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Study reveals government views on collective titling in Peru

A CIFOR consultant discusses community frontiers in Campemento Neshuya, Ucayali River, Peru. Photo by M. del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

To legally obtain title to their community lands, indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon must navigate a maze of legal paperwork and technical steps that can take as long as a decade to complete.

Research by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) found that the process is challenging not only for villagers, but also for government officials.

Lack of coordination among the many government agencies involved, conflicts over rights and boundaries, and the high cost of conducting technical studies, such as mapping community boundaries, were among the difficulties reported.

Underlying those obstacles are differences in the way indigenous people and government agencies understand territorial rights, said Iliana Monterroso, a CIFOR scientist, who led the research.

“Differing expectations, tight budgets and difficulties in coordination among government agencies are the main obstacles mentioned by those interviewed,” she said of the study, which surveyed 32 national and regional government officials.

The researchers examined two ongoing tenure reform processes in Peru targeting native communities. One involves changes in laws that recognize land rights, while the other involves rights to forests, including promoting access to forest resources and support for forest management.

“While the government perceived them as two different sets of regulations, with different institutions responsible for implementation, indigenous communities saw them as a group of measures that should ensure protection of their territorial rights,” said Monterroso.

The study also underscored differences between the way national and sub-national government officials view tenure reform. While those working for the national government see reforms as a way to formalize land rights, regional officers see them as a way to increase access and use of resources to support livelihoods for native communities.

“Besides incongruences in how regulations are perceived, these results also point to a need for greater coordination and communication between the different levels of government,” Monterroso said.

Read also: Reclaiming collective rights: land and forest tenure reforms in Peru (1960-2016)

Community members stand in front of a river in Cashiboya, Loreto Province, Peru. Photo by M. del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR

Shared responsibility, different expectations

Granting legal land titles was initially implemented by Peru’s central government. With the dawn of decentralization in the early 2000s, Lima handed regional governments responsibility – under national guidelines and  provision – for boundary demarcation, titling communal lands, and the granting of usufruct rights to forests.

Peruvian law considers all forest lands as public; indigenous communities bid therefore for titles on communal lands classed as agriculture and usufruct contracts for those as forests.

The process involves more than 20 steps and at least a dozen government agencies, both national and regional.

Overall, 60 percent of the government officials involved in implementing tenure reform, including recognition of rights to both land and forests, work at the sub-national level, Monterroso said.

Those officials generally have a significant level of education and experience. 90 percent of those surveyed had a university education, as well as averaging 10 years of work experience.

But working with indigenous communities poses particular challenges for government officials – nearly two-thirds mentioned indigenous communities or cultural norms as a stumbling block when implementing tenure reforms.

“They have the skills necessary for the administrative work, but can lack the cultural understanding needed when titling native communities,” Monterroso said. “Working in an intercultural environment requires the ability to recognize the needs of indigenous communities and how best to go about helping to resolve conflicts.”

Conflicts are not uncommon. When officials were asked about the main obstacles they encountered in the titling process, boundary disputes were mentioned most often, followed by illegal logging, overlapping permits for use of resources, and inefficient management of finances.

Around 40 percent then went on to say that their work involved educating communities about their rights, and the channels available to them to file complaints, but only six percent said they are directly involved in helping to resolve conflicts.

Previous research has shown that while Peru has a high level of conflict over land rights, a relatively small percentage of government officials report that is part of their responsibilities; this is a clear weakness in Peru’s legal system for titling.

Read also: Gender and formalization of native communities in the Peruvian Amazon

A dirt road leads to a community in Tingo de Ponasa, San Martin, Peru. Photo by M. del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR

Budgets and coordination are key

More than one-third of the government officials surveyed mentioned inadequate budgets as a significant obstacle to implementation of tenure reform.

Although titling is free for communities, the process is expensive for subnational governments because of the cost of transporting teams to remote areas. As a matter devolved, they therefore have to allocate from their budget assigned from the national Ministry of Economy and Finance, or use contributions from international cooperation agencies.

Costs could range as high as USD 10,000 or more for a single title, depending on the location, the amount of work required, and how long the process takes. Titling takes an average of eight years, although some communities have been waiting for their title for several decades.

