Why isolated attempts at tenure securitization through REDD+ pilot projects are insufficient

Scientists suggest collaboration with government actors and improved participation to overcome land tenure challenges.

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What are the forest tenure conditions at REDD+ project sites from the point of view of villagers? What actions have been taken by REDD+ proponents in relation to tenure issues? What are national factors affecting tenure security at project sites and how are REDD+ proponents addressing them?

These are questions that a team of CIFOR researchers and their partners sought to answer under the auspices of the Global Comparative Study on REDD+.

They worked in five countries — Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Tanzania, Vietnam — each of which varies along several dimensions, including type and extent of forest cover, extent of forest degradation, extent of community/state/private control over forest resources, strong donor interest and CIFOR’s presence in-country.

Tenure security is a prerequisite for sustainable use and management of forests and trees (which need longer-term investments) and an important element in the path towards poverty reduction and sustainable livelihoods. Security of tenure is thus at the heart of REDD+, a global, performance-based initiative that seeks to reduce deforestation and degradation by providing incentives for and rewards to resource users and managers, with the broader goal of addressing climate change over the longer term.

Yet, a recent study by William Sunderlin et al. in World Development argues that despite the broad consensus on the urgency of securing tenure and rights, many organizations (public and private alike) are long on rhetoric and thin on action. In the REDD+ arena in particular, proponents appreciate the importance of securing local tenures but are confronted with longstanding legacies of weak local tenure; options for advancing tenure security are few and untested.

This study provides a coherent and systematic documentation of how REDD+ project proponents are approaching tenure matters in their project sites, the constraints they face, their attempts at overcoming obstacles, and the general actions required to strengthen tenure, rights and access for REDD+ initiatives.

Though work is conducted at the local level, the authors are sensitive to its embedding within national systems and importantly place a premium on the rights and access of forest adjacent/forest dependent villages and communities, whom they unambiguously characterize as the primary rights holders.

Address tenure before REDD+ begins

The authors suggest that tenure security issues must be addressed before REDD+ begins. Further elaborating, they suggest that REDD+ proponents must undertake three clusters of actions to provide the certainty to local rights required to ensure that REDD+ initiatives meet their longer term goals.

The first cluster of actions pertains directly to tenure securitization and includes identifying legitimate rights holders; mapping out responsibilities and matching them up to rights and entitlements; thwarting any race to capture rents by elite actors; and, safeguarding existing rights and livelihoods. The second cluster of actions relates to participation, representation, awareness raising, information sharing and consensus building regarding REDD+ interventions. The third cluster of actions relates to cross-level governance, coordination and cooperation, especially with the arms of governments mandated with tenure reform implementation, recordation and overall enforcement.

The authors found that more than half of the 71 villages indicated that tenure over some of their land was insecure. Tenure insecurity was largely the result of competition and conflict, lack of formal documentation, simplicity of rights’ revocation processes, and land-use restrictions by government and private enterprises.

Tackling drivers of tenure insecurity

The majority of drivers of insecurity were external rather than interactions from within and among communities themselves. Compliance with internal rules was mostly moderate to high, and villagers were mostly successful in excluding unauthorized appropriation and use.

From the perspective of project proponents, conflict and lack of legal clarity are prime drivers of tenure insecurity in REDD+ project sites.

Obviously these cross-country findings play out differently when individual countries are singled out for analysis. Interestingly, the highest levels of perceived tenure insecurity as well as operational difficulties in excluding unauthorized users are found in Brazil and Indonesia — countries with the highest forest cover among the study countries.

From the perspective of project proponents, conflict and lack of legal clarity are prime drivers of tenure insecurity in project sites. Proponents use four major approaches to tenure securitization which include: boundary clarification/demarcation; forest reservation, documentation and formalization (Brazil, Tanzania, Vietnam), negotiated land use planning (Indonesia), and extending the duration of community tenure (Tanzania).

This is arguably one of the most significant findings of this study. It suggests that diverse approaches are necessary, presumably in line with the diverse drivers of insecurity in specific project sites.

Importantly, project proponents view effective internal interactions among villagers and the strategies they adopt for the governance of their shared forests as a key part of overall tenure security. This is also significant and matches other authors’ accounts.

Moreover, even though proponents’ community education and information initiatives were underway or completed in only about half of the total 71 villages, proponents faced a major dilemma. The high transaction costs of initiating and managing such programs does not sit well with a three to five year project cycle, over and above the difficult prospect of raising local expectations in light of global uncertainty over the longevity of the REDD+ concept.

National factors also affect tenure 

In addition to project operations, project proponents face a host of national factors that influence tenure security at project sites. While strong national government recognition and support for community and smallholder rights and access (in all countries except Indonesia) and strong political support for climate programs such as REDD+ (like in Indonesia) are important enabling conditions, these are countered by inadequate implementation, the complexity and overlapping nature of rights, and conflict over rights, access and benefits.

Moreover, and perhaps more troubling and deserving of further analysis, project proponents (except those in Brazil) are unable to coordinate with national strategies and actions (often because such governance measures simply do not exist). Indeed, the authors suggest that REDD+ proponents’ efforts at clarifying tenure are piecemeal and isolated and unlikely to have much meaningful or sustained impact.

Exposing the underbelly of tenure securitization

The authors make standard recommendations regarding tenure securitization in REDD+, which is consistent with a large body of literature over the past two decades in the land sector viz: improve participation and consultation, integrate local initiatives into national land tenure institutions and processes, enforce tenure laws, clarify/rationalize cross-sectoral policies and so on.

The novelty of this study runs much deeper than its recommendations. First, it provides a systematic, cross-country comparative analysis, which is rare. Second, it exposes the soft underbelly of tenure securitization projects in clear and unambiguous terms: little of value can be achieved in the context of project cycles absent of collaboration with government actors who not only control a large proportion of the forest estates in many countries, but who are probably the only consistent actors across vast land and territory, over time, and within and across countries.

Third, the study demonstrates that though tenure security requires a package or portfolio of interventions and services, conflict resolution and the establishment of functional adjudication/arbitration systems that are relevant, accessible and timely is of utmost priority.

Fourth, the study begs the question of political will: strong political will (say for REDD+ projects in Indonesia) does not necessarily appear to be associated with the advancement of local tenure security, yet in countries for which political will is not clearly explicated (such as Brazil) there appears to be some advances.

What makes for this difference? When does political will matter, at what point in implementation and at what level of governance? Does it matter at all for bridging the distance between rhetoric and implementation, between project-level interventions and national-level imperatives?

Esther Mwangi is a senior scientist in CIFOR’s Forests and Governance portfolio. You can contact her at 

CIFOR’s research on forests and gender: 
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This research was carried out as part of the Global Comparative Study on REDD+ and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by AusAID, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Program on Forests (PROFOR).

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Rights