Abstract: In this article, we present an empirically based and critical investigation of the ways in which a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project in Zanzibar takes steps to establish the systems required to produce a forest carbon commodity eligible for sale in the global carbon market. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth knowledge about REDD+ processes in Zanzibar, we discuss how the commodification of forest carbon is at odds with local norms, practices and social relations at local level in Zanzibar, and show how commodification processes – in a context of highly volatile carbon markets – creates new uncertainties and relations of dependence. We argue that, by converting the local forest into a source of one single commodity for sale (‘forest carbon’), the project reduces the use value of the forest for local women and men, thus undermining the longer-term rationality inherent in local norms and socially embedded forest practices. We indicate that these also include norms that serve to protect forests. In the context of contemporary debates about the functioning of REDD+ and commodification of forest carbon more in general, this article contributes to enhance current understanding of REDD+ practices and impacts at local level.
Keywords: Commodification; Social embeddedness; Forest carbon; PES; REDD+; Zanzibar