For many Indigenous communities, land titles aren’t the same as tenure security

In communities’ visions of a secure future, good governance, transparency, and respect for customary rights matter more than a piece of paper
, Monday, 6 Feb 2023
Women resin transporters, walk as carry resin from the fields to the village, for one kilo they earn Rp. 600, – and usually they can carry fifty kilos one way in Penengahan village, Pesisir Barat regency, Lampung province, Indonesia. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/CIFOR

With international climate negotiations putting Indigenous Peoples and other local communities in the spotlight for climate funding, more attention is being paid to protecting those groups’ rights to their land and forest.

That often takes the form of land titling programs, but titles alone don’t guarantee rights. And while tenure security can make communities more secure, exactly what that means varies from place to place, according to a new study by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF).

“I think a lot of people still believe that land titles grant tenure security, and it’s hard to get away from this idea,” said CIFOR-ICRAF principal scientist Anne Larson. “Data show that people often consider a piece of paper reassuring — a sign of legitimacy meaning that others will respect their rights. But anyone who has worked in this field for very long knows how limited a title can be.”

Larson has seen cases in which a newly titled community’s leader has sold off forest rights to the highest bidder, or an Indigenous community has won title only to have government agencies fail to support its efforts to defend itself against settlers who invade its land.

“It’s frustrating to share in the victory of seeing a title granted to an Indigenous community that has been fighting for it for so long, only to see all the apparent advantages of having that title practically eroded by the time it is delivered,” she said.

So what do communities expect from land tenure?

“In a study that included communities in Indonesia, Uganda and Peru, we found that many things matter for the well-being of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, but secure tenure is the foundation,” Larsen said. “The study shows how multiple factors that influence well-being are interconnected.”

If a title does not ensure tenure security, however, what does?

Visions of the future

When Larson and her colleagues dug into what forest dwellers mean by tenure security, they found that it varies from place to place but with important common threads.

They used a method called participatory prospective analysis, in which people involved in tenure issues — community members, government representatives, members of non-governmental organizations and academics — created future scenarios involving land and forests.

The result, Larson said, was a more comprehensive understanding of how tenure relates to the livelihoods, identity, and the overall well-being of local communities.

The three countries were chosen because they reflected various tenure models, from ownership of forest resources by Indigenous or traditional communities to arrangements in which communities and state entities share forest management.

Multiple workshops were held in the three countries in 2015 and 2016, leading the participants through a five-step process. In the first step, they defined their situation, answering questions such as: ‘What is the future of tenure security in this region 20 years from now?’

Once that was defined, they identified factors that could have a positive or negative impact on forest and land tenure. They then examined how those factors affected each other, to identify the most influential or ‘driving’ forces — the ones that could lead to a domino effect

After determining what those drivers would look like if they were positive or negative, the participants chose the most logical combinations of factors to create a variety of different potential future scenarios. They built narratives around those, and in Peru, an artist produced drawings of each. The groups then created action plans to work toward their desired futures.

Examples of the drawing of an optimistic and pessimistic scenario from the Peru sites. Illustrations by Lesky Zamora Rios (watercolor on paper and digitized).

Context and history matter

Communities in the regions chosen for the study have different types of tenure and face various pressures from outside their territories, and the scenarios the workshop participants developed show that local characteristics and history are important.

In Peru’s Loreto and Madre de Dios regions, the government has been granting titles to Indigenous communities, but many communities still lack titles, and overlapping claims abound. Communities do not have rights to subsoil resources, such as oil and minerals, and can use forest resources but cannot own them.

In positive future scenarios, workshop participants stressed coordination between national and local governments and between the government and communities, a central role for Indigenous Peoples, transparency, effective monitoring, and governments with sufficient capacities and resources. Negative scenarios, which represented backsliding in rights, included elements such as a lack of government coordination, lack of interest in Indigenous issues and corruption.

In Indonesia’s biodiversity-rich Maluku region, much of the forest is managed by communities under a customary system, while in the Lampung province of Sumatra, the expansion of commercial plantations led to a tenure reform under which communities manage state forest areas. As in Peru, overlapping claims are a source of conflict in both places.

Positive visions of the future included consistent and transparent policies, government support for communities and respect for customary rights, and a greater role for women in managing forest resources. Negative scenarios included unclear policies, forest degradation, inadequate budgets, poor coordination, and lack of collaborative forest management.

In Uganda, workshops were held in three regions: Lamwo, where forests are managed through customary, clan-based institutions; Masindi, with a mix of private, government-managed, and communal forests; and Kibaale, where most forests are on private land.

