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  • Forest restoration and democracy: Making communities visible in Madagascar

Forest restoration and democracy: Making communities visible in Madagascar

Farming families in Boeny District, northwest Madagascar, rely on oxen for transportation and draft power. Photo by Steven Lawry/CIFOR.
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Landscape restoration will not be fully effective unless it contributes to social as well as ecological benefits.

Recent discussions at the Global Landscapes Forum in Accra, Ghana, which revolved around tenure policy and forest landscape restoration in Madagascar, shed light on some of the issues impeding progress toward achieving positive social and ecological restoration outcomes globally.

The Bonn Challenge and the U.N. Decades on Ecosystem Restoration and Family Farming are important global restoration initiatives. They are designed, organized and funded by U.N. agencies, major donor countries, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and participating national governments that have signed on to their ambitious goals for restoring degraded forests, farmland and ecosystems.

Within the framework of the Bonn Challenge, 28 African countries affiliated in the AFR100 (African Forest Restoration Initiative) network are committed to restoring 113 million hectares of degraded forests.

There is wide agreement among experts that communities must be consulted at every stage of the restoration planning and implementation processes.

But too often “consultation” takes the form of perfunctory discussions with communities, and meaningful decisions about land use practices, funding, program design, local governance, incentives, regulation, planned outcomes and distribution of benefits are made by external entities.

In reality, communities lack any real negotiating power, including the ability to reject proposals they consider unrealistic or not in their best interests.   This lack of community authority has significant consequences.

Manony Andriampiolazana, on left, interviews a leader in Ankijabe, Boeny District, Madagascar, forest restoration priorities.


Community members actively shape landscapes through decisions about how and where land is used for forests, agriculture, housing and other uses. As such, the outcomes of restoration efforts, positive or negative, are largely in their hands.  While government and NGO planners may recommend or even prescribe adoption of new land use practices and technologies believed conducive to restoration and sustainable use, ultimately communities decide whether or not the recommended practices are practical and realistic.

Because they live and work close to the resource management problems, land users are in the best position to make informed choices about how land can be best managed and sustainably used for environmental, economic and social benefit.  Research has found that practices imposed by outside authorities often lack technical credibility and rarely possess political legitimacy (McLain et al. 2018a).

This link between success in achieving positive outcomes and democratic decision-making is often overlooked in forest restoration programs.  Reference to “consulting” local stakeholders doesn’t come close to describing the decision-making authority local people should exercise.

Governments can create incentives for restoration, but whether or not incentives are appropriate or sufficient to motivate new land use practices is largely a matter for users of land and forests to decide.

Governments can attempt to discourage destructive land use practices through direct regulation and penalties.  But over-reliance on rule making and enforcement can prove unduly burdensome and coercive and turn communities away from a restoration agenda.

Lingering legacy

Colonial powers undercut or eliminated the ability of communities to make collective, democratic decisions about local land use by concentrating ownership rights over land, forests and pasture in the state.

While regulation carefully applied may have a role, communities should have the right to adopt restoration practices as a matter of free, collective choice, derived from secure rights to their local resources, including the right to decide how they are best managed.

CIFOR research found that tenure security motivates community investments in restoration (McLain et al. 2018b).

In much of Africa but also among indigenous communities in Latin America and Asia, customary tenure arrangements ensure access to land as a social right.

In other words, locally recognized systems of resource governance and rights are in place, but these systems too often are not recognized in statute or national law.

Madagascar, which aims to restore 4 million hectares of degraded forest by 2030, and other African governments, seek to “modernize” the property rights system by linking delivery of land rights to statutory instruments, such as title and certification.

Local people who believe that their customary rights are legitimate and secure may sometimes be vulnerable to loss of those rights because customary tenure arrangements are often not recognized under law.

Madagascar case study

Despite guidelines that Madagascar’s restoration plans reflect active engagement with communities and a variety of local stakeholders, research and experience suggests that Malagasy community-based land management institutions and practices are invisible to official authorities.

What is the evidence of this invisibility?

