REDD+ projects 0
Other readiness initiatives 5
Forest cover High
Deforestation rate High

Sri Lanka

REDD in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s forest cover was estimated by the FAO to be 26.6% of the land area or 1.7 million hectares in 2010. Bulk of the forest estate is dense natural forests and is mainly situated in the dry zone of the island. Based on the last forest cover assessments of the 1990s, FAO extrapolated declining forest cover of 0.6 to 0.3% over the past decade (FAO, 2010). However, a district-wise analysis suggests a possible overall rise in forest cover already in the late 1990s, with some districts showing significant deforestation and others increases in forest cover (Ratnayake et al., 2002).  A 2010 national forest cover assessment has been finalized but not yet published. This assessment may help shed more light on forest trends and drivers. TROF (Trees outside forest areas) systems in Sri Lanka such as smallholder home gardens, coconut and rubber plantations cover another 27% of the land area or 1.8 million hectares (Chokkalingam et al., 2011). They supply most of Sri Lanka’s forest products and are also increasingly important for their environmental services. 

Sri Lanka was awarded observer status to the UN-REDD Programme Policy Board in October 2009 (UN REDD Programme, 2009). The Forest Department (FD) with support from UN-REDD is currently drafting a National Joint Programme (NJP) for building REDD readiness over the period 2011-14. Sri Lanka’s REDD Readiness Proposal is to be finalized and submitted to the UN-REDD 7th Policy Board meeting by October, 2011.

Sri Lanka has been actively engaged in the international REDD negotiation process since October 2008. As of June 2011, there were no national or sub-national policies or laws related to REDD. Awareness of global forest carbon opportunities and what they could mean for Sri Lanka, its forests and local communities is just evolving. In the last decades forestry sector priorities have shifted from timber production to environmental conservation. Sri Lanka has worked to expand its protected area system and strengthen its governance. To conserve the remaining natural forests, a total logging ban was imposed on the same in 1990 (Bandaratillake, 2011). The Sri Lankan Government is implementing a set of initiatives to resolve environmental issues in its development policies and for reducing deforestation and forest degradation, although no specific REDD+ initiatives have been developed yet.

The Forest Department also explored joining the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) but the FCPF is currently closed to new REDD country participants. Sri Lanka has had little forest carbon activity at the sub-national level so far. Seven CDM AR projects were initiated but did not proceed to validation and implementation stages. One voluntary market project, the Hiniduma Biodiversity Corridor project is currently being developed by Conservation Carbon Company of Sri Lanka for certification to the Plan Vivo standard. The REDD+ NJP draft proposes to conduct pilot REDD+ projects to assess the emissions reduction impacts of forest-based livelihood development activities with the involvement of local stakeholders. Five pilot projects are to be set up in five different districts.

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Institutional arrangements

REDD activities in Sri Lanka are currently coordinated by the Forest Department (FD), which is under the Ministry of Environment (MoE). The MoE is the UNFCCC national focal point. It has established a Climate Change Secretariat (CCS) within to serve as a node for the implementation of UNFCCC decisions and also serves as the Designated National Authority (DNA) for the CDM under the Kyoto Protocol.

The REDD+ National Joint Programme (NJP) draft proposes to establish a multi-stakeholder National REDD+ Programme Management Committee (NPMC) under the leadership of MoE to oversee the REDD readiness process. Members are to include relevant UN agencies; Ministries and Government Institutions; NGOs; relevant Provincial, District and Divisional Secretaries; district and local level Forest Department staff, private sector and local civil society organizations. The Forest Department is to function as the secretariat. A senior FD staff member will be appointed as National Programme Director (NPD) to oversee the programme, monitor progress and report to the NPMC and to the UN agencies and implementing partners.  A special REDD Programme Management Unit (PMU) is to be set up in the Forest Department under the supervision of NPD to implement and coordinate the day-to-day activities of the REDD+ NJP in the country. PMU’s activities will be monitored by the CCS of MoE. 

