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  • Shedding light on opportunities and challenges for rural women

Shedding light on opportunities and challenges for rural women

In Nepal, women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
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imgresOn the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women, Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) reflects on her research and the situation of rural women in times of climate change and sustainable development.

Rural women across forest and tree landscapes make critical contributions to their households, communities and the landscapes in which they live. But often their contributions are not really recognized because they are confined to informal sectors, concentrated in low-value areas, and are unpaid.

The day of rural women is important because it is an opportunity to draw attention to women’s contributions, celebrate them. And to shed light on the advances that have been made in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment (Sustainable Development Goal 5), and highlight the work that remains.

Rural landscapes across the countries where we’re working are changing rapidly due to wide range of factors such as

  • expansion of markets,
  • migration and mobility,
  • expansion of agriculture in forested landscapes,
  • introduction of a wide range of interventions in the name of conservation or development.

These changes present both opportunities and challenges for rural women and girls in various contexts in which we locate our research.

A woman unloading charcoal from river boats in Africa. Photo by Jolien Schure for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
A woman unloading charcoal from river boats in Africa. Photo by Jolien Schure for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

For instance, our research on charcoal value chains in Zambia is finding that women are challenging pre-existing gender restrictions to where they can go, what they can sell, and what they can do with their earnings. These women are participating in more lucrative areas that were previously reserved for men; earning more than they did previously. Their contributions are being recognized at the household level and this in turn, is influencing their position and bargaining power at the home.

Our research on women’s participation in forest governance in Uganda, Nicaragua and Nepal, for instance, shows that women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in and depend on to earn their livelihood. And this is impacting on how benefits are distributed and whether forest and tree resources are sustainably managed.

A combination of factors are playing a role in these changes for women, for example relaxing of traditionally fixed gender relations at the household and community levels, policy interventions aimed at promoting women, and favorable market conditions for women’s enterprise.

In Nepal, women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
In Nepal, women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

But we are also finding that many of these interventions are designed and implemented at levels that are beyond women’s reach. Women often have little voice and influence on negotiations over conversion of land. The risks posed by a changing climate are unknown and still unfolding. And it is questionable whether and how women’s collective and individual capabilities can respond to these risks and adapt to these changes.

As a consequence, existing gender inequalities are being exacerbated, women’s voices are getting further restricted, women’s burden in caring for others is increasing, and their capabilities are diminishing.

Our research is aimed at documenting how these changes are impacting on different categories of women and girls in rural areas, and how different alternatives can be realized by fostering greater gender equality and empowering women. We are leveraging our research findings to inform governments, donors, non-governmental organization and women’s movements on the role they can play in carving transformative pathways.

In this process, we are partnering with a wide range of influential organizations at the local, national and global levels to undertake research on pressing gender issues as they unfold, and to ensure that the findings of our research translate into action and bring about change that advances the goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

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  • How participatory research gets to the bottom of forest tenure

How participatory research gets to the bottom of forest tenure

Cattle graze on agricultural land in Maluku, Indonesia. Photo by T. Herawati/ CIFOR
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Agricultural land at Seram Barat District, Maluku. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR
Agricultural land at Seram Barat District, Maluku. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR

Adapted from CIFOR’s Forests News

What are the biggest obstacles that local communities face when ensuring rights to their forest resources? Community leaders say it’s the red tape and the cost of travel from rural villages to the towns where government offices are located. They also see poor-quality education and health care as additional hurdles that make it more difficult for communities to organize. Meanwhile, government officials note other obstacles, such as a shortage of staff or the difficulty of traveling to remote villages. Because these groups do not often engage in dialogue, problems can persist and forest-tenure reforms can stall. A recent workshop in Peru organized under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry brought both sides together with technical experts to discuss land tenure and land use rights. Barbara Fraser spoke to the researchers involved.

