Changing Livelihoods and Conservation Incentives in the Anthropocene: A Case Study of an Indigenous Emberá Community in Panama
This presentation shows the preliminary results of a study conducted with an Emberá indigenous community of Eastern Panama that has been involved in carbon-based reforestation and conservation projects for over three decades. Based on a collection of individual and communal oral history interviews, the goal of this study is to examine how livelihoods and land use have changed in the community during the last few decades, paying special attention to the trends in decoupling and coupling of livelihoods with natural resources, and to assess the role played by a community-based REDD+ project in these changes. It finds complex interactions and embeddedness of the reforestation project with and within other social-ecological drivers of change at different scales. These include environmental changes, socio-economic struggles and development, the COVID-19 pandemic, evolving institutions, and environmental policies. These interrelated elements influence people’s livelihood incentives and decisions and, depending on asset endowment, lead to heterogeneous land coupling pathways. Moreover, the carbon project was found to have caused unanticipated spillovers that affect the project’s net carbon sequestration and socio-economic outcomes, including carbon leakages, policy interactions, and information diffusion. These, in turn, influence the community members’ willingness to engage and comply with reforestation initiatives over time. By outlining how the planning and implementation of a forest carbon project intersect with various other social, economic, ecological, and institutional drivers of change, this research contributes to the discussion of the embeddedness of social and environmental dimensions of change in the Anthropocene and discourses of justice at local and global scales in climate change mitigation efforts.