Rio+20 Dialogues: forest peoples’ rights, how can they be recognised and secured?

Calls for civil society to engage in discussion on tenure and land rights.

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BOGOR, Indonesia (24 May, 2012)_Pervasive tenure insecurity is limiting the implementation of sustainable development policy in many countries, with struggles for land in the Brazilian Amazon being linked to violent conflicts and excessive deforestation.

These startling issues are just some of discussion points raised by participants in the Rio+20 Dialogue on Forests while debating how customary use claims to land by indigenous and rural communities can be formally recognised and secured by governments.

According to a recent study by the Forest Peoples Program, one billion of those classified as living in “extreme poverty” depend on forest resources for all or part of their livelihoods. While there has been a recent shift of forest ownership from governments to local communities known as the “global forest tenure transition”, in many countries forest peoples still do not have secure tenure over these areas and are denied access and use of their territories because of inadequate government policies, extractive industries’ activities, or conservation initiatives, such as strict protected areas.

“The high profile murders of rural leaders such as Chico Mendes, Sister Dorothy Stang and João Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo have drawn national and international attention to the devastating results of Amazonian land conflicts,” said Amy Duchelle, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and facilitator of the forests rights dialogue.

In 2009, an important Brazilian national initiative called the Terra Legal (“Legal Land”) Program was launched to address the problem of tenure insecurity by granting land titles to around 300,000 smallholders who claim rights to public lands in the Amazon, Duchelle explains in her dialogue post.

A recent report analysing the impact of Terra Legal showed that only 611 land titles had actually been granted with land valued much lower than market prices, possibly promoting land speculation, said Duchelle. This begs the question: what are the elements needed for more sustainable land reform?

“For me, the type of tenure reform we need is towards accessible and secure commercial forest rights that include (crucially) timber and wood energy. This creates the incentive to manage and restore forests,” said Duncan MacQueen, Principal Researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

According to Isabel Drigo from the Ethics and Economics Department at the Université de Montréal, property rights issues are not only about legal property rights to land but also have a very important economic definition that needs to be taken into consideration.

“Governments [must] begin to really invest in developing rural and forest regions to create the necessary conditions to small holders of land and forests to [economically] reproduce there. It means a clear national budget target and [a need to] fight corruption seriously inside official bureaus.”

These topics and more are under debate as part of the Rio+20 Dialogues, a tool for civil society to engage in the topics under discussion at Rio in order to produce a series of recommendations that will be presented to heads of state gathering in Brazil for the Rio+20 summit.

CIFOR, along with Yale University and the University of Sao Paulo, is moderating the dialogue on forests. The dialogue has now entered the recommendations drafting phase and it is time to articulate your ideas for how we can integrate forests into sustainable development.

Kindly go to the Forests dialogue, read the recommendations already posted and click the “Support” button if you would like to see the statement taken to heads of state at Rio+20. You can also draft recommendations by clicking “Make Your Recommendation”. Drafting will continue until Sunday June 3, when the recommendations that receive the most support will be transferred to a public website for voting.

Here are some excerpts from the ongoing debate (please note that these have not been edited).

deon geldenhuys
Mon, May 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Forest people can be an asset to a state if they become part of an eco tourism initiative .If they are taught that they can profit more from tourism than poaching or logging . It is a complex problem but forests are becoming more important in protecting all of humanity from runaway global warming.

Vasco Schmidt
Mon, May 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Deon, I agree with you that tourism can/does play a role in making money from forests. However, ecotourism is especially difficult to transition to/ or develop in war torn countries. In these countries people SURVIVE on poaching, wood/fuel from/ or small illegal/unofficial wood exploitation. Forest people may be excluded and discriminated/exploited as much as the Forest.

Important, is interdisciplinary research in order to continue implementing effective appoaches/change- eg. ecology coupled with anthropology (etnoecology) in order to better understand local markets of forest products.

It may seem rather obvious that in countries were security is a real issue preventing tourists to dare visit, the urgent priority lies in development of for instance Agroforestry (small-scale) projects around forests in order to help people, minimise/prevent poaching/logging pressures. Such projects can be coupled with peer educational projects helping the forest people and hence protecting forests.

Unfortunately, it is only after development/institutionalisation of a country that its security situation may improve; the icing on the cake potentially being the profitable business of ecotourism.