“Limitations affecting implementation are mainly associated with inadequate budgets, inefficient communication among the various government agencies involved, and cumbersome procedures,” said Monterroso. “Despite this, overall the respondents had a positive view of how well tenure reform was being implemented.”

The study points to several ways in which the process could be made more effective, she said.

Officials responsible for implementing tenure reform should be prepared to work with indigenous communities and be sensitive to the views of women and young people.

Indigenous communities and government officials often have different understandings of land tenure, so they also must address diverse and sometimes contradictory views about forest and land management and conservation, said Monterroso.

Because the process involves allocating budgets and responsibilities among a minimum of 12 government agencies, it is not surprising officials were in agreement that inter-agency collaboration and coordination are key to making reforms successful.

That’s why Monterroso is calling for additional measures to facilitate better access and exchange of information to not only increase coordination among national and regional government agencies, but to “have a cost-effective way to advance tenure reform implementation.”

She added, “most importantly everyone involved must keep in mind that the role of the state is not simply to grant the community a land title, but to ensure that the resources in the territory can provide the inhabitants with a sustainable livelihood.

“Titling is just the first step.”

By Barbara Fraser, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


This study is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), and is supported by the European Commission, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the Global Environment Facility, and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets.

FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, ICRAF, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Long road ahead to indigenous land and forest rights in Peru

Long road ahead to indigenous land and forest rights in Peru

Children from the La Roya community, in the Peruvian Amazon, pose for a photograph. Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

An indigenous woman harvests goods in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR

Regulatory reforms are encountering both progress and setbacks in Peru. 

Over the past half-century, more than 1,300 indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon have obtained title to more than 12 million hectares of land — about 17 percent of the country’s forest area.

The gains have come through a series of regulatory reforms that have resulted in both progress and setbacks for indigenous communities, says Iliana Monterroso, a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the authors of a new study that forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) on land and forest tenure reforms in Peru.

“Understanding the history of the tenure reforms in Peru is important for identifying the challenges that remain and the opportunities that exist for addressing them,” Monterroso says.

The struggle for tenure has led to the rise of local, national and pan-Amazonian indigenous organizations, which have played an increasingly active role in advocating for policies that respect their territorial rights.

Read also: Obstacles to forest tenure reform deeply rooted in the past

Fifty indigenous peoples inhabit the Peruvian Amazon, depending on the forests for their livelihoods. Despite regulatory reforms, however, it remains difficult for them to obtain legal rights to full use of those resources.

Since the first modern laws governing indigenous peoples and land rights were passed more than a century ago, most legislation has promoted colonization, agriculture or private development in the Peruvian Amazon, with a mindset that views forests as possessing less economic value than farming or ranching.

Even now, property rights are granted only for agricultural land, while the state retains ownership of sub-soil resources such as minerals, and of the forests above-ground — granting concessions or usufruct rights for use of those resources, but not relinquishing ownership.

Government officials have often viewed indigenous peoples and their claims to territory as blocking progress by making it difficult to “put the forest to use,” says Monterroso.

Indigenous communities, however, increasingly call for control over all resources- both on and under their lands. Meanwhile, programs linked to Peru’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) offer support by including funds for titling indigenous lands.


Indigenous community members in Callería, Peru, learn the art of traditional embroidery. Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR

Stumbling blocks 

The first legal recognition of land rights for Peru’s Amazonian indigenous peoples was passed in 1974. A year later, the Forest and Wildlife Law placed forests under control of the government, which could grant the right to use them. This established the separate rules for forest and agricultural land that persist today.

Under current regulations, soil analysis determines whether land is classified as suitable for forest or agriculture — regardless of whether it is already forested. Only the area classified as agricultural land can be titled. Rights in the area classified as forests are limited to the right to use, known as usufruct, for which communities sign a contract with the government.

To commercialize forest products, a community must also apply for permits, or another type of official authorization. In many cases, they also must draw up and submit forest management plans.

Because this multi-step process is complicated and expensive, only about 10 percent of titled communities have actually obtained usufruct contracts, Monterroso says. Because of the complexity and cost, some communities are limited to using forest resources only for subsistence use, or to extracting timber and other products illegally.