Participatory Prospective Analysis (PPA) is an innovative approach to discussing tenure problems that combines the knowledge of technical experts and decision makers with the knowledge of people from the communities. This happens in workshops which are part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform, undertaken by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Peru, Indonesia and Uganda. This helps to identify factors affecting forest-tenure reform and design scenarios that could lead to better policies.

The workshops show participants how they can best address the complex issues of forest-tenure reform. Thy identify potential pitfalls, such as obstacles to the reform and to putting it into practice. This allows them to come up with strategies for mitigating negative factors.

“The first challenge is identifying the stakeholders, because you don’t know the people and their skills,” says Iliana Monterroso, coordinator of the study in Peru. “The process itself takes time, given the amount of discussions and brainstorming. And people have to listen to each other, so you don’t want people who are too dominating.”

It all begins with a workshop in which participants identify the social, technical, economic, political and environmental factors that affect the process of securing land tenure.

GCS-Tenure Project, Ambon  Seram island. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR
GCS-Tenure Project, Ambon
Seram island. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR

The researchers enter this information into a computer program, and participants use the results to examine how those factors influence each other directly and indirectly. After eliminating factors that they cannot control, they choose about five that they agree are most important. They then envision different scenarios to explore how land-tenure policy could change, depending on those factors and the actions that they and their organizations take.

This sounds complex, but it is worthwhile, says CIFOR researcher Nining Liswanti. “Discussing these scenarios help people think about strategies for avoiding outcomes that would not be as positive.”

Focus on Maluku, Indonesia

In Indonesia, the workshops included community leaders, officials from government forest, land and water agencies, and representatives from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and universities.

The goal was to design scenarios for implementing forest-tenure reforms on the densely populated island of Maluku, where no reforms have taken place, and for improving the livelihoods of people who depend on forests in the district of Lampung, on the southern tip of Sumatra, where most people are migrants and reforms are already under way.

The participants outlined possible future scenarios that ranged from the ideal—in which all stakeholders would make some concessions—to others in which the government or private interests had more power.

Participants all considered the government’s willingness to support forest-tenure reform as crucial for positive scenarios. Enforcement of forest regulations, community participation in forest management and respect for local cultures were also mentioned frequently.

Forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by Douglas Sheil for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by Douglas Sheil for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Migration part of the picture in Uganda

In the western district of Kibaale, Uganda, immigration has swelled the number of people who depend on forest resources. This creates uncertainties about tenure and rights, which are further complicated by absentee landholders.

Masindi, also located in western Uganda, is marked by the destruction of forests for corporate farms and ranches, as well as the imminent possibility of oil production, which could harm forests, but which could also create better-paying jobs that might reduce people’s dependence on forests.

The Ugandan participants envisioned scenarios in which the government made and enforced clear rules for immigration and resettlement, budgeted for forest management and provided enough personnel to enforce regulations, while traditional community leaders received training in sustainable forest management.

Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon is the third location of the study. Photo: CIFOR
Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon is the third location of the study. Photo: CIFOR

PPA in Peru

In Peru, the analysis was done with government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations and leaders of communities scattered along rivers in the Amazonian regions of Loreto and Madre de Dios.

One persistent obstacle for the indigenous communities is that that they are not free to make decisions about forest use, because forests are considered a public good, governed by national laws as well as regional regulations. This makes building local and regional scenarios difficult, because they are still subject to the limitations imposed by national laws, according to researcher Alejandra Zamora, who is leading the application of the methodology in Peru.

Tensions also arise over overlapping land rights. Community leaders said they felt regional governments lacked the will to resolve tenure problems, while government officials said they were limited by budget constraints.

“These discussions help participants arrive at implementation processes that are more effective at improving tenure rights and resource access, as well as identifying who should be responsible for these actions,” says Monterroso. “They discover that there is not only one possible scenario, but rather various potential futures.”

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  • Firewood collection taking a toll on Uganda’s forests

Firewood collection taking a toll on Uganda’s forests

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FTA communications

Photo: Douglas Sheil/CIFOR
Scientists urge sustainable firewood collection efforts to fully consider the needs of the local population. Douglas Sheil / CIFOR

By Michael Casey, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Uganda – Protecting tropical forests in Africa often means directing conservation and law enforcement efforts towards fighting illegal logging, hunting and poaching.

