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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Securing land tenure for women and girls to promote climate change resilience | Center for International Forestry Research
Event Coverage

Securing land tenure for women and girls to promote climate change resilience

Advancing sustainable economic justice and rights
Women carry freshly harvested cotton along a road in Burkina Faso. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

Women’s land rights should be at the core of everything we do, to enhance our climate action” – Beth Roberts, Director of Centre for Women’s Land Rights  

This was a common theme that ran through the side event Securing Women’s and Girls’ Land Tenure to promote Communities Resilience to Climate Change and to advance on sustainable Economic Justice & Rights,” hosted as part of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-66) in March, with support of the governments of Switzerland, the Netherlands and the European Union.

Moderated by Janet Macharia, gender lead at the U.N. Environment Programme, the event brought together a host of donor partners, intergovernmental organizations, civil society groups, Indigenous leaders, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) representatives, as well as global initiatives working on gender transformation, to discuss the importance of women’s and girls’ access to land and land rights.

In welcoming remarks, Mike Taylor, Director of International Land Coalition (ILC), stressed that the key to overcoming the global challenges confronting us today – including the climate crisis – is through securing women and girl land rights.   

Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, but when they have weak land tenure, they are more severely affected by climate shocks in rural and urban areas. Land rights for women specifically create a foundation for women — and by extension their families and communities — to adapt to and to be resilient to climate impacts.

This foundation underpins food security, economic resilience and women’s ability to connect to government services, including agricultural support. Land rights create provide a secure location for return of displaced people. They support governments navigating the issues of climate displacement more smoothly, and provide people impacted by displacement the opportunity for greater economic stability. Particularly for women, land rights in the context of climate change mitigate the impacts of climate change, including gender-based violence, increased food insecurity and the displacement of people, that are gender specific. 

The governments of the Netherlands, Switzerland and the European Commission, were represented by speakers. Participant speakers also included the gender and land expert from Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) land governance, the director of the Center for Women’s Land Rights, the grassroots woman leader from the Quechua People of Peru’s Ayacucho region, the UNFCCC director of intergovernmental support and collective progress, and a gender researcher representing a consortium of CGIAR centers working with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on a project on Women’s Resource Rights.  

What matters is not just land. It is the quality of the land, it’s territory and the connections among land, forests and water. It is women as leaders and decision-makers and the eradication of the threats and violence against women.” – Melania Canales Poma, Grassroots Woman Leader Quechua People of the Ayacucho region.   

This event was critical in not only unpacking the various barriers to securing land and land rights for women and children, but also in highlighting the crucial link between women’s land rights, strengthening climate action and enhancing resilience to climate shocks. It served as a reminder to maintain the momentum from the 2021 U.N. Food Systems Summit which underlined equitable access to land and land rights as essential foundational blocks for building sustainable, inclusive, and resilient food systems.

Significantly, it served as a platform for leaders of various Indigenous women grassroot organizations from Senegal to Peru, to share learnings from projects and activities underway at the local level to secure equitable land rights – the real action on the ground. The various representatives noted that we cannot think of transformation without recognizing women as stewards of forests and natural resources, food producers within families and key holders of ecological knowledge. Strengthening women’s land rights specifically, enables better protection of our ecosystems, as well as greater gender equality within communities and the attainment of international goals including the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.  

“It is ever clearer that without enhanced land rights for women we will not be able to address the climate crisis and to achieve economic justice.René van Hell,  Representative from the Netherlands Government   

In addition to the practical and scalable initiatives shared at this CSW-66 side event, a key outcome was the commitment shown by the governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations to work together across borders, sectors and departments through multi-stakeholder platforms to achieve greater equity in land tenure.

Examples include IGAD’s National Women’s Land Rights Agenda and their Regional Women Land Rights Agenda which serves as a framework for women land rights programming in the region. The Stand For Her Land Campaign, which has the overarching goal of working towards the achievability of women’s land rights, as well as the Netherland’s Land at Scale Programme, which is making an explicit effort to upscale initiatives that focus on women’s rights and access of women to land.  

Furthermore, a presentation by gender specialist Ana Maria Paez, on behalf of the IFAD supported Global Initiative to Securing Women´s Resource Rights promoted the adoption of gender transformative approaches in rural development interventions to strengthen women’s land rights.

The Initiative team works collaboratively with IFAD projects, across seven core countries, and a network over 20 learning countries. Each context is unique, entailing different phases and timelines of project implementation, approaches to addressing gender, and issues concerning rights to land and resources. The side event profiled the work underway in the IFAD Char Development and Settlement Project IV in Bangladesh in securing women legal tenure to land.  

“In development practice and policies, interventions that have supported gender equality and land rights have not engaged effectively with the roots of inequality. By integrating gender transformative approaches we are aiming to do exactly that, challenging unequal gender relations and discriminatory norms and practices, which are typically biased in favor of men” Ana Maria Paez, Gender Specialist, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Securing women’s resource rights through gender transformative approaches initiative 

Gender transformative approaches challenge the underlying barriers that sustain gender inequality, such as norms and institutional structures. Rather than addressing the symptoms (e.g. unequal income), these approaches identify factors that enable and catalyze changes to achieve more equitable involvement of women and girls in decision making, control over resources, and agency of their own labor and future.  

The event concluded with an intervention by Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, representative of UNFCCC in Intergovernmental Support and Collective Progress in U.N. Climate Change. Kinuthia-Njenga reinforced that women’s land rights are foundational to climate action, highlighting that mitigation is dependent on protecting forests, restoring soil, and protecting rangelands and the full range of ecosystems upon which 2.5 billion people across the world are directly dependent. These include Indigenous communities.

Strengthening women’s land rights specifically enables better protection of these ecosystems and it enables gender equality within the communities. Like all the speakers, she emphasized that this is only possible through collective learning and collaboration with all stakeholders involved.   

“We cannot address climate change as a standalone. We cannot address issues of gender equity as a standalone. We must do it in an integrated manner. I think this is the beauty of what intergovernmental processes offer us. Working together enables us to move towards not only implementing the sustainable development goals, but also ensuring that gender equality, diplomacy, peace and justice are fundamental elements within our pathways to our sustainable development.” – Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, Director, Intergovernmental Support and Collective Progress in UN Climate Change 

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