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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Integrar la información de inventarios forestales con la teledetección para mejorar los datos de los bosques | Center for International Forestry Research

Integrar la información de inventarios forestales con la teledetección para mejorar los datos de los bosques

Estudio plantea argumentos para datos forestales más precisos, actualizados y eficaces
, Wednesday, 26 Oct 2022
Medición de árboles de nuez de Brasil en Madre de Dios, Perú. Marco Simola/CIFOR

Para calcular con precisión la cubierta forestal, o la biomasa sobre el suelo, no hay nada mejor que salir al bosque con una cinta métrica. Pero esta acción no solo requiere mucho tiempo, sino que es costosa, y puede cubrir solo un área limitada. Los satélites, por su lado, ofrecen una visión más amplia, pero se pierden los matices que son visibles cuando se está en el terreno.

“Se está mucho más cerca de la realidad si se observan ambas cosas”, dice Martin Herold, asociado principal de CIFOR-ICRAF, y coautor de un estudio que examina los retos y las posibilidades de combinar ambos tipos de datos publicado en la revista científica Science of the Total Environment.

¿Pueden combinarse para proporcionar estimaciones más precisas de las reservas de carbono, tanto a nivel nacional como mundial, para el seguimiento de los compromisos del Acuerdo de París y los programas de Reducción de Emisiones derivadas de la Deforestación y Degradación de los Bosques (REDD+)?

Herold y sus colegas afirman que sí, aunque serían necesarios algunos ajustes para integrarlos plenamente.

Cada método de recopilación de datos tiene ventajas y limitaciones. Los inventarios forestales nacionales (IFN), que incluyen estimaciones de biomasa y se realizan en la mayoría de los países del mundo, se basan en parcelas de campo. Pero el seguimiento de esas parcelas es costoso, por lo que su número es limitado, y los resultados deben promediarse en todo el país, lo que da lugar a cálculos menos precisos.

Los satélites recopilan datos sobre grandes áreas, pero aunque las estimaciones de biomasa a distancia se han vuelto más precisas en los últimos años, siguen basándose en modelos más que en mediciones directas. Y, por razones técnicas, la teledetección tiende a subestimar la biomasa de los bosques densos y a sobreestimarla en los lugares con poca cobertura forestal.

La buena noticia es que la mayoría de los países está desarrollando sus IFN, aunque todavía son bastante recientes en los países tropicales donde el aumento del interés se debe a la necesidad de supervisar las reservas de carbono en virtud de los compromisos internacionales, dice Herold.

Pero la utilización de los datos de los IFN también plantea desafíos, ya que no todos los inventarios se realizan con los mismos métodos ni con la misma frecuencia, según indica Karimon Nesha, autora principal del estudio y estudiante de doctorado en el Laboratorio de Ciencias de  Geoinformación y Teledetección de la Wageningen University & Research en los Países Bajos.

Esas variaciones marcaron la diferencia cuando comparó los datos de un sistema de teledetección con las estimaciones de biomasa para 2018 utilizando las Evaluaciones de los Recursos Forestales Mundiales que publica la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO), que se basan en los IFN.

Nesha descubrió que 150 de los países del mundo tenían IFN, y que todos menos 30 estaban completos. La mayoría de los IFN parciales se encontraban en países tropicales.

Sin embargo, muchos países tropicales sí tenían datos completos, y sus inventarios tendían a ser los más recientes, que databan de 2018-2019, mientras que los países templados o boreales habían recopilado datos entre 2011 y 2017. La mayor diferencia entre las estimaciones de biomasa del IFN y los cálculos por teledetección se dio en los países que no habían actualizado sus IFN desde antes de 2010.

Algunos países tenían múltiples agrupaciones de parcelas de campo, mientras que otros solo tenían una parcela. La distancia entre las parcelas variaba de un país a otro, oscilando entre 5 y 20 kilómetros en el caso de las parcelas principales y entre 10 y 500 metros en el caso de las subparcelas agrupadas. Los tamaños también variaban, desde 0,01 hectáreas hasta 1 hectárea, aunque la mayoría eran de un cuarto de hectárea o menos.

Estas diferencias dificultaron la correlación y la comparación, ya que los distintos diseños de los IFN requieren métodos estadísticos diferentes para su análisis, dijo Nesha.

“Para los científicos que trabajan con países específicos, este estudio proporciona un apoyo completo para entender los métodos del IFN y para interpretar mejor los datos”, dice la científica principal del CIFOR-ICRAF y coautora del estudio, Kristell Hergoualc’h. “También ofrece la oportunidad de debatir la mejora de los IFN junto con el país”.

El estudio también señala los pasos que podrían facilitar la integración de los datos del IFN y de la teledetección.

Las parcelas pequeñas, especialmente las circulares, eran más difíciles de correlacionar con los datos de satélite, porque la huella de los sistemas de teledetección es cuadrada y la resolución puede ser demasiado baja para captar una zona pequeña, explica Nesha. Los países podrían combinar su información terrestre con los datos satelitales con mayor precisión si sus IFN incluyeran “súper sitios” de aproximadamente una hectárea, especialmente si miden la biomasa utilizando LiDAR, que crea una imagen 3D más precisa.

Muchos países gestionan los IFN en ciclos de cinco años, pero actualizarlos solo una vez en ese tiempo crea un vacío de datos. Actualizar los datos del 20 % de las parcelas cada año durante cinco años aumentaría la precisión, aunque hay que sopesar el coste del trabajo de campo, agrega.

“Tanto la comunidad espacial como la de los IFN tienen que entenderlos como fuentes complementarias”, dice Herold.

“Por ejemplo, los diseñadores de los IFN pueden trabajar en algunas mediciones adicionales que podrían facilitar la integración con los datos espaciales, mientras que la comunidad que se enfoca en datos espaciales debería pensar qué tipo de información e integración puede ser mejor para las circunstancias de los diferentes países”.

De este modo, añade, “podemos hacer que la información sobre la biomasa, tanto a nivel nacional como mundial, sea más precisa, actualizada y eficaz”.

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