Nothing succeeds like success narratives: a case of conservation and development in the time of REDD
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionSvarstad H, Benjaminsen TA. Nothing succeeds like success narratives: a case of conservation and development in the time of REDD. Journal of Eastern African Studies. 2017;11(3):482-505 http://doi.org/10.1080/17531055.2017.1356622
This article provides a case study of a project in Kondoa, Tanzania under the programme Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). It demonstrates how a success narrative came to dominate presentations about the project as a multi-win involving not only climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation, but also benefits for local people and poverty reduction. Based on repeated fieldwork using qualitative methods, we find that there is lack of evidence to substantiate the success claims. These claims are in particular based on the assertion that a component of ‘conservation agriculture’ was successfully implemented as compensation for forest enclosure. Gaps between claims and evidence are often exhibited in the scholarship on political ecologies of conservation in Africa, as well as by observers of development aid projects. But how can such gaps be explained? We suggest taking the interests of the actors behind the project as a point of departure, including how individuals as well as organisations have stakes in marketing a success narrative. Furthermore, we argue that an unsubstantiated success narrative of an aid project can be maintained only when there is a lack of structures to ensure independent and adequate examinations of the project by evaluators and researchers. In this case, Norway was the funder of the project, and as the dominant funder of REDD, the Norwegian government has a particular interest in reproducing REDD success narratives, since the credibility of the country’s climate mitigation policy depends on REDD being a success. In addition, the case study demonstrates how ‘success projects’ emerge in the wake of new development fads.