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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Topic(s) :   Climate change

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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Topic(s) :   Blue carbon, mangroves and peatlands Peatlands Restoration








When taking meat off the menu is not an option: Fighting malnutrition in Congo Basin forests

How to improve access to sustainable diets for rural communities

A woman cooks fresh fish in the village of Lieki, DRC. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

Adisi Eboma has been a hunter for over a decade, but in recent years this pursuit has become more complex as prey animals move deeper into the forest. To combat this challenge, Eboma recently launched a pig breeding micro-enterprise that he hopes will allow him to be less reliant on hunting.

Eboma lives in the lush forested landscape of Yangambi, which spans about 8,000 sq km in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), extending over the UNESCO-designated Yangambi Biosphere Reserve, off-reserve forests, logging concessions and farmland. Many towns and villages are scattered throughout the area, which is served by the majestic Congo River and many small tributaries, which are vital arteries for regional communication and trade.

Location of the Yangambi landscape. Credit: CIFOR

Hunters near the Ngazi Forest Reserve. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR
Hunters near the Ngazi Forest Reserve. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

It is also home to more than 200,000 people living in rural communities whose livelihoods depend on the exploitation of natural resources, including fishing and hunting of wild meat – both vital part of diets in the area. However, due to prolonged conflict, population growth and the heavy reliance on such resources for subsistence, some of them have become scarce, putting an extra strain on already fragile living conditions.

study conducted by CIFOR-ICRAF in 2018, for example, found a pronounced depletion of certain animal species such as the olive baboon (Orycteropus afer), western red colobus (Piliocolobus badius), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and African forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus). While the causes of local defaunation are diverse, one of the most significant is the wild meat trade. A baseline survey conducted in 2017 showed that over the past 20 years the number of hunters in the area has significantly grown. Moreover, innovations such as the local manufacturing of fire arms and the use of head lamps have increased the amount of game that each person can hunt.

“People are hunting mostly to supply the demand from neighboring towns and cities, leaving very little to feed their families,” said Nathalie Van Vliet, an associate researcher at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF). Her research reveals that hunters in the Yangambi landscape sell up to 80 percent of their game.

While the fishing sector in Yangambi has not been studied to the same degree, researchers have observed a similar trend. Initial assessments show a gradual increase in the number of fishers and a decrease of fish stocks. Ongoing research in the village of Lileko also suggests that fishers sell the largest fish instead of consuming them locally.







Conflict as a cause of defaunation

Research by CIFOR-ICRAF shows that local extinctions or sharp declines in mammal populations in the Yangambi landscape are either the direct consequence of conflict or the result of cascading effects that have their origins in the conflicts between 1996 and 2002. At that time, armed groups passed through the forest, hunting for food and to traffic skins and meat.

Once the area stabilized, the degradation of the local economy and closure of factories and other sources of employment left many families without regular incomes. This meant the population continued to depend on forest resources for food security and livelihoods.

Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR
Fishing in the Congo River. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR
Fishing in the Congo River. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

Impacts on diets

The decrease in populations of wild animals and fish has negative consequences for the human diet. In a nutrition survey of women conducted in the village of Lileko, for example, researchers found that only 3 percent of women were eating foods diverse enough to meet their nutritional needs.

Consumption of animal source foods such as meat, fish, poultry and eggs, was found to be particularly low as women in the village eat only about 20 grams of these foods each day, while the EAT Lancet commissionrecommends 84 grams a day for a healthy diet.

“Animal foods are rich sources of bioavailable minerals and vitamins,” said Amy Ickowitz, a senior scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF where she leads the Sustainable Landscapes and Livelihoods team. “However, our research has found that women and children in Lileko do not eat much animal food so the little that they do eat is critically important.  More than half of the meat eaten is wild meat from the forest and almost all of the fish is locally caught.”

Malnutrition and food insecurity, a country-wide problem

During the second half of 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had the world’s worst food crisis, according to the World Food Programme’s Global Report on Food Crises 2021. About 21.9 million people were reported to be confronting a food emergency or crisis, while 29 million more could only afford a minimally adequate diet if they cut essential non-food expenses. 

This critical situation has direct consequences for the health and nutrition of Congolese people. The report shows that over 3.4 million children under age 5 are experiencing wasting, which means they are too thin for their height, and almost 5.7 million are stunted, which means they are below the average height for their age, while 41 percent of women of reproductive age and 63.2 percent of children under five are anemic. Anemia, which in many cases is caused by deficiency of iron found in meat, poultry and fish, is strongly linked to an increased risk of maternal and child mortality. It also affects cognitive and physical development in children and reduces productivity in adults.

Nutrition survey near Kisangani, DRC. Photo: Axel Fassio

Towards sustainable production

To address these issues, local experts at CIFOR-ICRAF have been working since 2017 to increase the availability of sustainably produced animal foods. With the financial backing of the European Union, they support local entrepreneurs to create or scale-up businesses that can supply alternative sources of protein to enrich local diets, while avoiding overexploitation of wildlife and fish.

Like Eboma, Helene Yenga has also started a pig breeding business. Formerly a bush meat seller in the weekly market of the town of Yangambi, she hopes to sell the meat of the animals she is raising and consequently reduce the wild meat trade.  

On the other side of the Congo river, in the village of Yanonge, Helena Fatouma is the president of Akili Mali, a women’s cooperative that has been practicing fish farming for almost a decade. With the financial and capacity building support of CIFOR-ICRAF, they recently expanded their business and now have the capacity to produce 6 tons of fish per year.

“It was very difficult to find fresh fish in Yanonge,” said Fatouma. “Thus, we came together to start our ponds and produce fish. We have now received training on how to sell it and how to find clients.”

In total, about 200 people are receiving support to produce sustainable meat and fish, and the goal is to reach 250 people by the end of 2022, according to Paolo Cerutti, the scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF who coordinates the project.

“Our approach combines ad-hoc training, support for associations, incubation and acceleration of ventures, and the improvement of the general business climate,” said Cerutti. “This ‘recipe’ that we are testing in the Yangambi landscape could have a potential broader implementation in DRC and beyond. Of course, we must adapt to each context, but the focus on fostering local enterprises, more sustainable forms of production, and better governance frameworks to support SMEs (small and medium enterprises) should remain at the center of the landscape approach.”

Household consumption first

Near the Yangambi landscape is the city of Kisangani, a major urban area with over 2 million inhabitants. Kisangani is an important consumption center that purchases many resources from neighboring forests, including wild meat and fish.

As a result, CIFOR-ICRAF is working in Kisangani to promote consumption of alternatives, such as locally produced poultry and pigs. It is also working in hunting communities to create awareness of the importance of consuming their game within their households instead of selling it to improve nutritional outcomes. 

Local fish. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR
Our approach combines ad-hoc training, support for associations, incubation and acceleration of ventures, and the improvement of the general business climate – Paolo Cerutti, Senior Scientist, CIFOR-ICRAF

Texts and project coordination: Ahtziri Gonzalez | Editing: Julie Mollins | Photography: Axel Fassio |
 Graphic design: Aurore de Boncourt | Web design: Gusdiyanto


This work is financed by the European Union though the projects Nouveaux Paysages du Congo (NPC) and Governing multifunctional landscapes in sub-Saharan Africa (GML), and by the U.S. Agency for International Cooperation (USAID).


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