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.


Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting

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.

Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting

How to save Indonesia’s last seasonal forests | Center for International Forestry Research
, Monday, 27 Aug 2018

Indonesia is down to its last tropical seasonal forests – and they’re entirely unprotected.

The forests are found in the Tanimbar archipelago in Maluku Province, due directly north of Darwin, Australia, on the border of the Banda and Arafura seas. One of the most unconnected parts of the archipelago, Tanimbar has no formal port of entry, and population lingers around 100,000 scattered across the 30 or so islands in the group.

“It’s very expensive to work and go there,” says Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Director General Robert Nasi, who has kept a watchful eye on the islands along with Yves Laumonier, scientist at CIFOR and the Center for Research and Agronomy and Development (CIRAD), since the early 2000s. “Once, we got stuck in Ambon on the way when all flights were cancelled.”

This isolation has long been a shield of protection for the islands, keeping the forest cover constant for decades after local communities revolted against logging companies that came in during the era of Indonesia’s former president Suharto. But recent satellite imagery shows deforestation from logging companies that have returned, threatening the islands’ natural and social ways of life. In the face of this inevitable development, Laumonier recently published a research article co-authored by Nasi calling for national protection of these endangered forests, more research on their fragile natures, and an approach to development that will support the land and people both.

I’m afraid if they use the same logging techniques as in Sumatra or Borneo, it won’t work well because it’s a completely different ecological condition

Yves Laumonier, CIFOR Scientist


The research focuses on the largest (by far, at 3,300 square kilometers) of the islands, Yamdena, which is shared by a trio of forest types: moist deciduous, dry deciduous and seasonal evergreen. Filled with some of the world’s most valuable timber trees – Pterocarpus indicus, more commonly known as rosewood; and Intsia bijua, merbau – the forests’ Asiatic flora leads the scientists to believe that its ancestors came from the north and west, with now-gone seasonal brethren once in eastern Java, Flores the northern reaches of Timor.

“If you move from one forest type to the other, you know. It’s somewhat hard to tell with satellite images, but if you walk in the fields, you can see, especially in the dry season,” says Nasi. “The driest ones shed their leaves completely.”

In a part of the world more accustomed to humid climes, it’s this aridity that makes the landscape so unique – and challenging. Freshwater comes from a few main watersheds feeding a small network of rivers, which, if disturbed, can easily incite water scarcity for the 40 villages on the island. And given the island’s foundation on coral limestone, the forests play a crucial role in water maintenance by holding water in the soil and keeping the soil in place during tropical storms.

Due to its propensity for erosion, basic pH level and rocky underbelly that blocks deep rooting, the soil is a very difficult base for regrowth. Once the environment here is disturbed, it’s extraordinarily difficult to restore and rehabilitate.

“In places like Flores, you have savanna-like landscapes now,” says Laumonier, analogizing Yamdena. “It was obviously forested before, because we have records from the Dutch that it was forested at a time. But it’s very fragile. If you cut the forest and do too much agriculture and burning, it won’t come back. It becomes dense shrubs and savanna.

“And here, you can see it proves wrong the assumption on which Indonesian forest status and function classification is built: that there’s less erosion on under drier climate,” he continues. “When short but intense rains come, everything washes down to the sea.”

An upside to the dryness, though, is that it makes monitoring easier; cloud cover rarely blocks the satellite imagery. This alerted the scientists to when companies came in around 2014 and began logging the eastern side of the island.

“I’m afraid if they use the same logging techniques as in Sumatra or Borneo, it won’t work well because it’s a completely different ecological condition,” says Laumonier. “And now we can see on the satellite that they’re going further inland, reaching the main river source. It’s really the worst place to work.”

The remoteness of the island appeals to the logging companies, the scientists say, because it makes their operations more secure, hidden from scrutinizing eyes. And, because there are no national protected areas, the island could theoretically be commercially logged in its entirety.

   The local communities of Tanimbar still use traditional 'sasi' governance systems to manage their ecosystems. CIFOR Photo/Robert Nasi, Jean-Marc Roda
   The valuable Intsia palembanica tree, also known as Borneo Teak or Merbau. CIFOR Photo/Robert Nasi, Jean-Marc Roda


Laumonier first became fascinated by the Tanimbar islands when reading about them in Forgotten Islands of Indonesia, a photo-heavy book on Malukan culture by anthropologists Nico de Jonge and Toos van Dijk. “I don’t know why, but it was like an adventure in my mind,” he recalls, “and then suddenly I’m there.”

Tanimbar’s past is storied with tribes of headhunters until missionaries came in the end of 19th century, and the local seafaring culture is immortalized in the constructs of village governments, with leadership as captains, pilots and other ship hands as you go down the ranks.

Land and water management – especially in coastal areas – is largely still governed by the traditional Malukan sasi systems of rotational no-go zones and quotas, or by a slightly different ‘church sasi’ where “you don’t get fined by ancestors, you get fined by the church,” says Laumonier. It’s this deep-seated connection to the land that has made locals largely resistant to outside companies coming in.

“Sometimes I get a phone call from local village leaders saying that this or that logging company wants to come back. And they ask if I can call the EU for help,” laughs Laumonier.

Yet the recent uptick in logging, which started in the most remote and undeveloped parts of the island, shows that it’s hard to stay immune to development’s benefits – especially in a region as poor and under-populated as here. To this end, the main point of the article isn’t to rope off the island from logging and development, but to put safeguards around the critical forest areas that need to be protected by national law.

And more generally, the article aims to wave a flag that Tanimbar is changing and needs support along the way. While tropical seasonal forests are among the world’s most threatened landscapes, they’re also among the most under-researched.

“To change the way you log here, there is a need to do more research on silvicuture, ecology and regeneration of these seasonal forests” says Laumonier.

He and Nasi think logging should come primarily through community-based forestry enterprises, done at a small scale with respect for boundaries of areas that should and shouldn’t be logged, and under what conditions. They also make a call for land-use planning in other income-generating areas, such as mangroves that can be maintained with sustainable shrimp farming.

Laumonier recalls one story that bodes well for Tanimbar of a guy who went to work in logging in Papua, then returned with a chainsaw. He opened a small business in his village, which the scientists now refer to as the ‘loggers village’ because it has become so specialized. “And they have nothing to do with a company,” says Laumonier. “They go to the forest, cut a few trees, make planks for the local market.” With a little help, they could easily organize their trade with Darwin, he says, allowing them to reach a better market in one or two days by boat, rather than the week or so it takes to reach Surabaya.

“And for them, that’s enough.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Robert Nasi at or Yves Laumonier at
This research was supported by the European Commission - EUROPEPAID, Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement and Birdlife Indonesia.
Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting