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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Over a quarter of Congo Basin forests at risk of vanishing by 2050 | Center for International Forestry Research

Over a quarter of Congo Basin forests at risk of vanishing by 2050

The loss of intact forests in Central African countries has skyrocketed since 2000, reaching an all-time high in the last five years, a new report shows
, Wednesday, 16 Nov 2022
Land use change near Bokuma village, DRC. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

At least 27% of undisturbed rainforests in the Congo Basin present in 2020 will disappear by 2050 if the rate of deforestation and forest degradation continues unperturbed, a new report has shown.

There was an estimated 200 million hectares of evergreen and semi-deciduous forests in Central Africa, including Angola and Uganda, in January 2020 – with 184.7 million hectares showing no signs of disturbance, according to a report on the state of Congo Basin forests produced by the Observatory for Central Africa Forests (OFAC). Unfortunately, the rate of loss of intact forests has since then accelerated, with no fewer than 18 million hectares of forests disappearing so far.

The French version of the report was launched during the 19th Meeting of the Parties of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, and the English version was released last week.

Authors of the first chapter of the report led by Juliette Dalimier indicate that there has been a significant increase in the annual rate of disturbance of the rainforest between 2015 and 2020, which topped 1.79 million hectare per year. In the decade preceding 2015, the yearly toll stood at 1.36 million hectares. The annual rate of disturbances has increased in all Central African countries since 2009.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) stands as the first in Africa and the second in the tropical world with the largest remaining area of undisturbed tropical rainforest measuring 105.8 million hectares. Cameroon, Gabon and Congo show similar areas of intact forests ranging between 19.8 million hectares and 23.4 million hectares.

“To develop the report, the forest was mapped in terms of floristics, physiognomy and carbon stock. Management-volume inventory data collected by 105 forest concessions across Central Africa, excluding areas of high altitude and excess soil water, for the floristic mapping was also factored. Some 6 million trees over 30 cm in diameter and covering approximately 90,000 hectares were analysed, which enabled the researchers to categorize three floristic gradients based on climate, seasonality and maximum temperatures as well as human activity,” Dalimier explained.

Aiming for detailed results, the researchers also used a recent technique of mapping of forest types on a physiognomic basis, which gave them spatially detailed information on 20 m spatial resolution and semantics never before achieved for such geographical coverage. This was thanks to Sentinel-2 satellite data acquired in 2020 and a new method of image correction that involves filling in areas covered by cloud with observations from 2018–2019 obtained from radar-like Sentinel-1 satellite insensitive to cloud disturbances. This approach enables the production of a coherent annual composite.

However, because of the paucity of field observations and difficulties in extrapolating carbon stocks through remote sensing, the researchers were unable to determine the spatial distribution of forest carbon stocks across Central Africa.

Thanks to research that classified the area under study into undisturbed forest, degraded forest and non-forest at subnational level, the researchers were able to find out that administrative units with less undisturbed forest were more fragile because they usually have a higher proportion of degraded forest. It emerged that most of the wooded areas converted to tree plantations between 1990 and 2020 in Africa are located in DRC (80,000 ha), Cameroon (70,000 ha) and Gabon (40,000 ha).

Proportion of intact forest (dark green), degraded forests (light green) and non-forest by administrative unit according to 2019 Tropical Moist Forest data. In the figure, areas deforested before 2019 are classified as non-forest. Source: OFAC

Based on the study, the researchers were also able to determine that, over the entire Congo Basin, 5% of protected areas are overlapped by mining titles, 65% of which are occupied by intact or degraded forests. According to the report, DRC and Central African Republic experience the most significant forest degradation and deforestation related to the mining sector. Besides artisanal mining, it should be noted that 11.6% of Congolese territory (DRC) is covered by mining titles, 35% of which is forest.

The researchers also found out that deforestation needed to set up the infrastructure required for large-scale mining operations leads to both direct (biodiversity loss) and indirect (pollution of the aquatic environment) effects. At the same time, the influx of people aiming to benefit from the economic assets of mining leads to the development of poaching and subsistence agriculture in or near adjacent forests.


Responding to the need to curb pressure on forests, preserve ecosystems rich in fauna and flora, as well as provide benefits to forest-adjacent communities, governments in Congo Basin have created many protected areas over the past two decades. Unfortunately, weak technical and human resources, political instability, lack of funding and existing conflicts in many countries of the sub-region have thwarted such efforts. This has resulted in making the proper management of these protected areas difficult, although the researchers believe land allocation policies on protected areas are a valuable tool in the fight against deforestation and forest degradation.

“Protected areas, forest concessions and community forests make it possible to considerably reduce forest losses and involve local populations in the conservation of forests while ensuring their subsistence,” said Pierre Ploton of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), another contributor to the report.

Being only second to the Amazon in terms of dense humid forest, Congo Basin forests stand out as exceptional reservoir of carbon – holding about 40 gigatonnes of carbon – as well as biodiversity for the countries of Central Africa and for the planet. The urgency to preserve these cannot be overemphasized, as these forests hold the means of subsistence for some 60 million people and help feed an additional 40 million in nearby urban centres.

“Central Africa is a priority region for biodiversity conservation because of its exceptional heritage and high level of endemism. Its ecosystems have the value of a common good, both for current generations, the millions of people who benefit from the natural resources they provide, and for future generations. As with the rest of the planet, the biodiversity of the sub-region is threatened by many factors, and its fate must therefore be seen as a joint responsibility of the countries of Central Africa and the international community’, said Richard Atyi, CIFOR-ICRAF’s regional Convener for Central Africa.

The research has been supported by the European Commission through the RIOFAC project

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