  • Insufficient recognition of community organizations and community resource rights in law.  Malagasy civil law recognizes in principle the right of communities to manage forests.  However, the law does not describe or grant the powers necessary for communities to carry out their management responsibilities.  In practice, community representatives are sometimes consulted by government officials on land use decisions, but community organizations lack sufficient autonomy to manage and enforce local land use initiatives.
  • Failure of projects to systematically engage with legitimate local representatives.  Local NGOs sometimes assert that they legally represent local communities, or hold and exercise rights on behalf of local communities, when communities would dispute that this is the case.
  • A focus on individual property rights instruments, such as titling or certification, which are recognized in law, while most forests and landscapes targeted for restoration are used and managed collectively.  Assignment of individual title to portions of areas historically used collectively further erodes collective rights.
  • The administrative infrastructure and technical resources needed to assign title and other forms of statutory rights in rural areas are very limited.  Poor people face additional barriers to securing title due to high survey and registration costs and limited knowledge of their rights and official procedures.  Moreover, there is evidence that subsequent to the initial titling, right holders do not register transfer of rights due to sale or inheritance, largely because the level of tenure security provided under the customary system is perceived to be adequate or the costs of doing so are considered to be too high. (Ayalew et al. 2019; Lawry et al. 2017).
  • Some individuals (often migrants) who have weak customary rights in places of new arrival may claim statutory title to land as a way of securing rights in ways not possible through the local customary system.  This can undercut the ability of the community to make enforceable collective land use decisions.
  • Lack of motivation for local people who have customary rights to seek land certificates or titles through the statutory system, because of the belief that their customary rights are secure.

Reshaping the terrain

In sum, the future of restoration may be limited if insufficient democracy and tenure insecurity are not addressed. Restoration practices that contribute to positive environmental and social outcomes are more likely to be taken up by local people when they have the degree of control over forests and trees necessary to reap the benefits of their investments.

It is imperative that the Bonn Challenge’s call for engagement with local communities in forest landscape restoration planning and implementation go beyond consultation and address the importance of community governance and secure community rights to land, forests and trees.

Restoring forests, restoring communities: How secure resource rights help communities in Africa restore forests and build local economies session panelists. From left: Chris Buss, IUCN forest programme; Patrick Ranjatson, ESSA-Foret, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar; Steven Lawry, representing the Center for International Forestry Research; Tangu Tumeo, Malawi Forest Department; and Priscilia Wainaina, World Agroforestry Center, Nairobi.

Community self-governance and legal recognition of resource rights are essential preconditions for community–led restoration.  Self-governance is a precondition to negotiating consensus about use practices within communities and rights enable and catalyze action.

In the absence of rights there is no assurance that local communities will have the certainty that the benefits of their labors and investments will accrue to them.

Customary rights can be recognized statutorily, and several African countries have implemented legal reforms that recognize customary tenure (including Botswana, Kenya, Liberia and South Sudan).  But Madagascar has not.

Until Madagascar and other countries take steps to design and implement laws that extend local self-governance and tenure security through, for instance, recognition of customary tenure, it is unlikely that landscape restoration at scale will occur.

By Steven Lawry and Patrick Ranjatson
This article draws on ideas discussed at the interactive session entitled “Restoring Forests, Restoring Communities,” held in Accra, Ghana, 29-30 October 2019, at the Global Landscapes Forum on Restoration in Africa.  Steven Lawry, senior associate at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), organized and moderated the session.  Patrick Ranjatson, professor at Mention Foresterie et Environnement de l’Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Agronomiques, Université d’Antananarivo (ESSA-Forêts) led a discussion on tenure policy and forest landscape restoration in Madagascar.

Funding from Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) and  the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) supported research in Madagascar in 2018-2019 on which this article was based.   PIM and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) supported the Global Landscapes Forum  interactive session where the research was presented. Opinions expressed are the authors’ alone.


Ayalew Ali D, Deininger K, Mahofa G, and Nyakulama R. 2019. Sustaining land registration benefits by addressing the challenges of reversion to informality in Rwanda. Land Use Policy. (In Press)

Baynes J, Herbohn J, Smith C, Fisher R and Bray D. 2015. Key factors which influence the success of community forestry in developing countries. Global Environmental Change Part A 35:226–38.

