one of nine pilot projects funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Tanzania - so that communities can start to generate revenue from carbon offsets generated by managing forest fires through a programme of preventative early burning. There is no existing methodology covering carbon fluxes in dryland forests as a result of fire management, meaning that MCDI and its partners, Value for Nature and the University of Edinburgh, had to develop an innovative methodology and management practices to proceed with the approach. They designed the method to meet the best known and toughest international carbon market requirements, as defined by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).

MCDI submitted its new methodology called ‘Avoiding Degradation through Fire Management’ to VCS in February 2014, and it was accepted in May 2015 (the method can be downloaded via the VCS website: www.v-c-s.org/methodologies/avoiding-degradation-through-fire-management). This was a highly technical and demanding undertaking, made especially difficult as MCDI’s method is the first of
its kind, and so it had nowhere to learn from.

There were however benefits to MCDI pioneering its own methodology. MCDI was able to ensure that the method is catered to its own REDD project. This is not insignificant, as some project proponents have encountered real difficulties with apparently appropriate VCS methodologies which turn out to have some small criterion which, although not self-obvious at the start, turns out to be insurmountable – e.g., requiring a baseline reference region that is 5 times the size of the project area,
when a project can only identify similar sites that amount to 4.5 times the size of the project area.

MCDI designed its method so that it can be used as widely as possible. It is applicable not only in MCDI’s area of operations in south-eastern Tanzania, but to the entire Eastern Miombo Ecoregion, which stretches across 2.8 million square kilometres of southern and eastern Africa. This is one of the largest expanses of fire-affected dryland forest in the world. The method could also be easily and cheaply adapted to other dryland forest situations, and so is usable by any would be REDD project proponent working in dryland forests and contemplating working with fire as one of the major drivers of forest degradation. It has the potential to open up a whole new frontier of opportunities for communities residing in these areas to earn sustained revenues from selling REDD-based carbon offsets, thus transforming early burning and community-based fire management from a laborious revenue drainer (and thus rarely implemented fully) to a potentially lucrative revenue opportunity for
forest managers.

Next Steps

As with all of MCDI’s work, its REDD project seeks to generate sustainable income for rural communities, thus providing incentives for local people to manage their forests sustainably. Now that MCDI has an approved VCS method, it is developing a Project Design Document to support its REDD project. Once this document is in place, MCDI will undergo project validation by one of the VCS verification bodies.

MCDI will compliment the VCS certification with parallel certification of biodiversity and social safeguards under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) standard. These two leading standards are commonly used in conjunction to verify combined carbon offsets and the additional social and environmental values and benefits of a project. They will bring additional credibility to MCDI’s REDD project and work, and once these steps are complete, MCDIsupported communities can begin benefitting from selling carbon offsets.


Abigail Wills has an educational background in biodiversity management. She has experience combining social and ecological research techniques, cultivated through working on various research projects – e.g. looking at frog ecology in Amazonian Peru, lichen distribution in British Oak Woodlands, and subsistence use of mangroves and bush meat trade in Madagascar. Since 2014, Abigail has been based in south-eastern Tanzania, where she provides technical and communications support to the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative, a local NGO facilitating community-based forest management. She became a CFA member in 2015.


Photo Credits: MCDI website 



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Avoiding forest Degradation through Fire Management: Meet MCDI’s REDD project by Abigail Wills
Friday, Jun 19 2015


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