CRACKS are beginning to emerge in the implementation of Zimbabwe's biggest privately-funded project aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in Kariba. Carbon Green Africa (CGA), a UK firm, has since 2009 implemented the REDD+ project across the four Mashonaland West rural district councils of Mbire, Nyaminyami, Binga and Hurungwe.

Under REDD+, monetary compensation is paid for projects that limit greenhouse gas emissions growth in tropical forests.

Those carbon savings are later sold to Western countries or firms in the form of credits (a.k.a offsets or units), keen to neutralise pollution in their home economies.

However, temperatures are boiling in Binga, a 20 percent shareholder in the Kariba REDD+ project. The community is bitter over unfilled promises, lack of buy in and accuses Carbon Green Africa of lying.

"There is an outcry in Binga," charged Mr Elmon Mudenda, councillor Binga Ward 4, during a Transparency International Zimbabwe REDD+ governance, transparency and accountability workshop in Harare on October 22.

"We have not seen anything really tangible, financially or otherwise (from CGA)," he continued. "We do not understand what REDD+ is all about. My officers told me 'Carbon Green Africa is there to take pictures.'"

Through the REDD+ programme, CGA has promised to support conservation farming through training and providing of inputs to farmers.

This includes training of bee keepers, providing of hives and sourcing a market for the produce. Establishment of nutrition gardens in all the project areas was also promised.

But that is not happening to the letter in Mudenda's Ward 4, the area holding the largest proportion of land under forest among all the 6 Wards in which the project is currently running in Binga.

The CGA is imposing the REDD+ project on communities, the councillor claimed, adding "that doesn't work."

"They (CGA) plan for farmers while in Harare without coming onto the ground to ask us what it is we require," Mudenda told me in a seperate interview at the Transparency International Zimbabwe workshop.

"We asked that they supply a fence for the nutrional garden, but that has not happened. We only received some seed and two bags of (chemical) fertiliser. Farmers have used their own money to buy fuel for the water pump, and Carbon Green Africa has failed to reimburse that money.

"I think farmers can buy seed, but cannot buy fence. Without the fence, the other option is to cut down trees to construct a border."

As part of the REDD+ project, farmers in Binga Ward 4 are trying to set up a two and half hectare garden to grow fresh produce including tomatoes and onions, for own consumption or resale. It should all be fenced.

However, the nutrional garden plan has stalled because of the fence issue. Cutting down trees will defeat the underlying objective of the Kariba REDD+ programme, that of protecting native forests.

Yet, the boundary is important for keeping domestic and wild animals at bay. Out of 1,800 households (about 4,000 people) in the Ward 4, only 20 farmers have benefited from CGA's input supply, said Mudenda.

Apparently, international auditors were in town last week to verify the CGA project, as part of crucial strategies for keeping voluntary REDD+ projects in check and ensuring they are not selling to global investors hot air.

Field officers from Carbon Green Africa were last week making frantic runs seeking to pressurise the Ward 4 community to put something on the ground ahead of the audit.

Mudenda would have none of that. "I told them (field officers) I cannot do something to please you and your auditors," the councillor retorted, and re-emphasised "in Binga we are still behind. The local community and its leaders remain in the dark on REDD+."

Binga Ward 4 has received $20,000 from Carbon Green Africa for community projects in 2014, but Mr Mudenda claimed he did not understand how the project implementors had arrived at this figure.

"These guys are not clear on the amount that is due to Binga as a district. We do not know how many credits they have sold. Those issues need to be made clear to the rural council and to the community. We need to know the number of credits sold and the amount due to the community from those sales," he said.

Carbon Green Africa chief executive Mr Charles Ndondo has rubbished the allegations from the Binga councillor. He said Mr Mudenda was new to the council, uninformed and, therefore, unqualified to comment on issues he did not understand.

"Binga was my first port of call when we started, but they refused," Ndondo hit back during the workshop and later in a seperate interview continued the charge saying: "Binga has least portion of land under project, that means they also receive the least amount of money disbursed.

"We have actually approached Binga council requesting that we expand the project area as the whole project continues to roll out.

"The little that Ward 4 is getting, they are actually not supposed to be getting anything because their project has not started to bring back profit."

CGA disburses funds in proportion to each council's shareholding in the project or based on the amount of forested land in contribution. Contrary to Mr Ndondo's assertions, Binga is not the least.

Mbire holds 34 percent, Nyaminyami 29 percent, Binga 20 percent and Hurungwe 17 percent, according to information obtained by The Herald Business.

All the rural councils have entered into 30-year agreements with Carbon Green Africa. The contracts are reviewed every 5 years, but were signed without Government's expert assistance, exposing the councils to manipulation and greed of the private sector.

However, not everyone is displeased. The Mbire rural council is on cloud nine. Since entering the Kariba REDD+ in 2010, Mbire has reported wider benefits in the areas of conservation farming, borehole repairs and education.

At least 300 farmers receive inputs for conservation agriculture each year, says Mbire rural coucil chief executive, Mr Cloudious Majaya, and 6 boreholes have this year been rehabilated.

Some 47 boreholes have been sunk in Mbire since inception as part of efforts to improve health systems and deliver clean and safe drinking water.

"When the Kariba REDD+ project came in we took that as a supplement to what we have already been doing under Campfire. We were already preserving our forests as a habitat for wildlife," said Mr Majaya.

Over $180 000 has far been poured into Mbire by the project managers for various community activities.

Mr Majaya said the council had taken on board 22 environment monitors that sensitise communities on benefits of forest conservation and monitor implementation of projects.

Funding is structured three-way to meet varying competing needs. "In the contract, we have three components that address how we share benefits from the REDD+ programme," the Mbire chief executive explained.

"One, there is funding which is not tied. The local authority can use that money how and when we want. And then there is funding that is tied to the project. This fund sees to it that the REDD+ programmes are implemented.

"(Lastly) we have what we call a 'longevity fund,' which we use during disaster situations. Of late, there is one area that we have already used part of the funding. There is an outbreak of rabbies in the district. We have managed to curb the spread of the disease."

Communities are still doubtful of the true benefits of REDD+ and Government's involvement has been sorely missed.

"This (REDD+) is a new concept coming on board. It may take long for our communities to understand. In Shona they will say 'muri kutengesa mhepo (you are selling hot air),'" Majaya lamented.

"It has been difficult to explain, but I hope with the awareness campaigns we are doing communities will begin to understand what we are talking about.

"We need Government assistance as local authorities when entering into these contracts to ensure we do not lose out. Remember, the private sector is there to make money. They are in business and not doing it for free."

Over 30 years, the Kariba scheme is expected to remove from the atmosphere 52 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions equivalent, if it can get buyers for its credits.

It is a project that could potentially stabilise hunger, mulnutrition, improve incomes and bring down dangerous emissions of carbon dioxide, but only without the conflicts that are starting to emerge.

These are some of the issues that the Transparency Zimbabwe International (TIZ) meeting attempted to address.

TIZ board member, Mr Vellim Nyama the workshop aimed to discuss potential corruption risks that may affect the transparency and accountability in the implementation of REDD+ projects here.

"Although REDD+ programmes in Africa and specifically Zimbabwe, are still in their initial design phases, considerable financial resources have already begun to flow to them, with the expectation of more to come," he said.

"Therefore, anticipated financial flows make national REDD+ programmes potential targets for corruption."

God is faithful.

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Source: http://allafrica.com/stories/201410270741.html