Lawry S, Samii C, Hall R, Leopold A, Hornby and Mtero F. 2017. The impact of land property rights interventions on investment and agricultural productivity in developing countries: a systematic review, Journal of Development Effectiveness, 9:1, 61-81,DOI: 10.1080/19439342.2016.1160947

McLain R, Lawry S, Ojanen, M. 2018a. Fisheries’ Property Regimes and Environmental Outcomes: A Realist Synthesis Review. World Development. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X17303091?via%3Dihub

McLain R, Lawry S, Guariguata M, Reed J. 2018b. Toward a tenure-responsive approach to forest landscape restoration: A proposed tenure diagnostic for assessing restoration opportunities. Land Use Policy. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. landusepol.2018.11.053

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  • Guidelines on sustainable forest management in drylands of Ethiopia

Guidelines on sustainable forest management in drylands of Ethiopia

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About 80% of forests in Ethiopia are dry forest. For the last 20 years they have been subject to land use changes, and replaced by agricultural land and settlements. This situation may be due to the little recognition, at the national level, of the actual and potential contribution of dry forests to the national economy, especially as a source of income for the poor and for exportation.

Despite this situation, the Government of Ethiopia has made sustainable forest management a priority, and it includes the management of dry forests. This Guidelines on Sustainable Forest Management in Drylands of Ethiopia provides information on the national context on dry forests, and practical guidelines adapted to the Ethiopian context. It fills important gaps that should help decision-makers to understand better the role and value of dry forests in the country. It shows that dry forests should be sustainably managed and protected for all the economic, social, and environmental services that they provide, and pleads for a better recognition of such an important ecosystem.

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  • SDG synergy between agriculture and forestry in the food, energy, water and income nexus: reinventing agroforestry?

SDG synergy between agriculture and forestry in the food, energy, water and income nexus: reinventing agroforestry?

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Among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) three broad groups coexist: first, articulating demand for further human resource appropriation, second, sustaining the resource base, and third, redistributing power and benefits. Agriculture and forestry jointly interact with all three. The SDG portfolio calls for integrated land use management. Technological alternatives shift the value of various types of land use (forests, trees and agricultural practices) as source of ‘ecosystem services’. At the interface of agriculture and forestry the 40-year old term agroforestry has described technologies (AF1) and an approach to multifunctional landscape management (AF2). A broadened Land Equivalence Ratio (LER) as performance metric indicates efficiency. Agroforestry also is an opportunity to transcend barriers between agriculture and forestry as separate policy domains (AF3). Synergy between policy domains can progress from recognized tradeoffs and accepted coexistence, via common implementation frames, to space for shared innovation. Further institutional space for integral ‘all-land-uses’ approaches is needed.

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  • Connecting the policy dots: linking adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development for climate-resilient land use planning

Connecting the policy dots: linking adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development for climate-resilient land use planning

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In the land use sector mitigation, adaptation and development policies are all closely linked and can impact each other in positive and negative ways. It is therefore essential that these relationships are taken into account in order to enhance synergies and avoid or reduce trade-offs. This can be achieved through a specific form of Climate Policy Integration (CPI), which integrates first mitigation and adaptation policy processes and subsequently mainstreams climate policies into development processes. We have explored these processes through case studies in the land use sectors of Brazil and Indonesia. CPI in the land use sector presents a number of challenges related to cross-sectoral and cross-level integration. Unless a governmental CPI authority mandates that sectoral ministries integrate their efforts, sectoral competition over control of decision-making processes may prevail, hampering CPI. Cross-level integration is weakened by differences in understanding, priorities and power across levels of governance.

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  • Impact of Land Cover Change on Ecosystem Services in a Tropical Forested Landscape

Impact of Land Cover Change on Ecosystem Services in a Tropical Forested Landscape

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Ecosystems provide a wide range of goods, services or ecosystem services (ES) to society. Estimating the impact of land use and land cover (LULC) changes on ES values (ESV) is an important tool to support decision making. This study used remote sensing and GIS tools to analyze LULC change and transitions from 2001 to 2016 and assess its impact on ESV in a tropical forested landscape in the southern plains of Nepal. The total ESV of the landscape for the year 2016 is estimated at USD 1264 million year-1. As forests are the dominant land cover class and have high ES value per hectare, they have the highest contribution in total ESV. However, as a result of LULC change (loss of forests, water bodies, and agricultural land), the total ESV of the landscape has declined by USD 11 million year-1. Major reductions come from the loss in values of climate regulation, water supply, provision of raw materials and food production. To halt the ongoing loss of ES and maintain the supply and balance of different ES in the landscape, it is important to properly monitor, manage and utilize ecosystems. We believe this study will inform policymakers, environmental managers, and the general public on the ongoing changes and contribute to developing effective land use policy in the region.

