Participation in the design and implementation of the Bolsa Floresta Program: history and lessons learned

Participation in the design and implementation of the Bolsa Floresta Program:

history and lessons learned[1]

Virgílio Viana 


International dialogue on reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) has produced important debates on conceptual and theoretical issues related to its design and implementation. However, there are only a small number of initiatives that have gone beyond the pilot and small project scale.

The Bolsa  Floresta Program is a noteworthy exception as it has the experience of six years of implementation, in an area totaling over ten million hectares, nine thousand families and 572 communities. This paper intends to present a brief account of the history and lessons learned from the Bolsa Floresta to contribute to the ongoing debate around REDD+.

The history

The origin of the idea was in 2003, influenced by a south-south exchange visit of Amazonas Government to Costa Rica. At that time Costa Rica was widely recognized as having the best programs for payment for environmental services worldwide. The design of the Bolsa Floresta begun in late 2006, as a decision taken at the cabinet level of Amazonas State Government. The design process was led by the Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development (SDS).

The design process was openly publicized and with strong stakeholder participation. From the beginning of the discussions until the signature of the law that created it, the conceptual basis and the implementation strategy were discussed in 13 workshops and meetings. These meetings included over 30 institutions, representing civil society, academia and government.  Participation in these meetings were qualitatively very rich, as discussions were open and transparent. Minutes of all meetings were widely circulated through internet to all institutions involved, which also shared its results through its networks. It is important to notice that social movements representing forest communities were quite active and included CNS, FETAGRI, GTA, COIAB, among others[2]. This was the first phase of the consultative process.

A second phase of the consultative process was carried out in communities in Uatuma Sustainable Development Reserve. Two workshops (oficinas) discussed in detail the design concept produced in the 13 workshops and meetings of the first phase. In order to ensure full and informed participation, the state-of-the-art methods of participatory planning were used, including arts and various dynamics. These methods were essential to ensure high quality of participation.

The conclusion of this two-stage consultative process resulted in the design of a program with three components: support to empowerment of local associations (Bolsa Floresta Associação), investment in community development (Programa de investimento comunitário) and cash payment (Bolsa Floresta Familiar). Another conclusion was that the Program had to have a uniform structure throughout the territory. After long and in depth discussions, it was concluded that having a uniform structure was essential for an efficient management of the Program as well as in preventing conflicts among different communities if different payment schemes were implemented.

From September 2007, the Program was implemented by Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development (SDS), with the support of IDESAM, an NGO based in Amazonas. Since March 2008 the Program has been implemented by Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS). FAS has implemented the Program with support of several governmental and non-governmental organizations.  As a result of a new institutional design, there was a rapid increase in the number of families as well as in the area covered by the Program. In 2008 FAS managed to do 43 workshops with 6.8 thousand participants. Growth continued and in 2012, 97 participatory planning workshops were done. As of 2012, FAS had 39 partner organizations engaged in the implementation of the Program as well as its complementary activities.

The methods approved in the consultative process included the following guidelines:

  • in order to ensure prior and informed participation, two-day workshops had to be carried out, presenting the design of the Program;
  • in order to secure free participation in the Program, all families of each region were invited and given the freedom to opt to participate or not in the Program[3] as well as the option to opt out any time;
  • in order to secure fair and equitable participation, families who had to travel long distances to participate in the participatory planning workshops were given support for transportation and food;[4]
  • participants had to sign a formal commitment which included (i) zero deforestation in primary forests, (ii) adoption of fire prevention practices in agricultural areas, (iii) have children in school, (iv) participate in local grassroots organizations;
  • investment decision on income, social and association components had to be made at participatory workshops using the best available methods to ensure informed and equitable participation;
  • suggestions to review the rules of the Program could be made during the participatory planning workshops and were recorded for deliberation with the Monitoring Committee (Comitê de Acompanhamento), comprised of the 10 institutions which participated in the first phase of the design process.

A number of changes have been made since the original design of the Program. The most relevant, from a structural standpoint was the division of the component of investment in community development (Programa de investimento comunitário) into two components: income generation (Bolsa Floresta Renda) and social development (Bolsa Floresta Social).

After 2010, the role of the Monitoring Committee was taken by the Leaders Assembly, which included presidents and two members of each of the 15 areas where the Program is being implemented. These meetings take place twice a year and last five days. These meetings have become a major mechanism of empowering communities in the revision of the design and implementation of the Program. A number of other small changes have also been made. As of October 2013, the Program had  62rules approved by the Leaders Assembly, being these: 34 by the Familiar, 9 by the Association, 10 by the Social and 9 by the Income component.

One of the major changes approved by the Leaders Assembly was the flexibility of allocation of funds from income (Bolsa Floresta Renda) to social (Bolsa Floresta Social) or vice-versa. The limit approved is 25%. This was a response to demands coming from participatory planning workshops and resulted in significant improvements in the efficacy and effectiveness of the investments.

As of October 2013, over 300 participatory planning workshops had been carried out by the Program. There is a control of a number of indicators to monitor the quality of participation. In 2012, there were more participation than expected: an indicator of trust and interest in the Program.  Considering the number of expected participants, participatory planning workshops had 104% participants. Gender participation is also monitored and women participation encouraged: 45%of participants were women. There is a management protocol to monitor the Program, which include indicators such as: (i) conflicts and solutions identified, (ii) cost per workshop, (iii) cost per participant, (iv) recommendations and suggestions.

In 2013 FAS begun to implement a new set of indicators used to increase efficiency, efficacy and effectiveness of the Program.  As of October 2013 FAS was monitoring 18 indicators. These indicators were audited by PwC, an auditing firm. The audit results were positive. A complementary set of 6 indicators is being developed and implemented by FAS. These are called “third generation indicators”.

In order to provide scientific evidence to feed the process of evaluation and constant improvenment of the Program, FAS has established a number of partnerships with research organizations, including:

  • National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA)
  • Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM)
  • IIED
  • UMB
  • University of Bonn
  • University of East Anglia

Lessons learned

  • Participation of a large number (over 30) institutions, representing civil society, academia and government in several (13) workshops and associated consultative process that resulted in the first design of the Program was essential for its achievements to date. Similarly the two workshops in the communities of RDS Uatumã also played an important role towards the same end.
  • Constant improvements in the design and strategy of Program implementation, linking suggestions from local grassroots participatory planning workshops to the decision making body of Leaders Assembly has given a very significant gain in legitimacy of the decision making process. These changes in Program design and strategy have resulted in greater equity, efficacy, effectiveness and efficacy of the Program.
  • Participatory planning workshops at the community level (+300) proved to be an important mechanism to secure free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of participants of the Program. The bottom up process of identifying suggestions for improvements in Program design and implementation strategy also proved to be very important for project success.
  • The strategic decision to have an uniform design across different project areas (15) proved to be very appropriate to secure good project management practices and control of the quality of implementation. Since this is a complex and difficult operation, having different designs for different communities would prove to be not practical from an operational standpoint.
  • Program monitoring, through specific indicators have provided an important tool to improve project management. More gains are expected in the coming years as a result of a new set of indicators.
  • Research partnerships have  also provided source of information and analysis to improve project management.
  • The social technology developed by the Bolsa Floresta Program is possibly one of the single most important contribution to the REDD+ debate, specially in regards to benefit sharing, legitimacy, equity and transparency.

[1] – Published in

[2] – Institutions involved in social movements: CNS, FETAGRI, GTA, COIAB, IPE, ISA, FVA, Instituto Mmairauá, Instituto Piagaçú-Purus and 14 CUs’ Associations.

[3] – As expected interest in participation increased over time, as communities learned in practice the nature of the Program. In the first year (2007), under 60% of participants of workshops chose to participate. In 2013, over 95% of participants chose to participate in the Program.

[4] – Some families had to travel for more than two days to attend participatory planning workshops.