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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OECMs: An opportunity to turn ‘coercive conservation’ upside down | Center for International Forestry Research
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OECMs: An opportunity to turn ‘coercive conservation’ upside down

2022 WWF Fuller Symposium calls on new conservation approach to follow Indigenous People’s lead
, Monday, 21 Nov 2022
Photo by Marlon del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR

People blindness is a long-standing critique leveled at conservation initiatives that historically valued plants and animals more than human rights. Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) are one possible solution ‘for people and the planet.’ These sites promise an alternative to traditional protected areas — such as national parks — that will deliver long-term benefits for biodiversity and people through innovative and inclusive governance structures.

But are OECMs designed to deliver on their promises or do they risk the same conservation pitfalls? Speakers addressed this question at the 2022 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Fuller Symposium — appropriately titled “Challenging OECMs.”

“There’s no question that conservation with people is better than without,” began Anne Larson, Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF). “OECMs may be better than the Yellowstone model for biodiversity conservation, but we still need to address the coercive history of conservation initiatives being imposed on Indigenous Peoples [IPs] and local communities [LCs].”

Support for OECMs

The need to conserve biodiversity has never been more urgent. Twenty five percent of all species are currently at risk of extinction, and monitored vertebrate population sizes have dropped 60% on average, according to the WWF Living Planet Report.

In response, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD’s) post-2020 framework (Target 3) aims to conserve 30% of terrestrial areas and 30% of marine areas in protected areas or OECMs by 2030. Additionally, the Land Gap Report (2022), which was released on Nov. 3, found that total pledges for carbon dioxide removal and conservation would require 1.2 billion hectares of land, noted Larson.

While traditional protected areas remain central to these targets, they have often failed to safeguard biodiversity due to lack of support or effective monitoring systems. Even when they work for biodiversity, the symposium speakers highlighted the legacy of displacement and impoverishment for IPs and LCs who have had conservation thrust on them. Communities have been asked to sacrifice their customs, traditional governance structures, livelihoods, and even their lands in service of biodiversity. The result is often chronic distrust in external biodiversity initiatives.

Supporters of OECMs say they will have a higher chance of success than protected areas because OECMs under Target 3 explicitly advocate foreffectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected” systems that benefit people and their environment.

   Panelists discuss OECM framework at the 2022 WWF Fuller Symposium, session 2.

Untested framework

However, Indigenous advocates like Joji Cariño, senior policy advisor of Forest Peoples Programme, are concerned that promises will ring hollow in implementation. Although the terminology for OECMs has been around for a few years, Target 3 of the post-2020 framework is still in negotiations. In addition, most countries have not started mapping OECMs, which could encompass anything from military zones to Indigenous partnerships, noted Heather Bingham, senior programme officer at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

An untested framework comes with risks.

“The current definition of OECMs focuses on the geography of conservation areas and not on societies’ embeddedness with nature, said Cariño. “…The risk is an enlargement of the conservation estate and more disenfranchisement of local communities.”

Instead of first imposing a new OECM framework and then seeking consent from IPs and LCs, a better approach could involve following the community’s lead on biodiversity conservation and enshrining Indigenous rights in Target 3, argued both Cariño and Larson.

Evidence has already highlighted that Indigenous lands have positive and sustained outcomes for biodiversity. Around 80% of all land-based biodiversity lives in Indigenous territories, and that biodiversity is declining more slowly than elsewhere, according to World Resources Institute estimates.

“Are we not in danger of killing biodiversity’s golden goose by creating new rules that will take away from the autonomy and governance of Indigenous communities?,” questioned Cariño.

There’s also a heavy monitoring and reporting burden in OECMs. Indigenous lands under OECM management could be held to a higher reporting standard than government parklands that are currently not monitored at all, noted Ameyali Ramos, international policy coordinator of the ICCA Consortium. This is a lot of work for small communities to take on with no clear benefits.

Cautionary perspectives on OECMs should be taken seriously because purely optimistic messaging will bring about doubts and hesitations in local communities, hurting the chance for a fruitful partnership, emphasized Ramos and Cariño.

Planning for flexibility

Nevertheless, If OECMs can embrace different enabling conditions and adequately address the concerns of IPs and LCs, they could be a useful tool in the conservation toolbox, believes Larson.

“OECMs are an opportunity for co-creation, harnessing what communities are already doing successfully,” said Larson. “This is not a new concept in the conservation sphere, but perhaps with each iteration, we get closer to effective solutions.”

For more information about the research in this blog, please contact Anne Larson (A.Larson@cgiar.org).

Much of the work referred to by Anne Larson was funded by the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

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