Interview with Diego Luna Quevedo, Response Fund Regional Coordinator for South America, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA)

Interviewed by Nuria Bolaños, Rainforest Alliance

“The Response Fund is a tool that is based on experience and the hypothesis that by investing funds at the right time, you can reduce tensions.”

The Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano’s (FFLA) Response Fund seeks to provide an immediate and appropriate response to socio-environmental conflicts in Latin America. The fund is designed to promote dialogue between stakeholders in order to prevent the escalation of tensions and conflicts regarding policies and projects surrounding issues such as mining, petroleum, natural gas, forestry, palm plantations, marine resources, property rights, land use, and water sources. Many of these issues involve indigenous lands and are critical biodiversity conservation areas, illustrating how the environmental dimension of a social conflict becomes the defining factor of a socio-environmental conflict.

Diego Luna, Photo by S. MenaThe Response Fund’s team is comprised of four people: Juan Dumas, FFLA General Director; Philippa Heylings, Director of Socio-environmental Conflict Prevention and Management; Cristina Pinto, Project Assistant; and Diego Luna Quevedo, Response Fund Regional Coordinator for South America. Diego Luna tells us about experiences from the Response Fund’s first four years.

Question: How did the Response Fund begin?

Luna: The Fund was created in 2003 by Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, or FFLA, as a mechanism for immediate response to the escalation of conflicts. The Fund was launched in 2005 in Ecuador with the participation of seven projects that each received $5,000 from funding provided by the United Nations Development Programme, Corporación Andina de Fomento, and National Environmental Fund of Ecuador.

The lessons learned from this first experience were used in another regional call for proposals in March 2007 that generated 32 proposals from South America, two of which received funding for interventions. One case was presented by Fundación Proteger in Argentina for a fishing conflict in the Paraná Medio that falls within the Jaaukanigás Ramsar site. Another involved a project in Brazil that was managed by the Instituto Ambiental Brasil Sustentable called A Life for a Bundle of Wood: The Conflict Between V&M Forestry and Family Farmers of Northern Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Q: How does the Response Fund prevent conflicts by providing funds?

Luna: The Fund strives to resolve crises and transform socio-environmental conflicts into opportunities to create appropriate public policies.  We believe that timely and effective intervention makes prevention possible.  When there is dialogue between stakeholders, it reduces tensions and prevents conflicts.

Diego Luna and José Luis “Geta” López in the Jaaukanigás Ramsar Site.  Photo by R.RocoQ: What is needed in order to resolve conflicts?

Luna: When prevention is no longer possible because the situation has already escalated into a conflict, a number of tools can be used to study and manage the conflict. Without a doubt, capacity building in South America is a top priority. One of these tools is the FFLA’s training programs in institutional strengthening and capacity building. The role of facilitators is critical in this process.

FFLA’s Socioenvironmental Conflict Prevention and Management Program aims to create and sustain good governance and social justice, peace, and equality as the basis for sustainable development. This program is carried out through several lines of work, one of them being the Response Fund. The Fund was developed from our experience that investing funds in a timely manner can reduce tensions, as demonstrated by two interventions in 2007.

The conflict prevention and management program has some interesting lines of work: launching short and medium-term interventions to facilitate dialogue in conflict situations and to provide technical assistance; providing training in analyzing, preventing, and managing conflicts; developing public and private mechanisms for good governance; promoting initiatives through networks; and systematizing lessons learned. FFLA’s work has focused initially on South America and has recently begun to address needs in Central America.

Q: How do social conflicts affect the environment?

Luna: In my opinion, it is hard to separate the social and environmental dimensions of a conflict. The interventions that are supported by the Response Fund strive for good governance – a challenge for this continent.

In South America, many of the most valuable protected areas and ecosystems are located over subterranean reserves of hydrocarbons or mining resources. Also, important resources are frequently found on the ancestral lands of indigenous communities or isolated communities that depend on these resources to survive

Conflicts are increasing in connection to policies and projects for the extraction of natural resources such as gas, mining, petroleum, forestry products, oil palm, marine resources, and water sources, as well as property rights and land use. This is when the environment starts to become a concern. There is an increasing number of extractive industries and projects to build infrastructure particularly in regions with indigenous populations, isolated communities, or in key conservation areas. These cases involve a socio-environmental dimension, and are what we define as socio-environmental conflicts.

 Workshop with the Canabrava community in Minas Gerais-Brazil.  Photo by Diego Luna

Workshop with the Canabrava community in Minas Gerais-Brazil.

Q: Can a socio-environmental conflict be transformed into an environmental opportunity?