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Stakeholder engagement and participation

The REDD+ National Joint Programme (NJP) draft was circulated to selected stakeholders. A first meeting of invited stakeholders was held in March 2011 and their comments noted. A second set of stakeholder meetings involving indigenous communities, community based organizations (CBOs), private sector, NGOs and government sector was conducted in July 2011. Three representatives from United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented the UN-REDD programme. Comments were invited and noted from all of these groups. Sri Lanka’s REDD Readiness Proposal is to be finalized and submitted to the UN-REDD 7th Policy Board meeting by October, 2011.

The NJP aims for broad stakeholder engagement in Sri Lanka’s REDD readiness process through capacity building of relevant stakeholders at national and local levels, and establishment of a multi-stakeholder National REDD+ Programme Management Committee (NPMC) to oversee the readiness process and reach consensus on key issues related to REDD+. All relevant stakeholders are to be involved in REDD+ strategy development, and in revising the National Forest Policy and Forestry Sector Master Plan to incorporate REDD+ and ensure expected results and equitable benefit distribution. The NJP also proposes to generate REDD+ experience at the local level with the participation of communities in REDD+ pilot projects.

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Land tenure arrangements and carbon rights

The State administers about 93% of the forest lands in Sri Lanka − 1.51 million hectares by the Forest Department (FD) and 1.04 million hectares by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) under the Ministry of Agrarian Services and Wildlife (FAO, 2010). About 1.6 million hectares of the closed-canopy natural forests are gazetted for conservation and non-extractive uses while o.5 million hectares under the FD are gazetted for multiple use, in particular for the rural poor. Local communities are allowed to extract non-timber forest products (NTFP), fuelwood and small timber from FD areas managed with community participation. In addition, indigenous people can use forests within their village limits for settlement, cultivation and hunting.

Community ownership and participation in forest management has been limited to some donor-funded community forestry projects on multiple use areas since the 1980s.  Under the community forestry project funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB), farmers could lease degraded forest land for 25 years for wood production and local livelihood benefits (ADB, 2001). The “village forest” category administered by the Divisional Secretariats were used for different purposes and ceased to exist on the ground by year 2009.

Recent government policies aim to actively promote and support: a) community-based forest management outside the protected area system for a variety of goods and services, b) private sector and community management of forest plantations on degraded state lands to meet increased wood demand, and c) TROF systems as the main source of wood production by providing appropriate conditions and incentives including tenurial arrangements. A mechanism to involve local communities in state forest management is yet to be developed. The private sector can obtain long-term land leases to establish commercial forest plantations. However, their activity has been limited due to lack of suitable land, unclear land titles and complicated tax regulations.

The BimSaviya: National Land Title Registration Programme was launched in 2007 by the Ministry of Land and Land Development to survey and demarcate lands, issue titles and strengthen land ownership. The REDD+ National Joint Programme (NJP) will focus on participatory REDD+ management for poverty reduction and livelihood improvement. It proposes to set up institutional and legal arrangements to generate increased opportunities for the stakeholders, but tenure arrangements are not specifically mentioned. The NJP will support further demarcation of the Permanent Forest Estate under the Forest Department following an Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded project that concluded demarcation on approximately 40% of the area. 

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Forest management

Given existing forest tenure systems, the supply of environmental services is largely in State hands and numerous government regulations attempt to protect the environment and control forest use. Commercial logging has been banned in natural forests since 1990 and mainly non-extractive uses such as tourism are permitted. Compliance is primarily addressed through law enforcement at present. Institutions responsible for enforcement include the Forest Department (FD), the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), the State Timber Corporation, the Sri Lanka Police Department and Administrative Heads of districts, divisions and villages. The National Environmental Regulations under the National Environmental Act seek to ensure environmental protection in various development activities. It requires an approval subjected to environmental impact assessment (EIA) for timber harvests from forests and forest plantations exceeding five hectares and prevents the conversion of forests exceeding one hectare to non-forest use.