But scientists under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry decided to take a closer look at a largely overlooked challenge – the collection of firewood.

In many parts of world, fuel wood is the main source of energy. That is especially the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where rural communities depend on wood and charcoal to cook meals, boil bathwater and heat their homes.

Much of that wood is collected from tropical forests, including from national parks that are home to endangered primates, elephants and big cats. Yet, until now, there has been very little research on the impact, if any, this wood collection is having on local flora and fauna.

Douglas Sheil of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and doctoral student Marieke Sassen of Wageningen University in the Netherlands decided to examine fuel wood collection in the forests of Mt. Elgon National Park in Uganda. Located near the Kenyan border, this park is known for its vast collection of rare plants and is home to more than 300 species of birds, as well as a 4,321-meter-high extinct volcano that is believed to be nearly 24 million years old.

“During my research at Mt. Elgon, I found that illegal fuelwood comprised the most important use of the forest, following agriculture and grazing,” Sassen said.

“Then, during my follow-up study of human impacts on forest structure and species richness, I found indications that allowing people to collect fuel wood also possibly contributed to forest degradation and slowed down regeneration, so I decided to investigate this further.”


After conducting surveys and interviews with nearly 200 households, the researchers found that wood collection had an impact on the park, especially up to a thousand meters from the park’s boundary and the densest portion of the park.

 Rural women should be empowered to take the lead in forestry

The most popular species of trees were also those favored for timber use like Prunus Africana, Popocarpus milianjianus and Allophylus abyssinicus.

“Demand for wood fuel from tropical forests is still likely to grow in the foreseeable future,” the researchers wrote in their study.

“Our results indicate that the forest may become more degraded as a result, with negative consequences for conservation, as well as for the people who depend on the forest.”

Sheil described wood collection as “a major, but very localized threat if not well-controlled.” He added that people used the opportunity to cut trees, set snares and engage in other illegal activities.

“In many larger, less densely-populated forests, there are bigger threats like  land-clearing for large-scale agriculture, grazing or plantations,” he said. “Those threats are more severe and more likely to be permanent.”

“But fuel wood collection is significant near forest edges where forests occur in areas with dense human populations that live mainly on subsistence lifestyles. So this is certainly a problem in many other East African forests.”


The authors cautioned that it wouldn’t be easy to combat the problem with measures like limiting access to the park, since so many rural communities depend on fuel wood for their survival. In many cases, they have no alternative sources of energy, nor the money to buy wood from other places.

Complicating matters, Sheil added, is the colonial legacy that colors the debate in places like Uganda, where many parks were established during British rule and included controversial measures like evicting entire communities in the name of conservation. Park access thus remains a sensitive topic, and calls to open parks to farmers and others are a common campaign issue during elections, according to Sheil.

“Excluding people will make them even more hostile and less supportive of the park,” he said.

“So it is a balancing act. My own feeling is that we can permit firewood collection if we can also set up a process to require those involved to accept a role in protecting the park. It’s not easy to do, but conservation is seldom simple.”

What is evident, however, is that any solution must fully consider the needs of the local population living around the park.

“You are talking about communities that have been accessing these forests for generations,” said Sheil. “They have never needed to collect firewood anywhere else before.”

“Poor people should not become further impoverished because of forest conservation,” Sassen added. “Morally, this does not make sense and it can also lead to conflicts. Conflicts over forest resources rarely benefit conservation or local people.”


In order to limit damage to the forest, the authors said the answer may lie in giving communities a greater say in park management – under a system where the law-abiding residents would help authorities prevent those who are carrying out illegal activities like logging or laying snares.

Presently, the park has agreements allowing legal access to collect wood, but turns a blind eye to others to avoid conflicts.

“Park management lacks the means to enforce the rules of the agreements and local forest user committees are unable to or unwilling to impose them,” the study concluded.