Read also: The cost of oversimplification

Beginning in the 1980s, the Peruvian government passed a series of laws that promoted development, agriculture and colonization of forested land in the Amazon. Those efforts were stepped up in the 1990s, and continued into the 2000s.

At the same time, the decentralization of government administration meant that more responsibilities were transferred from the national government to regional governments.

Children from the La Roya community, in the Peruvian Amazon, pose for a photograph. Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR

Over the next decades, different agencies were in charge of land titling, and each change meant the physical transfer of hundreds of documents. Many were lost during the transitions, slowing the titling process for communities.

In many cases, non-governmental organizations that helped indigenous organizations map their territories with geo-referenced coordinates and file paperwork had more complete records than the government

Because the government had no single national registry of land titles and concessions for use of resources, its increasingly aggressive promotion of development projects resulted in overlapping concessions for timber, mining, oil and gas, tourism and reforestation.

Many of those concessions also overlapped areas where indigenous communities were applying for titles, but they could not obtain land rights until certain overlapping claims were resolved.

Conflict fuels drive for territorial rights

Tensions over land tenure came to a head with a series of 99 legislative decrees issued after Peru signed a free trade agreement with the United States in 2006.

Government officials said the measures were needed to make Peruvian legislation comply with the trade pact, but several of the decrees weakened communal land rights and opened the way for extractive industries to operate on community lands.

In 2009, indigenous organizations staged a two-month protest against the decrees, blocking a key Amazonian highway near the town of Bagua. In June 2009, security forces attempted to clear the roadblock, resulting in a violent clash in which 34 people were killed and more than 200 injured.

The events at Bagua marked a turning point for indigenous rights. The most contentious decrees were repealed, and long negotiations led to enactment of Peru’s prior consultation law in 2011. The measure requires that indigenous people be consulted about any development project, or administrative measure, that could affect their collective rights.

The first legislation submitted to consultation was the new Forest and Wildlife Law, which re-established the exclusive rights of indigenous communities to use forest resources in their territories. That right had been revoked by a natural resources law in 1997.

By 2016, 1,365 Amazonian communities had obtained title to more than 12 million hectares of land, while 644 claims, totaling nearly 5.8 million hectares, were pending.

As an alternative to individual community titles, indigenous organizations had also won the designation of 2.8 million hectares of reserves to protect semi-nomadic groups that shun contact with the outside world, and another 2.2 million hectares in “communal reserves”, protected areas encompassing various communities.

Although Bagua put communal land rights on the policy agenda, however, titling has been slow in recent years and only a handful of usufruct contracts have been issued.

Meanwhile, promotion of development in the Amazon has persisted, and conflicts continue over the use of resources on community lands.

A regenerated forest and agroforestry system is seen in the Nueva Ahuaypa indigenous community area in Peru. Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR

Reforms must not ignore history 

This long and complex history highlights a series of reasons why implementing land and forest tenure reform in Peru has been difficult, Monterroso says.

Lack of clarity about procedures and about which government agency is responsible slows the process. That is further complicated by an unclear and expensive procedure for classifying land use based on soil analysis, and the unclear and costly process for obtaining usufruct contracts.

Peru still lacks a single map of titles and concessions, so boundary disputes and conflicting claims continue to hamper progress on community titling.

Over the past two years, there has been a renewed effort to title indigenous communities in the Amazon, partly because of funding from climate-related programs aimed at preserving forests. That could offer an opportunity for overcoming some of the obstacles, Monterroso says.

“It’s important that there is a clear road map, so the benefits of land and forest tenure reforms reach the communities they were meant to benefit,” she says.

The responsibilities of national and regional government agencies in the titling process must be clear, they need to coordinate among themselves, and they must have the necessary staff and budget funds, she says. Indigenous communities also need allies in those agencies who can help them navigate the system.

Tenure reform can also be linked to sustainable resource management in communities. Indigenous groups in Peru have proposed an “indigenous REDD+” scheme, which uses climate-related funding to promote titling and livelihood plans.

“Opportunities for improvement are clear,” Monterroso says. “Unfortunately, if the challenges are not resolved, there is a risk of continued conflict.”

By Barbara Fraser, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Iliana Monterroso at [email protected] or Anne Larson at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

This research was supported by the European Commission, Global Environment Fund, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


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