Luna: Conflicts are an expression and catalyst of social change. The most interesting case involves sábalo (Prochilodus lineatus) fishing in the Paraná River in Argentina, an area that has extremely poor communities living along the riverbanks and close to the Jaaukanigás Ramsar site. Here the conflict surrounds overfishing by commercial outfits and illegal fishing, a situation that has threatened the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen whose economic, social, and cultural status is precarious. The Response Fund stepped in to provide funding for Fundación Proteger to deal with this conflict. As a result, a letter of intent was prepared to develop a participatory management plan for the fishing industry. In this case, the fishing crisis in the Paraná River became an opportunity to develop a management plan for fishing in a Ramsar site, a wetland area of international importance. This is a model to build good governance in the region. Timely intervention is always the goal. In Argentina, having all the stakeholders sign the letter of intent was a great achievement and a positive development for the fishing industry.

In Brazil, we obtained data, including a survey, to determine the ways to link stakeholders, and a dialogue was proposed. This case was more complex because it required building trust between all the stakeholders, which required a lot of time. Instituto Ambiental de Brasil helped to build this trust and the stakeholders exchanged information and made plans for a future dialogue to discuss regulations, roles, objectives, agreements, and more.

The Fund’s interventions are three months long, which is not a lot of time to produce concrete results. The Fund supports timely interventions that will provide other opportunities – in Argentina it was the management plan, and in Brazil it was a proposal for a dialogue. In both cases, the organizations had to look for additional funding to move ahead.

Q: How do you determine whether a project applying for help will be successful?

Luna: Our evaluation team uses a matrix with probability indicators that are set by the FFLA. These indicators measure the characteristics of the case to determine the need for intervention from the Response Fund. For example, the level of power and communication held between stakeholders is examined, as well as the relationships between the stakeholders. Based on these indicators, we can determine what interventions should be funded. We also measure the amount of pressure placed on the natural resources in the area of conflict, the number of requests, and the capacity of organizations to deal with the conflict. Another of our actions is to build institutional capacity because Latin America does not currently have the ability to manage and transform conflicts, or the mechanisms for analysis.

Q: After three months of intervention, what happens next? Do you monitor the follow-up actions?

Luna: The Fund has a tool that generates the information needed to provide follow up after the funding has ended. The Fund reduces conflict in a timely way to prevent violence or the escalation of tensions that can harm cultural lifestyles, resources, etc. It strives to build legitimate and equitable forums for stakeholders.

Q: Does the Fund focus on any areas in particular?

Luna: The first regional call for proposals produced a number of proposals dealing with marine resources and problems of water availability. Although we still need to review the lessons learned from that phase, we determined that the Response Fund should be categorized by topic: funds for marine resource conflicts, for example. Some conflicts are regional in scope – the Andean, Amazonian, and Southern Cone regions — involving specific topics in sub-regions. There are many variations on the themes and formats, and this has been part of FFLA’s learning process.

Q: What are the main lessons learned from the Fund?

Luna: Right now we are finishing the first round of projects and the related administrative tasks of the Fund. We are defining indicators to measure the success of the interventions, and are determining what lessons we would like to learn. Many interesting questions have come up, such as: What is the ideal format for the Fund? Is a grant fund the best way to deal with conflicts in a timely manner? We believe that funds allocated at the right time with the proper capacity help to reduce conflicts and promote good governance. In looking at the lessons learned, we must consider if we would like to expand the Response Fund to address other topics throughout South America.

Q: How can conflict resolution be restricted to a funding timeframe?

Luna: This is one of the points that we need to study. We initially had many discussions on whether the Fund could work in a timely way using the standard grant format. By creating rapid implementation goals, project managers were able to intervene in the conflict in a short period of time. The projects have proved that this works. We also face the difficulty of obtaining funds or cooperation from agencies to resolve conflicts. Although the ideal situation would be to have a Fund that would allow us to deal with the conflict at the most opportune time, we have factored in all the variables to make the fund sustainable.

Q: What is your vision for the short term?

Luna: It is important to work with programs that build institutional capacity. Stakeholders in South America from government, NGOs, municipalities, communities, businesses, and others are not equipped to manage or prevent conflicts. In this respect, we need to work in capacity-building in order for the interventions from the Response Fund to be more effective. Having received training and support, stakeholders can obtain the tools they need, propose projects, and promote dialogue. This is the how the lines of action for capacity-building are developed. We need to have several funds.

Q: What are your funding sources?

Luna: This phase received $30,000 for technical assistance. We also had funds from the Inter-American Development Bank that we used to evaluate our lessons learned. We are dealing with limited resources. Most of the 32 proposals received were very interesting, but we were only able to fund two. This is a small fund that still has room to grow, an indication that the Response Fund is an effective tool.

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