Positive scenarios stressed the importance of collaboration between government and communities, trained government staff, adequate funding, available information, and highly participatory policy development. Negative visions of the future were characterized by corruption, lack of government support and funding, unclear policies, political favouritism, and lack of community participation in forest management. The published study includes a model of factors that influence security.

The scenarios clearly show that for forest dwellers, legal rights are only one aspect of tenure security, Larson said. Government officials and others must also listen to communities’ needs and help them bring their visions of the future to fruition, taking into account the different factors that make that possible in each place.

“Our research findings suggest that communities’ visions of a positive future depend on factors besides titles, especially community governance, the role of the state and the relationship between communities and the state,” she added. “A title will only bring security if other conditions are in place, and although those conditions have some general characteristics, such as organized communities, they also are specific to a place’s context and history.”

What does this mean for scholars and practitioners of community and Indigenous land rights? “It means deeper engagement with Indigenous Peoples and local communities,” she said, “as well as the importance of listening to peoples’ needs and visions for the future, supporting their self-determination to act on these and fostering the enabling conditions in each specific context.”

The Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform, carried out by the Center for International Forestry (CIFOR), was funded by the European Commission and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), with technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

This study was part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the CGIAR Research Program on Forest, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which was led by CIFOR.


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Framing up the community-centred future of peatland management | Center for International Forestry Research

Framing up the community-centred future of peatland management

Experts share knowledge from long-term research in Indonesia and beyond
, Friday, 6 Feb 2015
Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Ricky Martin/CIFOR

Indonesia has the third-largest area of biodiversity-rich tropical forests in the world. The archipelago is considered one of the world’s 17 ‘megadiverse’ countries and houses two of the 25 global biodiversity ‘hotspots’. In 2015, however, the country experienced its worst forest fire disaster in almost two decades. In September and October that year, carbon emissions released by the fires reached 11.3 million tons per day – higher than the emissions of the entire European Union, which released 8.9 million tons daily over the same period.


In response to the disaster – and as part of wider efforts to restore 14 million hectares of degraded land, including two million hectares of peatlands – the Korean and Indonesian governments have developed a peatland restoration project which focuses on the ‘3Rs’: rewetting, revegetation, and revitalization. Activities include rewetting infrastructure, revegetating over 200 hectares with tree planting, and land revitalization in 10 villages surrounding the project site, as well as the creation of a small peatland education centre.


“We believe that this peatland restoration project will help create a sustainable ecosystem and have a productive impact on the community,” said Junkyu Cho, Korean Co-Director of the Korea-Indonesia Forest Cooperation Center (KIFC), during a symposium to share knowledge and experience gained from peatland restoration initiatives in several locations across Indonesia, on 7 December 2022 at CIFOR’s Bogor campus. The international symposium also aimed to enhance the network of researchers involved in peatland restoration and governance.


The research team, which hails from Korea’s National Institute of Forest Science (NIFoS) and the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), will develop a model for restoring peatlands and other degraded lands in Indonesia in ways that make the most of science and technology and improve local livelihoods.


“We hope that various issues, such as climate change adaptation, nature-based solutions, and bioeconomy will be explored under the rubric of peatlands,” said Hyungsoon Choi, the director of NIFoS’ Global Forestry Research Division. The researchers are also helping to develop sustainable community-based reforestation and enterprises, said CIFOR-ICRAF Senior Scientist Himlal Baral.  


During the symposium, Baral also shared information on CIFOR-ICRAF’s long-term Sustainable Community-based Reforestation and Enterprises (SCORE) project, which runs for the same period as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and provides valuable opportunities for research. The study involves identifying areas for restoration, and for planting sustainable timber and non-timber forest products. “We start with small demonstration trials, and we hope to scale up and achieve long-term impacts,” he said, adding that smart agroforestry is one of the options for restoration.


Nisa Novita, from local NGO Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN), shared some of her research into the mitigation potential of natural climate solutions for Indonesia. Her team found that the country offers a dramatic opportunity to contribute to tackling climate change by increasing carbon sequestration and storage through the protection, improved management, and restoration of drylands, peatlands, and mangrove ecosystems. “Protecting, managing, and restoring Indonesia’s wetlands is key to achieving the country’s emissions reduction target by 2030,” she said.


Several presenters shared models for cost-effective restoration. A-Ram Yang of NIFoS’ Global Forestry Division discussed a visit to the Perigi peatland landscape in South Sumatra in September 2022. Meanwhile, a team from Korea’s Kookmin University shared their experience assessing ecosystem services in North Korea’s forests with a view to adapting these for use in Indonesia.