Amy Duchelle
Mon, May 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Vasco raises some important issues about limitations in peoples’ rights to access markets (in his example the implications of war on ecotourism suitability).

I would like to respond to Michelle’s initial question about kind of land reform needed to promote sustainable development:

Pervasive tenure insecurity limits the implementation of sustainable development policy in many countries. In the Brazilian Amazon, struggles for land have been linked to violent conflicts and deforestation beyond what would have been cleared for agriculture alone (Alston et al. 2000, Aldrich et al. 2012). The high profile murders of rural leaders such as Chico Mendes, Sister Dorothy Stang and João Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo, have drawn national and international attention to the devastating results of Amazonian land conflicts.

In 2009, an important Brazilian national initiative called the Terra Legal “Legal Land” Program (; within the broader Law 11.952/2009) was launched to address the problem of tenure insecurity through linking land tenure reform and environmental compliance. The program’s objective was to grant land titles to ~300,000 smallholders who claim rights to public lands in the Amazon. To receive titles, smallholders must have occupied and cultivated a portion of the land since 2004, occupied the area peacefully, be Brazilian citizens, and not own other rural properties or have benefited from land reform efforts. Titles are conditional on compliance with the current Brazilian Forest Code (80% of landholding in forest cover). Proponents ofTerra Legal viewed it as a way to support smallholders’ rights and productive activities; critics considered it a way to legalize land grabbing.

A 2011 report by Brenda Brito and Paulo Barreto of IMAZON (Amazon Institute of People and the Environment) analyzes TerraLegal in its first two years of implementation:

Their work highlights that while 87,992 lots were registered in the first two years of the program (an area of 10.3 million hectares) only 611 rural land titles had actual been granted, and less than half of these had started the environmental licensing process. Additionally, program land values were much lower market prices, which could indeed promote land speculation. So, what are the elements needed for more sustainable land reform? In terms of Terra Legal, the authors recommend public access to cadastral data, identification of areas already occupied by traditional communities, reconsideration of the program’s land values in relation to market prices, and continued advancement in the cancellation of false land titles.

What are the limits to sustainable land tenure reform in the places where others of you work?

Marco Lentini
Tue, May 15, 2012 at 03.26 pm

Dear all,

I think my colleagues in this post could give more interesting points of view in comparison to what I could give in relation to property and customary use rights. Miss Duchelle gave and excellent overview about what has being done in Brazil. However, I would like to raise again the issue of sustainability, and why this is always a challenge in Brazil, which I believe to be a good example for other tropical countries.

The first issue I would like to raise refers to tradition. Many people settled in the official settlements in the Amazon emigrated from other regions, having agriculture as their main focus on their rural production system. The natural way of seeing forest in the land is typically as an additional resource (timber) which can be sold to raise enough funds for equipment or infrastructure. Law has evolved to be more able to closely reprehend such producers, but typically not for showing a better alternative to use forests in a way to conserve them. Many people settled on those lands also did not guarantee minimally their food security in a way to have enough energy to think about conservation. So, the first challenge we have in relation to sustainability is how to find an economic activity for the typical settler in the Amazon which fits in their agriculture schedule and can bring additional revenue?

The second issue I would like to raise refers to the legal instruments. Most settlements and conservation units where traditional people dwell do not have the official plans ordering the use of such lands. In the case of official settlements, INCRA is the federal institution responsible for this task, which is elaborating a human settlement development project. In the case of Conservation Units, is called generically a Management Plan. Without such instruments, few communities were indeed able to carry out the economic activities they are interesting in doing, or to receive support from governments and NGOs to do so. I mean, here the main issue is not the property rights, but the formal access to resources.

Thank you all.

