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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Pineapples and peatlands | Center for International Forestry Research
, Friday, 14 Jun 2019

Sowing 10,000 pineapple plants is not everyone’s idea of a good time.

But for Meri Andayani and her friends, the opportunity to grow, harvest and sell their own produce is a dream come true. And that dream includes greater prosperity for their families and for their community as these women work to restore and revive a piece of Indonesia’s peatlands that is their home, their livelihoods and their culture.

Those peatlands are also critical to the global fight against climate change.

“We planted those 10,000 plants in five days. We planted the pineapples together with friends, and we’re happy,” Andayani says, her face shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat identical to those worn by other women in her local farmers’ group. “In the future, we can continue to plant pineapples….we will carry on.”

Adds her colleague Norwati: “Our hope is that we plant pineapples successfully and harvest a lot….I think that we will get a lot of benefits from this later.”

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

The women’s work, on one of seven large “action arenas”, is part of a project led by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) aptly titled Community-Based Fire Prevention and Peatland Restoration. Doing exactly what it says on the tin, it’s being implemented around the village of Dompas in Indonesia’s Riau Province, on the central eastern coast of Sumatra.

The project was conceived in the aftermath of Indonesia’s devastating 2015 wildfires, which in addition to destroying vast tracts of tropical rainforest, is believed to be the cause of 100,000 premature deaths. Having drawn up action arenas – each about three to four-square hectares in size – the community restores the landscapes to produce a variety of crops, liberica coffee, rubber, coconuts, fish, as well as pineapple.

“We are mothers with low incomes, but if possible our incomes can increase"

Nurma

Tree-planting, including the relatively rare agarwood, has resumed as well.

Although growing crops and livelihoods is important, at the core of the entire project is raising awareness of the value – for the communities and the global environment – of fire-free peatlands restoration work.

Key activities in these action arenas include training local farmers to prepare the land for planting without fire, constructing fencing, applying fertilizers and learning how to monitor moisture and water levels in peatland and trees to better understand agroforest conditions to avoid accidental fires. The training will ensure that these activities can continue long after the experts have gone, says project leader and CIFOR scientist Herry Purnomo.

   The project trains local farmers to prepare the land without fire, including how to monitor moisture and water levels in peatland and trees Photo by Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

“This is a real experience of what happens when you don’t burn, and also when you work on peatland restoration and on understanding the market situation and improving the community’s livelihoods,” adds Purnomo, whose project partners include the University of Riau. The intention is to scale-up the project to regional and national levels, supported by guidelines this project will help to establish.

Burning to clear land has been a traditional practice in parts of Indonesia, but efforts to end the practice have been stepped up since 2015’s massive, uncontrolled and deadly forest and land fires in Indonesia that destroyed more than 2.6 million hectares of land and created losses totalling over $16 billion USD, according to the World Bank.

   Firefighters fight the fire at night. Outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. CIFOR Photo/Aulia Erlangga

People remember very well the devastation caused by those fires and are adamant they don’t want a recurrence, says Nurma, another member of the women’s pineapple producers’ group. Memories of those fires causes a great deal of stress, she says, and some who had previously tried tree planting but lost all during the fires have become discouraged, “they don’t want to plant any more”.

But now, thanks to the CIFOR-led project, land that had become idle and derelict is being restored, she said. That’s important for sustainability of the entire area, which has a history of recurring fires. As a result, a significant element of the work involves training sessions on rewetting the peatland by blocking a small canal and creating a perigi – a locally engineered, multifunctional small pond. Rewetting aims to hydrologically rehabilitate peatland to its nearly natural state.

   A locally engineered 'perigi' Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR
   A pineapple grown using paludiculture methods, which aims to restore the peatlands back to its natural state Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

The implications of Indonesia’s 2015 fires were felt worldwide. Though only three percent of the world’s land area is covered by peatlands, these areas hold 30 percent to 40 percent of global carbon. And because some of the world’s largest peatlands are found in Indonesia, its peatland management decision has a significant impact on the global environment as well as in-country markets and livelihoods.

Nurma is counting on a successful pineapple harvest to help support her family, “We are mothers with low incomes, but if possible our incomes can increase.”

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

Adds Purnomo: “[It’s also a chance for them] to prove to their husbands that women also can plant pineapple and sell it!”

Local farm groups, community organizations and the local Fire Care Community – a kind of volunteer fire patrol – gave essential input to the project planning, says Purnomo, whose team applied a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach to fostering effective, successful, and workable community-based restoration planning.

Villagers came back with some interesting ideas.

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR
   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

“One local community wanted to try producing hybrid coconuts, and another wanted to try a fish pond as a good way to improve their livelihoods, so we thought ‘why not try it?’,” says Purnomo. Finding new products and new markets to boost their livelihoods also contributed to convincing at least some villagers to reject fire as a land-clearing option.

“We are on the ground, trying to demonstrate that there is a way to prepare the land without burning and that there are other sources of income. With cash crops and perhaps trees and pineapple, this will compensate for the costs of land preparation,” without fire, says Purnomo.

Fire is often perceived as an inexpensive and fast way to clear land, with positive impacts including reducing peat acidity, improving nutrient availability, minimizing risks from pests and disease and controlling weeds. But the dangers and costs are also high – a fact emphasized when the 2015 fires burned out of control, spreading toxic smoke and destroying property.

That realization, as well as stricter government enforcement of no-fire regulations post-2015, has helped Purnomo’s team promote a participatory approach to fire prevention. Dompas and five other ‘satellite’ villages were chosen for the project due to their proximity to forests, their history of fire risks, but their active local organizations and farmers group.

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning swidden on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow a range of crops, including pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts. CIFOR/Aris Sanjaya

And the project’s impact is already being felt, as villagers are seeing for themselves how their lives and livelihoods can improve without restoring to fire. The change in attitudes was reflected in community surveys by the project that have found perceptions of fire held by villagers who are participating in the project was significantly different from those who had not been involved.

The first group said that they realized fire caused many problems and that they no longer see fire-related practices to be important for their livelihood. In contrast, villagers who did not participate said burning was still a valid choice.

Purnomo says the project will wrap up before year-end and a guidance report  for other projects can be finalized. The emphasis will be broader than the biophysical results, he says.

“There is also the social and economic lives of the people who are living there; the people whose lives are connected to the land.”

   Agroforestry to restore degraded peatlands Aris Sanjaya/ CIFOR
This research was supported by Temasek Foundation and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise
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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 forestsnews@cgiar.org.