Since the 1990s policies seek to promote participatory management approaches and secure land tenure rights for non-state actors including use rights on state land. However, mechanisms have not been put in place yet to grant tenure rights to local communities. The National Environment Policy of 2003 mentions using a wider range of policy tools, including economic or market-based instruments, that provide incentives while minimizing compliance costs to achieve beneficial environmental outcomes. Market-based instruments such as Payments for Environmental Services (PES) for forests are not specifically mentioned in current forest and environmental laws but most laws were last amended in the 1990s when PES and forest carbon activities were not yet common considerations.

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Reference levels

No reference levels have been established as yet. The REDD+ National Joint Programme (NJP) proposes to develop Reference Emission Scenarios for national and regional levels by December 2013 by establishing a technical working group, reviewing available methodologies, developing methodological options, compiling data, testing a provisional REL in a pilot province and consulting with stakeholders.

There is no publicly available information about reference levels for the Hiniduma Biodiversity Corridor project since validation is underway although the Project Idea Note (PIN) has been approved by the Plan Vivo Foundation.

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There is no established national MRV methodology or system for REDD at present – for monitoring biophysical parameters such as forest cover and degradation or for environmental, social and governance safeguards. The REDD+ National Joint​ Programme (NJP) will help establish a Forest Resource Inventory System combining satellite imagery and field sampling to generate precise, complete, comparable, reliable information for monitoring forest  cover, biomass and carbon stocks. It will cover natural forests, forest plantations and other tree based land use types such as home gardens. A new methodology will be developed for forest and carbon inventory following IPCC and/or FAO guidelines. The rate of deforestation and forest degradation and resultant change in carbon stocks could be assessed periodically by using the proposed inventory system.

The NJP proposes a special REDD Programme Management Unit (PMU) in the Forest Department with one task being to coordinate efforts to design a monitoring system of the possible impacts of REDD+ activities. It also proposes to design standards and a monitoring system for REDD+ pilot projects and their impacts and to generate REDD+ experience at the local level with the participation of communities.

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No environmental, social, governance and other safeguards have been developed yet for REDD+ implementation in Sri Lanka. The one voluntary market forest carbon project will have to meet Plan Vivo social and other safeguards to receive Plan Vivo certification. The REDD+ National Joint Programme (NJP) draft states that “adequate consideration has been provided on the aspects of community participation, improved accountability, protection of human rights, gender, environmental issues, etc.” It also mentions that the participatory REDD+ programme will contribute to improving the capacity of local level stakeholders to create good governance.

Some plantations in Sri Lanka are undertaking Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. By July 2011, 22,582 hectares of plantations (mainly rubber and eucalyptus) were FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council, July 2011). The National Environmental Act (Amended act No 53 of 2000) requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for timber harvests from forests and forest plantations exceeding five hectares and prevents the conversion of forests exceeding one hectare to non-forest use. 

Gender Equality

Women play a unique role in forest use and management in Sri Lanka (Gurung et al., 2013). There are marked gender differences in knowledge, roles and engagement in forest activities and natural resources management. Women provide unpaid family labour, make up the majority of community based organisations (CBO) members, and carry out the day-to-day intensive tasks required to maintain subsistence farms and sustain forest management. Women are 68%-100% responsible for gathering forest products for household consumption, and hold similar responsibilities in the management of home gardens.

Sri Lanka’s R-PP (2012) includes a section on ‘gender related issues’, in which it acknowledges that Sri Lanka’s constitution considers men and women equal, and notes that women are key play players in community development projects as organisers of CBOs. However, it does not explicitly recognise the importance of gender in the context of forest activities. Women are not identified as a stakeholder group and were not targeted in the stakeholder and community level consultations carried out as part of the R-PP development process.

