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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Managing peatlands in Indonesia’s South Sumatra for multiple benefits | Center for International Forestry Research
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Managing peatlands in Indonesia’s South Sumatra for multiple benefits

Comprehensive approach produces results
, Monday, 8 Nov 2021
The agrosilvofishery research and demonstration site in South Sumatera. University Sriwijaya/Rujito Agus Suwignyo,

Peatlands are unique wetland systems and significant carbon sinks. Present in 169 countries they cover less than 3 percent of the Earth’s land but hold more than one-third of its carbon.

The Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and partners have been conducting research to demonstrate sustainable land-use practices, including exploration of a climate smart agrosilvo-fishery approach to restoring degraded peatlands.

“The province of South Sumatra in Indonesia is a classic case,” said Himlal Baral, senior scientist with CIFOR-ICRAF, and moderator of a side event at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. “How we manage South Sumatra’s peatlands will have a positive or negative impact on carbon storage, climate and livelihoods.”

Session participants discussed the 1.2 million hectares of peatland in South Sumatra that are under pressure from agricultural expansion and development activities.

According to Indonesia’s Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency, South Sumatra has the second-largest national target for restoring degraded peatland: more than 600,000 hectares since 2016.

Pandji Tjahjanto, head of the Forestry Department and Darna Dahlan, head of the Peatland Restoration Agency for South Sumatra Province, speaking on behalf of Herman Deru, the provincial governor, said that forest fires in 2015 that blanketed the region in toxic smoke were mostly the result of human activities.

More than 700,000 hectares were burned, much of it peatland. After a dip, in 2019 a surge of more than 17,000 individual fires burned more than 400,000 hectares.

In addition to declaring several new regulations to reduce the risk of fires, the government also instituted a large program of rewetting, revegetating and revitalizing the degraded and burned peatlands.

Rewetting involves blocking and filling-in drainage canals so that higher water levels can return, and installing wells for use by residents. Revegetating includes not only assisted natural regeneration, but establishing nurseries to grow native tree species, with an accompanying planting program.

Revitalization focuses on community livelihoods through adaptation to the unique peatland environment, growing crops — such as sago palm, gelam, jelutong and talas rawa — along with indigenous fish, livestock and developing ecotourism.

The agro-silvo-fishery research and demonstration site in South Sumatra. CIFOR-ICRAF/Himlal Baral

From 2018 to 2021 around 70 hectares have been revegetated in six districts, nearly 300 wells installed and over 1,000 canals segmented and blocked. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed progress.

Sustainable management of peatlands can provide various ecosystem goods and services.

“Approaches include qualitative assessments that identify key indicators of the ecosystem services through interviews with key informants; and quantitative assessments of the biophysics of peat landscapes using proxies,” said Yustina Artati, senior research officer with CIFOR-ICRAF. “The value of services, particularly carbon and water, are also assessed.”

Research focused on a pilot site in the Padang Sugihan landscape in the east of the province, which was prone to fire and degradation. It features conservation areas for Sumatran elephants, and large plantations of timber and oil palm. Fires used for land clearing have led to degradation.

Using the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) suite of models, the team examined four scenarios:

  1. Business as usual: no change in the economic framework of communities
  2. Sustainable management with paludiculture: for economic and environmental benefits
  3. Conservation-centric: assuming peatland is for conserved for reducing carbon dioxide emissions
  4. Intensive agriculture with more drainage until 2030 accompanied by weak law enforcement

Of the four, sustainable management using paludiculture techniques was perceived to have the greatest economic and environmental benefits, including increased incomes for communities, reduced fire risk and increased tree cover and carbon storage.

“The key to communities’ economic success was the introduction of agrosilvofishery systems that combined agriculture, trees and fisheries,” said Artati.

Bastoni Brata, senior researcher in silviculture with the Environment and Forestry Research and Development Institute (the Indonesian acronym is BP2LHK) in South Sumatra, said that sustainable peatland management is based on Peatland Hydrological Units.

“The government promulgated regulations seven years ago for protection of peatland,” he said, coinciding with the fires of 2015. “Peatland Hydrological Units were established to do this.”

In the production areas of the units, paludiculture is applicable, Bastoni said. It is a peat-friendly farming system that uses peatlands — including rewetted areas — for production and carbon storage, maintaining water levels at a consistent height throughout the year.

Paludiculture can restore degraded peatland so it can be used for economic activities while obstructing peat decomposition and decreasing emissions and subsidence.

“We’ve been researching paludicultural restoration practices since 1995 in degraded peat forests in South Sumatra and Jambi provinces,” he said. “Native tree species grew well, generating high levels of carbon sequestration and high-quality wood that attracts high prices. We found that after 10 years, natural versus artificial regeneration had similar canopy cover.”

Bastoni and team recommended that paludicultural practices such as agrosilvofishery are best suited for shallow peat and already cultivated areas.

“After three years, there was very good growth,” he said. “Nine local fish species were suitable for cultivation.”

Conducting research in the degraded agricultural land of Perigi Village in Ogan Komering Ilir District, Erizal Sodikin, associate professor with the Department of Agronomy, Faculty of Agriculture at Sriwijaya University in South Sumatra, found that improved rice cultivation techniques increased yields from 1.18 to 3.69 tonnes per hectare.

“The impact of agrosilvofishery is very positive,” he said. “Farmers more frequently visit and take care of the land, avoiding fire. Various crops are successfully cultivated along with forest trees and fish species. There is a general improvement in biodiversity and increased productivity with associated increases in community incomes and indirect improvement in their nutrition quality.”

The capacity to sustainably manage peatlands is central to the success of any restoration and livelihood efforts, said Soozin Ryang, program officer for education and training with the Regional Education and Training Center of the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization. Ryang and team conducted research in peatlands in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

“Apart from the technical aspects of peatland restoration,” said Ryang, “we adopted ‘people-centered development’ through a landscape approach, building human capabilities, people’s well-being and quality of life. Our basic assumption was that people must be empowered with the tools and knowledge to build their communities to successfully restore degraded peat ecosystems.”

The team established a demonstration site to test adaptive agroforestry tree species for peatland restoration as a learning site for community-based peatland management.

Canals were established to help farmers understand the importance of maintaining water levels, growing suitable agricultural crops and fish, animal husbandry and producing charcoal. Experiments were conducted into soil microbes on the decomposition of wood waste to assess the potential to reduce fire, rapidly improve soil conditions and support production of compost.

Eunho Choi, research scientist with the National Institute of Forest Science, Republic of Korea in collaboration with CIFOR-ICRAF and partners has been exploring opportunities to restore degraded peatlands for multiple economic and environmental values, particularly for local residents. The Institute has been supporting partners in Buntoi Village in the province of Central Kalimantan and Perigi Village in South Sumatra to test and demonstrate a variety of peat-friendly tree species.

Choi’s work involves market value analyses and preference surveys with residents. Selected species were suitable for apiculture, biofuels, cosmetics and medicines, all of which had the potential to increase income while maintaining ecosystem services, and that residents welcomed.

In summary, Baral noted that meaningful partnerships seem to be the key to successful restoration of peat ecosystems, bringing together farmers, policymakers, government technical agencies and scientists.

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