Mainstreaming Free, Prior, and Informed Consent - Conversations with Khin and Hari

29, September 2017
RECOFTC interviews Ms. Khin Nyein Nyein Mon and Mr. Hari Krishna Laudari about a recently completed FPIC course.
The Center for People and Forests

Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is based on principles of self-determination. It underpins the collective right of indigenous peoples and local communities to negotiate the terms of externally imposed policies, programs, and projects that directly affect their livelihoods and well-being.

FPIC has been developed and is employed not only for protection of local communities’ rights and forest-dependent livelihoods but also for reducing risks on the side of the project proponent through ensuring mutual understanding and agreement between all parties concerned.

RECOFTC became involved in enhancing the capacity of government, NGOs, private sector and communities in implementing FPIC after it became clear that project implementers had a limited understanding of the complex art of negotiating community consent and the skills necessary for effective FPIC implementation.

We have now being running FPIC training courses since 2011, and have trained over 200 participants from government, civil society organisations, and non-government organisations throughout Southeast Asia and beyond.

Our current course is organised, and partly funded, by the CoCooR project. We’ve interviewed two current participants of our ‘Mainstreaming free, prior and informed consent in the context of forest governance and climate change’ training to illustrate the importance and relevance of FPIC to their work, and to highlight the value of our training course in enhancing their ability to implement FPIC effectively in their projects.

Ms. Khin Nyein Nyein Mon – Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-Conservation Network (MERN), Myanmar

Khin - My name is Khin Nyein Nyein Mon, I’m from Myanmar and I work as a program officer at MERN – Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-Conservation Network. I am mainly responsible for networking, coordination between community and government authorities.

RECOFTC - What role does FPIC play in your current work?

Khin - Before I attended the training I was involved in conservation and a lot of project coordination. Through this work I heard about FPIC, but I didn’t really know what FPIC was. So when I came here, even on the first day, I was still unclear about what exactly FPIC was. But after the first two days of training, I’ve had a lot of insights into what FPIC is, which I realize is a more involved concept than I had first thought. Now I see that FPIC is about the quality of consensus  – which is very useful knowledge for me. I have been working in communities for many years and I already thought that stakeholder participation is very important. But after attending this training, I have realized, ‘wow, it is not only participation that is important, but the quality of the consensus is very important too.’ We have analysed ‘Free’, ‘Prior’, ‘Informed’ and ‘Consent’ in the training and gain more insight in the meaning of each of these.

RECOFTC - You seem to be very aware of the importance of participation, but you have noted that the quality of the consent is very important….

Khin - Yes as I said earlier, I have been involved in conservation  and project implementation before. So I know participation is very important. In my past work we have had consent when implementing projects, but we didn’t have an idea about the quality of consent. I wasn’t able to apply an FPIC framework. But now when I am implementing a project, I can have full confidence that all the things I am doing comply with FPIC, or are in line with FPIC.

RECOFTC – So why do you think the consensus, or consent, of the community is important?

Khin – Because it is about the communities rights. The community owns their land; they are the rights holders, so we need to have their consent. We have to consider their rights because we are working in their area, implementing a project in their area.

RECOFTC – Do you think having consent improves the way the projects work, or the outcome of the project?

Khin – You know, this relates to their self-determination. We cannot force them to do the project. Using FPIC we are creating an environment for them to decide for themselves. For me, respecting the communities’ rights and tenure is very important.

RECOFTC – In regard to the training itself, do you think that it has been valuable?

Khin –Yes, you know… it’s fantastic. As I said earlier, before I came here I had heard about FPIC, and I thought [on coming to Bangkok], ‘this is going to be like usual – knowledge that I already have.’ But [after taking part in the training] I feel like, ‘Wow! This is not only what I knew from before.’ There are so many things that we need to look deeper at when considering FPIC – it is difficult to use only one word (eg. ‘free’) to capture the real meaning of each element in FPIC. The quality of the training is fantastic; I now have confidence in myself to implement FPIC in the field.

RECOFTC – Do you think what you’ve learnt here will change the way you go about your work in Myanmar?

Khin – Yeah , because you know, all of the concepts I have learnt and the logic behind FPIC is quite different [from my existing knowledge].  Now when I undertake any project, not only in the Voices for Mekong Forest Project [which I currently work on], I will consider everything [related to FPIC] before I implement the project. Is it free? Is it prior? Is it informed? Do we have everyone’s consent? All of the stakeholders? I have learnt a lot here, my understanding of FPIC is totally different from before I came. Now, I will change the way I work, I will ensure FPIC is considered in every step.

