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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Plus d’un quart des forêts du bassin du Congo risquent de disparaître d’ici 2050 | Center for International Forestry Research

Plus d’un quart des forêts du bassin du Congo risquent de disparaître d’ici 2050

D’après un récent rapport, le recul des superficies de forêts intactes s’est nettement aggravé dans les pays d’Afrique centrale depuis l’an 2000, et encore plus dramatiquement ces cinq dernières années.
, Thursday, 17 Nov 2022
Environs du village de Bokuma en RDC Photo Axel Fassio/CIFOR

D’après un rapport tout juste publié, 27 % de la surface des forêts tropicales humides non perturbées du bassin du Congo observée en 2020 disparaîtront d’ici 2050 si la déforestation et la dégradation des forêts se poursuivent au même rythme.

En janvier 2020, on estimait qu’il y avait 200 millions d’hectares de forêts sempervirentes et semi-décidues en Afrique centrale, y compris l’Angola et l’Ouganda, dont 184,7 millions ne montraient aucun signe de perturbation, selon L’État des Forêts du bassin du Congo 2021, rapport publié par l’Observatoire des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale (OFAC). Malheureusement, les forêts intactes se réduisent à un rythme accéléré depuis cette date : en effet, cette superficie a déjà été amputée de 18 millions d’hectares.

La version française du rapport a été lancée lors de la 19e Réunion des Parties du Partenariat pour les forêts du bassin du Congo, et la version anglaise a été publiée la semaine dernière.

Selon les auteurs du premier chapitre du rapport chapeauté par Juliette Dalimier, on a observé une augmentation significative du rythme annuel des perturbations de la forêt tropicale humide entre 2015 et 2020, qui ont touché 1,79 million d’hectares par an. Lors de la décennie 2005-2015, la superficie qui disparaissait chaque année était de 1,36 million d’hectares. Depuis 2009, le rythme annuel des perturbations s’est accru dans tous les pays d’Afrique centrale.

Avec 105,8 millions d’hectares, la République démocratique du Congo (RDC) est le premier pays d’Afrique et le deuxième du monde tropical qui présente actuellement la plus grande superficie de forêt tropicale humide non perturbée. Le Cameroun, le Gabon et la République du Congo présentent également de vastes surfaces de forêt intacte allant de 19,8 millions d’hectares à 23,4 millions d’hectares.

« Avant de publier ce rapport, la forêt a été cartographiée sur le plan de la flore, de la physionomie et du stock de carbone. Pour la cartographie floristique, nous avons également pris en compte les données de l’inventaire d’aménagement collectées par 105 concessions forestières en Afrique centrale, à l’exclusion des régions d’altitude ou saturées en eau. Ce sont environ 6 millions d’arbres de plus de 30 cm de diamètre et couvrant près de 90 000 hectares qui ont été analysés, ce qui a permis aux chercheurs de catégoriser trois gradients floristiques en fonction du climat, de la saisonnalité et des températures maximales, ainsi que de l’activité humaine, » explique Juliette Dalimier.

Recherchant avant tout la précision des résultats, les scientifiques ont également appliqué une récente technique pour cartographier les types de forêt sur le plan physionomique, ce qui leur a livré des informations détaillées tant sur le plan sémantique, que spatial avec une résolution de 20 m. Ce degré de précision, jamais vu jusqu’ici pour une telle superficie géographique, a été obtenu grâce aux données du satellite Sentinel-2 acquises en 2020 et à une nouvelle méthode de correction des images qui permet de combler les zones nuageuses par des observations datant de 2018-2019 réalisées par le satellite Sentinel-1. Ce satellite n’est en effet pas gêné par les nuages puisqu’il fonctionne comme les radars et cette méthode permet donc de produire un composite annuel cohérent.

Cependant, en raison de la rareté des observations de terrain et des difficultés d’extrapolation des stocks de carbone par la télédétection, les chercheurs n’ont pas été en mesure de déterminer la répartition spatiale des stocks de carbone dans les forêts d’Afrique centrale.

