LIMA, Peru (18 November, 2011)_Although indigenous groups and smallholders in Latin America can now benefit from increased access to forests resources as a result of a wave of tenure reforms in the past few decades, this has not necessarily led to improved livelihoods or the conservation of community-owned forests, warns a new study by the Center for International Forestry Research.
“While granting rights through forest tenure reforms represented a necessary step for enhancing the livelihoods of smallholders and communities, and for improving forest management, in some cases they failed to recognise local decision making, and in others they failed to provide market incentives and technical support to communities”, said Anne Larson, CIFOR Senior Associate and co-author of the study Recognition of Forest Rights in Latin America: Progress and Shortcomings of Forest Tenure Reforms.
Forest tenure reforms have resulted in increased opportunities for forest dwellers to benefit from access to land and the use of forest resources. This “new wave of land reform” represents a dramatic shift in how forest property rights are granted and to whom, says the study published by the Society and Natural Resources journal.
To capture the diversity of forest tenure reforms in Latin America, the study compared the progress and shortcomings of land tenure reforms in five selected locations: Indigenous territories in Bolivia and Nicaragua, an agro-extractive community in Bolivia, an extractive reserve in Brazil, and social forests concessions in Guatemala.
The case studies showed that the reforms were initially driven by indigenous people and activists demanding formal recognition of their ancestral rights to forests. This coincided with growing global concerns for biodiversity conservation and a shift in political views that supported improved participation of people in forest governance through devolution and decentralization.
“The reforms tried to reconcile the potentially contradictory goals of promoting well-being while conserving forests”, explained Pablo Pacheco, CIFOR scientist and co-author of the study.
Today, indigenous territories, extractive reserves, agroforestry settlements and community forest concessions are some of the tenure arrangements recognised by Latin American states, where 25 million people depend on forest landscapes.
However, smallholders and communities still have to face institutional and legal constraints to fully benefit from forests resources.
“Forest regulations often limit the opportunities of indigenous people and smallholders, leading them to operate informally, often outside the law,” said Pacheco.
The study suggests that sustainable development of these forests could be achieved through recognizing the legal frameworks within forest management systems that rely on local practices, allocating financial resources for the provision of multiple services to local forests users, creating mechanisms to facilitate the development of more transparent markets that favor local forests users, and granting greater decision-making authority to communities and smallholders.
“To achieve both improvements to people’s livelihoods and to forest management, we need to go beyond merely the recognition of tenure rights and align forest reforms with other sectoral policies, promote broader policy incentives to support local efforts to manage forests, and reverse market imperfections, particularly those related to timber,” said Pacheco.
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