Sri Lanka receives financial support from the UN-REDD programme and has developed a UN-REDD National Programme Document (2013). The document outlines plans to design and implement training on communication and team building for women, and has allocated resources to this action as part of the desired outcome to enhance stakeholder engagement in the REDD+ readiness process (Output 3.2, Activity 3.2.8). There are also plans to analyse gaps in land ownership legislation and policy, with a particular focus on gender issues (Activity 4.2.2). Two women’s organisations- the Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR) and the Women’s Bureau, have been identified as potential members for the REDD+ Programme Management and Coordinating Committee (RPMCC). The National Programme document details plans to establish the RPMCC, in 2012, as the decision-making authority for Sri Lanka’s National REDD+ Programme, through a decree from the Ministry of the Environment. This has not been achieved but a Programme Executive Board (PEB), formed in September 2013, serves the function of a national RPMCC.

Whilst there are currently few policies or institutions that incorporate a gender focus into forestry and/or natural resource management, there are established legislative frameworks for both gender equality and forest management that could be utilised to implement a gender sensitive REDD+ programme. Following the ratification of Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1981), the Women’s Charter was developed with input from women from several NGOs. The Charter is the main policy document for assuring women’s rights in various spheres of women’s lives- political, civil, within the family, in education, in economic activities and health-, and for providing protection from discrimination and gender-based violence. Sri Lanka’s national development policy framework, the “Mahinda Chintana”, strongly emphasises the importance of women in Sri Lankan society and aims to integrate a gender focus into all development processes. The framework prioritises the empowerment of women and reducing gender inequality, putting particular emphasis on developing a labour market that provides good quality, productive employment with an equal gender division. The National Plan of Action for Women (2010-2013) proposes actions to achieve gender equality, focusing on inter alia reducing violence against women, promoting political participation, and improving access to health services, and education.

The Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP, 1995) is the only policy or institution to recognise women as ‘primary users of tree and forest products’ and the group most likely implement advice delivered to forest communities. The FSMP states that when designing forest programmes, gender must be considered, and that women should be included throughout to ensure the success of extension programmes. Both the FSMP and the National Forestry Policy supports empowering rural populations to benefit from managing and protecting multiple-use forests.

In principle, the law assures women’s equal right to own, inherit and control land. However, there is a discrepancy between inheritance laws, and societal customs, particularly within marriage, because men tend to receive land as property according to the prevailing traditional patriarchal system. Women’s access to land and property is limited by cultural practices and accompanying rules, such as the Jaffna Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance (1911), Kandyan Law Declaration and Amendment Ordinance (1939), and the Muslim Intestate Succession Ordinance (1931). Further, the Sri Lankan Land Development Ordinance (1934) gives preference to male-headed households, thus discriminating against women (SIGI, 2014).   

There are several existing Sri Lankan institutions dealing with women’s affairs or natural resource management that may play important roles in incorporating a gender focus into REDD+. The Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs (MCDWA) includes the National Committee on Women, and the Women’s Bureau. These bodies are responsible for guaranteeing gender equality and women’s empowerment through a decentralised network of women’s development officers (the National Committee), and by formulating policy, and mainstreaming gender into development processes (the Women’s Bureau). The Women’s Extension of the Department of Agriculture works with local communities and farmers to deliver awareness-raising and livelihood development activities. Where levels of women’s engagement in farming is high, the Women’s Extension has also established a Federation of Farm Women through which technical guidance, training in the processing of products, and capacity-building in resource and home garden management is delivered.  

Actions underway at two field sites were analysed by a report on Women’s Inclusion in REDD+ in Sri Lanka by Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN), UN-REDD and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests (LEAF) project. A community forestry intervention in Ihalathimbiriyawa (Kurunegala District) under the Sri Lanka Australian Natural Resource Management Project has:  trained women as extension officers, created two women-dominated CBOs, and effectively increased women’s participation following awareness-raising, participatory workshops and training in resource mapping. A project called Women’s Group Reviving Traditional Roots and Tubers in Aranayaka is managed by female-led self-help groups. The project has already significantly increased women’s income and continues to deliver training in cultivation, organic farming, seed conservation, and issues faced by low income farmers.


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