Isabel Drigo
Wed, May 16, 2012 at 07.29 pm

Dear Lentini,

I consider very important your highlights in this topic and I do agree with you. But, i’d like to precise that property rights issues are not only about legal property rights to land. Property rights in Yoram Barzel’s definition, for instance, have a very important economic definition also. It means, the economic property rights is mostly the ability to use some goods or resources and get the rents of this use. That’s the problem for small land holders in Amazon (settlers or extrativistes). Even they achieved legal property rights and even legal instruments are in place, they face many obstacles to use them,economically and legally speaking. Infra-structural barriers (bad roads, no communication or poor communication networks), administrative barriers (complexe and costly procedures), education and technical assistance (poor opportunities to get quality education in one side and poor technical assistance services)  prevent them to usufruct rights over resources  . You know our Brazilian situation regarding this issue. But, I dare to say this is also true for our latin american and african small holders. So, it’s not a original reccomendation that governments begins to really invest to develop rural and forests regions to create the necessary conditions to small holders of land and forests to reproduce themselves there. It means a clear national budget target and fight corruption seriously inside official bureaus.

Greetings from direct forest atlantic forest in São Paulo!

Duncan Macqueen
Fri, May 18, 2012 and 11:05 am

HI there,

Interesting topic. For me, the type of tenure reform we need is towards accessible and secure commercial forest rights that include (crucially) timber and wood energy. This creates the incentive to manage and restore forests. But rights alone are not enough. In order to translate those rights into a real incentive for sustainable forest management, people need business capacity. Too often forest peoples are considered a threat to sustainable forest management and not the vehicle for their conservation. In Sweden local people control forests and the country has 70% forest cover – and its not just the rights that are secure, but the business capacity that has been built over the last 100 year. But business capacity and rights together are also not enough. A third crucial element is organisation – both to achieve economic scale efficiencies to break into competitive markets, but also to lobby government to secure support for rights and business capacity support. I am not alone in thinking this way – please see and support the proposal to ‘invest in locally controlled forestry’ that has the backing of the international family forestry allinace, the global alliance for community forestry and the international alliance of indigenous and tribal people’s of the tropical forests.

Amy Duchelle
Wed, May 16, 2012 at 04.23 pm

‘Free, Prior, and Informed Consent’ (FPIC) is the principle that indigenous and other local communities have the right to accept or deny proposed projects that may affect lands that they have customarily occupied and/or used. The Indigenous Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change in 2009 brought this principle to the forefront of the REDD+ debate insisting on meaningful local participation in the design and implementation of REDD+. This concept is incorporated in international and national-level social and environmental safeguards’ processes (including UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards’ call for parties to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, the REDD+ social and environmental standards of the Climate, Community &Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), the Brazilian REDD+ Social and Environmental Principles and Criteria).

The Forest Peoples’ Programme highlights that – despite the importance of the FPIC principle – there are obstacles to its real world application.  For instance, how can third-party auditors and governments genuinely verify local consent? And will the decisions of local leaders be accountable to other members of their communities?

It would be interesting to hear from those who have experience with the FPIC process in terms of how such challenges are being addressed.

Talía Bonfante
Wed, May 16, 2012 at 05.47 pm

I have been working as CCB and VCS auditor in REDD projects in Brazil and I am 100% sure that evaluate Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process is among the biggest challenge that the audit team has to deal during validation/verification process for innumerous reasons. First of all, the audit is conducted through sampling and each project has its unique characteristics. Furthermore, the auditors have to open their minds for new cultures.  Considering it, in my point of view it is crucial to the auditor team understand the communities’ governance system and respect it during the validation/verification process. Listen to local leader is important, but include the community groups  that usually has less voice in the decision making, e.g. women, teenagers and elderly people, in the auditing process is essential, since these groups are the main clue to find out if the FCIP process was conducted in an inclusive manner.

The other point, FPIC process must be evaluate continually, i.e. it is not just a validation issue but also a verification issue.  For REDD project inBrazil, two main standard are commonly used, VCS and CCB. In general words, the first one is focus on carbon offset accountability while the second is focus on social and environmental benefits. For this reason, I see some projects being validated in both standards but being verified just on VCS. It could represent a risk in medium term, since VCS does not accomplish FCIP process and for this reason it may not be monitored in appropriate manner during the project life time.

I see that REDD projects are stimulating carbon program, validation/verification bodies and project proponents recreating themselves and FPIC is one of the components that is pushing it.

Amy Duchelle
Thu, May 17, 2012 and 12:48 pm

Dear Talia,  Thank you for your thoughts based on experience with third-party verification of FPIC. You remind us that guaranteeing the FPIC principle cannot be a ‘one shot deal’ but rather requires commitment to an iterative process of verification over the course of a project’s life span.

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