Mr. Hari Krishna Laudari - REDD Implementation Centre, Nepal

Hari – My name is Hari Krishna Laudari and I work in with the REDD Implementation Centre as forest officer in Nepal. I am a forester by profession.

RECOFTC – Why is FPIC important in your work, why is it relevant?

Hari – You know, FPIC has a good standing in REDD+, and REDD+ is one of the best policy instruments that has really recognized the importance of FPIC. Nepal, as a developing country and participants of the REDD+ process, has developed emissions reduction program documents, and we are implementing them at a sub-national level. In doing so, we have designed so many intervention packages to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. At the same time, we have obtained consent from the local people. That has helped us to make them aware of what REDD+ is, how the program is going to benefit them, and, if REDD+ brings some kind of negative impact, then how we are going to mitigate the negative impacts. That sort of thing requires FPIC. This training is really beneficial for me as I work in the forestry sector, particularly in REDD.+, and if you work in the relevant sector, then the relevant training is obviously good for you. You can translate the acquired knowledge and skills into actions (both in your institution or organization, as well as at the grassroots level).

RECOFTC – What do you believe is the importance of FPIC for the community? Why is it important to have their consent?

Hari – People of Nepal have been managing their forests since ancient times. The dependency of people on forest resources still contributes to most [people’s livelihoods]. More than half of Nepal’s population are still dependent on forest resources. REDD+ is a kind of program that helps reduce degradation and deforestation, and if there are people who have been using forest resources for a long time and you suddenly go there [and say], ‘please stop, stop unsustainably and illegally harvesting the forest products from your forest’ then they won’t be easily convinced. We need to provide them with some sort of justification of how unsustainable harvesting of forests products leads to deforestation and forest degradation. At the same time, we also need to sensitize them that increasing dependency on forest resources can have negative impacts on forest cover, and that REDD+ will provide you with alternative benefits, or options.

RECOFTC – It sounds like you’re saying that these REDD+ projects wouldn’t work very well without the…

Hari – Without getting the consent of the local people, it’s almost impossible I would say.  

RECOFTC– I presume because you are partners with the communities in achieving those goals…

Hari – Yeah, yeah. REDD+ is directly related to the forestry sector, and the forestry sector of Nepal has long been managed by local communities. That’s why we need consent from them. Another thing is, REDD+ has a certain tenure, I mean we need to show the international community that we have increased this much of carbon from this year to this year. So we need to be able to guarantee that this forest will be protected and managed without leakage, that there will be no illegal activities in or nearby the forest, so that the forest can sequester carbon and increase its carbon stock. We can compare the carbon stocks from previous years (reference period) to the present years and can sell the carbon credits (increased carbon stocks). If the local people are not aware of this kind of provision in REDD+, then they may start to cut down trees or engage in illegal logging activities. If the forest carbon stocks decrease as compared to the  reference period, then we don’t get paid. To secure investment, either from the government or a donor agency; we need to have the consent of the local people.

RECOFTC – It seems as though you implement FPIC already. Has this training provided any value to you? Given you any new ideas?

Hari – I’ve been involved in FPIC processes in some ways in Nepal. Though, when I arrived here and took part in the training, it really broadened my mind. I didn’t completely understand the principles of FPIC, the theoretical background – you know, why it is important, or the process for doing FPIC and the quality of consent. There is a range of attributes that we need to consider before conducting FPIC in any community or concerned stakeholders. Another important thing is FPIC methodology. This training has provided a lot of guidance and solid foundation for the framework of doing FPIC. The last thing is the monitoring process of FPIC – how do you know that the community are involved in FPIC process, and their consent has a good quality. There is a level of quality in consent you know. If the people say, [complacent voice] ‘yes… you can do it. Come here and implement your project’, compared with [assertive voice] ‘yes. Why not come here? We will assist you in implementing the project’, there is a big difference you know. This is the sort of thing that has been taught here and it will help me a lot in applying FPIC in my country.

RECOFTC – So do you think that it will influence the way that you are working? Do you think anything will change?

Hari – I hope so, because I am involved in a government organization and the government usually makes policy with consultation of the people. I think that this training will help me to convince the high officials of the government - I meet these people daily in my workplace - of the value of FPIC, and we can talk about what I have learnt from this training. Hopefully, I can convince them at the institutional level [of the importance of FPIC]. I could even organize a presentation and be a resource person for FPIC in the training, capacitating of mid-level government staff who are engaged in forestry development activities. At the grassroots, there are lots of civil society organizations who are lobbying for community rights, for tenure, for local and indigenous people. If I feed this information to them – the processes and activities of FPIC, we can capacitate the community-based organizations too, so that they can influence decision-making in favour of local people.