“What I would like to see is a much more conditional form of access where you negotiate with the local people and say if we are going to allow you to continue this, we need to agree on some rules and you agree that you help police these rules,” Sheil added.

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  • Building resilience and livelihoods with agroforestry in Uganda

Building resilience and livelihoods with agroforestry in Uganda

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Made by leading Ugandan documentarist Nathan Ochole, this film explains what agroforestry is and the contributions that it has made to Uganda. It starts in the highlands of Kabale, where trees on farms prevented landslides and floods, provided fruit to villagers and made their agriculture more sustainable. It then roams to the parklands of northern Uganda where Borassus palms and Shea trees provide valuable nutrition and cash earnings (particularly for women in the case of Shea) and improve the yields of the crops grown near them. It visits Kapchorwa where viewers see the use of the nitrogen-fixing shrub Calliandra as feed for dairy cows and then documents the improvements that orange trees have made to livelihoods in Namatumba.

Along the way, the film makers interview farmers as well as Dr Clement Okia, the representative of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Uganda, and Dr Hilary Agaba, Programme Leader Agroforestry at Uganda’s National Forestry Resources Research Institute (NaFORRI NARO).

It was produced by Cathy Watson, formerly of Tree Talk and Muvle Trust in Uganda and now Head of Programme Development at ICRAF, and by Australian AVID volunteer, Laura Keenan.

The work is related to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • The impact of land property rights interventions on investment and agricultural productivity in developing countries: a systematic review

The impact of land property rights interventions on investment and agricultural productivity in developing countries: a systematic review

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Authors: Steven Lawry, Cyrus Samii, Ruth Hall, Aaron Leopold, Donna Hornby & Farai Mtero

We conducted a systematic review on the effects of land tenure recognition interventions on agricultural productivity, income, investment and other relevant outcomes. We synthesise findings from 20 quantitative studies and nine qualitative studies that passed a methodological screening. The results indicate substantial productivity and income gains from land tenure recognition, although gains differ markedly by region. We find that these effects may operate through gains in perceived tenure security and investment; we find no evidence for a credit mechanism. The qualitative synthesis highlights potential adverse effects. A conclusion emphasises the need for further research on inter-regional differences and on the role of customary tenure arrangements.

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  • Securing land rights = better livelihoods for communities? Not necessarily

Securing land rights = better livelihoods for communities? Not necessarily

Photo by Neil Palmer
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Originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Tenure and land rights are import themes for the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. Barbara Fraser has looked at the results from a recent study on land rights in Peru, Indonesia and Uganda that shows: it’s complicated.

A Harakmbut indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon has no say over the 17 gold-mining concessions overlapping its territory, despite holding a title to the land. Meanwhile in Uganda, a village’s community forestry hopes are dashed as outside project money meant to compensate them for conservation has dried up.

Advances in land and forest tenure reforms in recent years have not necessarily improved livelihoods for forest dwellers, as shown in preliminary results from a comparative study conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Researchers presented their results from the study of reforms in Peru, Indonesia and Uganda at an international colloquium on forest tenure reform held in Peru in early May.

The first session, held in Lima, brought together researchers and government officials from the three countries. The second session, in the Amazonian town of Puerto Maldonado, also involved indigenous leaders from local federations and representatives from 12 communities, including those where field research for the study was conducted.

“We all have a lot to learn from comparative studies, and we wanted to share the preliminary results in a way that would allow us to go into greater depth by looking at both similarities and differences between the countries,” said CIFOR Principal Scientist Anne Larson, who leads the Center’s global comparative study on tenure reform.

The study examines how the reforms have evolved and their impact on both the condition of forests and the livelihoods of people who depend on forest resources.

Photo: Georgina Smith/CIAT
Photo: Georgina Smith/CIAT

“Communities in all three countries have a hunger to enhance the security of their tenure,” said Bob Kazungu, a senior forest officer for Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment.