Budi Leksono, a senior researcher at the Research Center for Plant Conservation and the Forestry, National Research, and Innovation Agency (BRIN), spoke of the potential of genetic improvement to serve restoration goals. “The use of improved seeds for plantation forests has been proven to increase the productivity and quality of forest products,” he said. “In accordance with the goal of restoration in Indonesia to restore trees and forests to degraded forest landscapes on a large scale, it should also be applied to the landscape restoration program to increase the added value of the land, and will have an impact on increasing ecological resilience and productivity.”


On a similar note, in a research collaboration with CIFOR-ICRAF, scientists at Sriwijaya University (UNSRI) developed a model for landscape restoration to be applied to species with high economic value, which includes using improved seeds for certain species such as Calophyllum inophyllum, and Pongamia pinnata. One of the scientists, Agus Suwignyo, said that “the use of improved seeds for landscape restoration will have an impact on people’s welfare if this is also followed by implementing a planting pattern that is in accordance with the conditions of the land and the needs of the local community.”


Participating farmers also chose their own preferred species, such as jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), avocado (Persea americana), mango (Mangifera indica), nangkadak (a hybrid of Artocarpus heterophillus and Artocarpus integer), sapodilla (Manilkara zapota), oranges (Citrus sp.), soursop (Annona muricata), rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) and betel or areca palm (Areca catechu). From 2018 to 2020, UNSRI helped local farmers to develop smart agrosilvofishery, improved rice cultivation, introduce other economical rice crops, plant trees, and cultivate various local fish species.


The method showed positive results. “During the long dry season in 2018, the surrounding area was burned by other farmers, but our demo plot area was not burned,” said Suwignyo. “This year, we scaled up the area to 10 hectares.” The story echoed a common theme within the symposium: the importance of well-planned, multidisciplinary, evidence-based restoration that puts both people and nature first.

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Organizations working with REDD+ forget women | Center for International Forestry Research

Organizations working with REDD+ forget women

BANGKOK, Thailand (11 August 2011)_ The exclusion of women is widespread in the forestry sector even though women are primary users and managers of forests and depend on non-timber forest products in many Asian countries, says a new study.
, Wednesday, 10 Aug 2011

The role that women play in the forestry sector has been largely forgotten by organisations involved in REDD+ planning. Photo by Murdani Usman for CIFOR

BANGKOK, Thailand (11 August 2011)_ The exclusion of women is widespread in the forestry sector even though women are primary users and managers of forests and depend on non-timber forest products in many Asian countries, says a new study.

Jeannette Gurung, Executive Director of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN) spoke about this “woman oversight” during the two-day Second Regional Forum for People and Forests in Bangkok this week.

In an assessment study for USAID on the gender impact of REDD+ projects in several Asian countries, Gurung and colleagues found that organisations, including United Nations agencies, had forgotten to include gender issues in crucial REDD+ decisions, even when women have taken on strong roles in forest protection in some areas.

She said that excluding women is widespread in the forestry sector in terms of governance systems, benefits sharing, policy making, capacity building opportunities, education and jobs. Here she talks with CIFOR about the exclusions of women in forestry as well as the high-level bodies making crucial REDD+ decisions and why it matters.

What do you mean organizations working with REDD+ “forgot” women?

For a USAID assessment, we interviewed community groups and organisations implementing REDD+ projects in Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand about gender impacts. Almost all the organisation officers we talked to had not considered gender issues or women’s roles. The reaction of most of the people we met was, ‘Oh – we forgot. We didn’t even think about these things.’

One of them said they did include a mention of gender in the project proposal but did so to please the donor because it was not a ‘gender project’. Some had never heard of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is of course related to women’s rights. So there was a widespread, complete lack of attention to gender issues, even in the UN agencies that are mandated to work with gender mainstreaming across all sectors.

While the bad news is that everybody seemed to neglect it, the good news is that there was a lot of interest to do something about it.

What’s the situation at the global level?

WOCAN is very much involved in the global dialogues about REDD+ and climate change mitigation. However, we don’t see much presence of women in decision-making forums. We’ve been struggling to get a designated seat for women’s representation in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the Forest Investment Program (World Bank-managed funding mechanisms), so far with little success. Indigenous people are well represented and recognized in these meetings and other high-level bodies that are actually making decisions about where the funding goes for REDD+ readiness, for example. But the same level of recognition and respect for women as a stakeholder is not there.

Can you tell me a bit about WOCAN and what it is you do?

WOCAN is a network of about 800 women and men, in 93 countries, all of whom are professionals with an interest in helping women and achieving gender equality in the forestry and agriculture sectors. We build capacities with women’s groups and within institutions because we believe the institutions need to change. And the best way to do that is through individual change agents who are insiders of those institutions.