Grâce aux études qui ont permis de classer la zone étudiée en forêt non perturbée, en forêt dégradée et en non forêt au niveau sous-national, les scientifiques ont découvert que les unités administratives ayant peu de forêts non perturbées étaient plus fragiles parce qu’elles ont aussi en général une plus grande proportion de forêts dégradées. Ils se sont aperçus que la majeure partie des espaces boisés d’Afrique convertis en plantations forestières entre 1990 et 2020 sont situés en RDC (80 000 ha), au Cameroun (70 000 ha) et au Gabon (40 000 ha).

Proportion de forêts intactes (vert foncé), de forêts dégradées (vert clair) et de non forêt (orange) par unité administrative d’après les données Tropical Moist Forest 2019. Dans la figure, les zones déboisées avant 2019 sont classées en non forêt. Crédit : OFAC

S’appuyant sur cette étude, les scientifiques ont pu aussi déterminer que, dans l’ensemble du bassin du Congo, 5 % des zones protégées se retrouvent dans le périmètre d’un titre minier, alors que 65 % de la superficie de ces titres est constituée de forêt intacte ou dégradée. Selon le rapport, c’est en RDC et en République centrafricaine que le secteur minier se répercute le plus sur la dégradation des forêts et la déforestation. Sans parler de la mine artisanale, on notera que 11,6 % du territoire de la RDC est couvert par des titres miniers alors que 35 % de leur superficie sont couverts de forêts.

Les chercheurs ont aussi découvert que la déforestation induite par la mise en place des infrastructures nécessaires aux activités minières à grande échelle produit des effets directs (perte de biodiversité) et indirects (pollution des milieux aquatiques). En même temps, les conséquences de l’afflux de population voulant bénéficier des avantages économiques de l’exploitation minière sont le braconnage et l’agriculture vivrière dans les forêts adjacentes ou dans leurs environs.


Répondant au besoin de soulager la pression qui nuit aux forêts, de préserver les écosystèmes riches en faune et en flore, ainsi que de procurer des avantages aux communautés forestières, les États du bassin du Congo ont créé de nombreuses aires protégées depuis 20 ans. Malheureusement, ces efforts ont été contrariés par un manque de financement, de ressources humaines et techniques, par l’instabilité politique, et les conflits dont pâtissent de nombreux pays de la sous-région. Tout ceci a compliqué la bonne gestion de ces aires protégées, bien que les chercheurs soient convaincus que les politiques d’attribution des terres dans le périmètre des aires protégées sont des mesures intéressantes dans la lutte contre la déforestation et la dégradation des forêts.

« Les aires protégées, les concessions forestières et les forêts communautaires permettent de réduire considérablement la destruction des forêts et d’impliquer les populations locales dans la conservation des massifs tout en assurant leur subsistance », déclare Pierre Ploton du Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD), autre auteur ayant contribué à la rédaction de ce rapport.

Tenant la deuxième place après l’Amazonie compte tenu de leur superficie, les forêts denses humides du bassin du Congo constituent un exceptionnel réservoir de carbone (environ 40 gigatonnes), mais aussi de biodiversité pour les pays d’Afrique centrale et pour la planète. Il n’y a plus de temps à perdre pour préserver ces forêts, car près de 60 millions de personnes en dépendent directement pour leur subsistance et 40 millions d’urbains vivant dans les villes proches se nourrissent en partie grâce à elles.

« L’Afrique centrale est une région prioritaire pour la conservation de la biodiversité en raison de son patrimoine exceptionnel et du nombre important de ses espèces endémiques. Ses écosystèmes constituent un bien commun, à la fois pour les générations actuelles, les millions de personnes qui bénéficient des ressources naturelles qu’ils procurent, et pour les générations futures. Comme sur le reste de la planète, la biodiversité de la sous-région est menacée par de nombreux facteurs, et il faut donc considérer que son avenir relève de la responsabilité commune des pays d’Afrique centrale et de la communauté internationale », affirme Richard Eba’a Atyi, coordonnateur régional du CIFOR-ICRAF pour l’Afrique centrale dans les conclusions du rapport.

La version française du rapport a été lancée lors de la 19e Réunion des Parties du Partenariat pour les forêts du bassin du Congo, et la version anglaise a été publiée la semaine dernière.

Cette recherche a été appuyée par la Commission Européenne à travers le projet RIOFAC »

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