Although tenure schemes vary from country to country, there were common implementation challenges that emerged from the study, such as the need to clarify the roles of national and local governments, and to ensure that women have a voice in decisions and share equally in the benefits of forest tenure.


In Peru, communities receive titles to their land, but the government only grants use rights over forests. Indigenous communities are now pressing for the titling of “integral territory,” where they would have rights over all natural resources, according to Julio Cusurichi, President of the Federation of Native Communities of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD).

Photo by Neil Palmer
Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Uganda’s community forest management systems vary depending on whether the forest is owned by the state, a community, or private landholders. There are several forms of communal management, including customary systems used by traditional communities. Private landowners can also form associations for collective forest management.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has seven forest tenure systems, depending on whether the land is state-owned or private. The challenge is to empower communities, strengthen their organization and enhance their ability to manage their forests once they get the land, said Erna Rosdiana, who heads the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s community forestry section.

“The goal of social forestry is community well-being, not just granting rights,” she said.


Indeed, study results from all three countries show that the road to security does not end with tenure.

That surprised Concepta Mukasa, Program Officer of the Association of Ugandan Professional Women in Agriculture and Environment, who is conducting research for Uganda.

“Before, I thought that when communities received full rights through titling, that would immediately translate into an improved standard of living and improved conditions of the forest,” said Mukasa. “Now, I see that without incentives for conservation and for innovation in improving their standards of living, titling may not be enough.”

The lesson, Larson says, is that once tenure-reform policies are established, national and local governments must have a strategy — and allocate budget funds — to implement them.

That requires coordination between national and local governments. But while national governments are generally responsible for developing policies, local governments — which often share responsibility for putting them into practice — may lack necessary expertise or political will.

“Our country is decentralizing, and strengthening regional governments’ capacities and access to information is critical,” said Fabiola Muñoz, who heads the Peruvian Forest Service. “There is a key role for research, but the role of local governance is also crucial.”

Striking a balance between government oversight and community autonomy is also a challenge that requires dialogue, Muñoz said. Because many forest dwellers in the Peruvian Amazon are indigenous this means “ensuring that people receive information in their own language”.

In addition, survey results from all three countries showed that women often lack a voice in decisions about forest management and do not share equally in the benefits of forest tenure.

Some obstacles to women’s participation can be addressed readily. Simply providing childcare at community meetings in Peru often makes it easier for women to take part, Muñoz said.

Others are more complicated. In traditional Ugandan villages, a widow often loses her right to land unless her husband specifically wills it to her, said CIFOR researcher Baruani Mshale, who is coordinating the Uganda study.


Many of the challenges common to the three countries are visible in Tres Islas, an Amazonian community that is home to both Ese’eja and Shipibo families. Here, villagers welcomed the colloquium participants in a spacious, thatch-roofed community building overlooking the Madre de Dios River.

After a legal battle over the right to restrict access to its land by outside gold miners, the community is now working toward a more sustainable vision of the future, said Sergio Perea, the community president.

Some villagers harvest Brazil nuts and the fruit of the ungurahui palm (Oenocarpus batana), while others manage timber. A village committee is also planning an ecotourism enterprise.

But aside from these early successes, the community has also encountered some of the pitfalls highlighted by CIFOR’s research. For instance, installation of Brazil nut processing equipment has been held up by a delay in connecting Tres Islas to the public electricity system.

What’s more, a three-year project that funded the preparation of timber management plans has ended, and Perea is not sure how his community will pay for the next year’s plan. Alluvial gold mining also continues in the community, posing threats of deforestation and mercury pollution.

As community leaders stressed their commitment to a sustainable future, their enthusiasm inspired Irene Anaya Canelos, Treasurer of the Indigenous Council of the Lower Madre de Dios (COINBAMAD).

Canelos has witnessed native communities in her native region- Madre de Dios- struggle with the need to generate income so they can educate their children and buy necessities.

“My community is not as well organized as Tres Islas,” she said after seeing the plans under way there. “We can learn a lot from the way they have organized themselves and the work they are doing.”

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