We identify these people, who are typically mid-level people who feel something needs to change. We take them on as partners and mentor and coach them to lead processes of organisational change. We’re now doing that also with women producers’ organisations and users groups. We think that building champions and leaders is really fundamental. And leaders within institutions link to leaders at the community level.

Our approach is to develop a vertical chain of women leaders in institutions that start to feel more accountable to women leaders at the community level and use their position and resources to put things in motion.

What are the risks for women without a gender focus in REDD+?

The biggest one is that the REDD+ planners are designing programs that in many ways are going to restrict women’s access to forests. They are looking at carbon, timber and non-timber resources and not looking at reliance of women and households on the forest to meet basic subsistence needs, for fuel wood, for example.. It could spell disaster. I don’t like to go down that road because I can see all the positive ways to spin things around. The problem is, the REDD+ train is moving very fast and we’ve been saying for two years that women are not on that train. And it’s way down the track. Just now things are turning and key agencies are starting to consider having women’s representation on committees. But it’s been a slog to convince them of the necessity in doing so.

What’s the impact for women if they don’t get on “that train”?

I worry that it’s going to extend the hardship of women’s already extremely hard existence. If the nearby forest is closed off, women will have to search further afield. Or maybe they will have to go out in the middle of the night, which is scary for women.

The reason we feel strongly and why it matters, if you’re going to exclude women from these decisions and benefit-sharing mechanisms, we’re afraid they’ll be forced to have no option but to be illegally harvesting non-timber forest products upon which their families and own livelihoods depend.

The lack of beneficiary mechanisms as well as the heavy emphasis on the technical aspects of REDD+ will isolate and further marginalize groups that don’t already have an understanding or ability to make sense of the new language and new methods.

If we can get REDD+ right, if we could expect REDD+ and community forestry to significantly include women, we could positively affect women’s position and livelihoods through benefit sharing and possible land tenure changes.

How can REDD+ be harmed by not involving women?

That’s the big issue. It’s the efficiency side of things. To be effective, REDD+ has to have consensus, as does community forestry. And if you haven’t provided women with alternative sources of energy, they really don’t have any options – they have to go against what’s agreed.

What can be done at this point?

There have to be safeguards that recognize that women have unique roles and constraints in relation to forest management. You can’t just call a town meeting and expect them to come and voice their opinion. In Vietnam, people were telling me the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process had been quite successful because there was a widespread door-to-door attempt to introduce FPIC and REDD+ and tell them their rights.

What people said to me, after the building of awareness, they were given time. They didn’t immediately say, ‘Here’s FPIC, who votes for it and who’s against it?’ They allowed time for people to confer with their own groups and think about it and reflect on it. It’s that kind of thing you have to build in, opportunities for women in particular. Women are so busy – it’s a pain in the butt to work with women, right? It’s that extra-added effort to do extension. Extension agents don’t like to work at 6 a.m., but if you want to catch women, that’s the time to catch them.

 Why is it difficult to get recognition of women’s roles in forestry in general?

It’s partly due to perceptions that women are not leaders and cannot lead. Sometimes people say it’s because women have low education levels and therefore are not able to serve on governance committees. They point to the fact that they don’t have a high school education or maybe can’t even read and write and therefore they can’t be a leader. Since when is formal education necessary for leadership and to voice one’s opinions?

The policies and the organisations themselves responsible for working in forestry are overlooking women’s specific needs and contributions. We call it institutional gender blindness. Why is this? I think it’s truly the case that forestry is a male-dominated sector, much more so than agriculture and other land use-related sectors.

There’s a very serious lack of awareness within forestry institutions. As well, there are biases against women that are reinforced within the institutions. When you’re one woman in a staff of 10 or 20 men, it’s very difficult to bring forth alternative ways of looking at things. So the norms are never challenged within the forestry institutions.

What is WOCAN doing in terms of women and climate change mitigation?

We are looking for the really transformative changes. Such as biogas, which transforms women’s lives because no longer do they have to go out and get fuel wood. That’s huge. No longer do they have to sit in a smoky kitchen. You can just imagine, you go into a kitchen and turn a lever and you get gas to cook on. This transforms lives because it provides time for women to participate in meetings and to learn new skills. And the health benefits are huge.

We’re also trying to figure out ways to do carbon sequestration with women’s groups, to use carbon to provide a new revenue stream.  That’s transforming lives. That’s putting money into women’s hands as a result of good forestry practices.

Karen Emmons is a freelance writer based in Thailand. 

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