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  • What is success? Gaps and trade-offs in assessing the performance of traditional social forestry systems in Indonesia

What is success? Gaps and trade-offs in assessing the performance of traditional social forestry systems in Indonesia

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Despite the growing interest in social forestry (SF), how much do we understand the social, economic and environmental outcomes and the conditions that enable SF to perform? In this article, we use a content analysis of literature on existing traditional SF practiced throughout Indonesia. It examines the outcomes of these systems and the conditions that enabled or hindered these outcomes to understand possible causal relations and changing dynamics between these conditions and SF performance. We discuss the gaps in how SF is assessed and understood in the literature to understand the important aspects of traditional SF that are not captured or that are lost when the diverse traditional systems are converted into other land uses. It aims to understand the potential trade-offs in the State’s push for formalizing SF if these aspects continue to be ignored.

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  • Jurisdictional sustainability report assesses outcomes for tropical forests and climate change

Jurisdictional sustainability report assesses outcomes for tropical forests and climate change

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A man drives a horse and cart through an oil palm plantation in Brazil. Photo by Miguel Pinheiro/CIFOR

Millions of people around the world live in or near tropical forests and rely on them for their livelihoods. Thus conservation and reforestation work needs to take into account existing land uses and seek solutions that serve local communities as well as bigger-picture goals. 

Conserving and restoring these forests could represent over a quarter of the near-term solution to addressing climate change.

An increasingly popular option for managing landscapes that takes social, economic, political and ecological considerations into account – which many researchers and policymakers are now turning their attention toward – is a jurisdictional approach (JA), in which a landscape is defined by policy-relevant boundaries, and a high level of governmental involvement is at the core.

According to the authors of a new study that assesses the effectiveness of JAs in a number of locations around the world, the approach “holds tremendous potential for advancing holistic, durable solutions to the intertwined issues of tropical deforestation, rural livelihoods and food security.” There are a number of jurisdictional “experiments” underway at present, so the authors hold that “the time is ripe” for a systematic assessment to begin drawing on early lessons from these experiments in locations across the tropics.

Read more: The State of Jurisdictional Sustainability: Synthesis for practitioners and policymakers

The fruit of a collaboration between the Earth Innovation Institute (EII), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF-TF), the report comes on the 10th anniversary of the GCF-TF – a historical moment for acknowledging the progress that subnational governments have made as climate action leaders – and is being launched at the GCF-TF Annual Meeting on September 10 and 11 in San Francisco. The meeting precedes the Global Climate Action Summit, which aims to push for deeper worldwide commitments and accelerated action toward realizing the goals of the Paris Agreement and preventing dangerous climate change.

The report is the first comprehensive assessment of jurisdictional sustainability, and draws from evidence in 39 states and provinces in 12 countries where commitments to low-emissions development are in place, says lead author Claudia Stickler, who is a scientist at EII. She says that the majority of the jurisdictions in the study have made at least one pledge or commitment to reduce deforestation, and more than half of those have at least one policy, program or other action in place to achieve that commitment.

Amy Duchelle, a scientist at CIFOR who co-authored the study, hopes that the information will be used widely by subnational governments and the range of actors supporting these efforts toward JA.

Read also: Deep down in supply chains, zero deforestation commitments look different to what appears on paper

A farmer works with seedlings. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR


The researchers evaluated the sites’ progress toward low-emission, sustainable development, taking into account their goals and commitments, monitoring and reporting systems and multi-stakeholder governance platforms, as well as innovative policies and initiatives that are key to jurisdictional sustainability. They also assessed deforestation and emission rates and trends in depth, and explored barriers to – and opportunities for – building sustainability.

On many levels, the results were heartening: the researchers found “considerable progress” in all of the jurisdictions they studied. Around half of the jurisdictions had reduced deforestation below their Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) over the last five years. In Brazil, states using the approach made particularly impressive progress: they were shown to have reduced deforestation by around 44% relative to their FREL. The researchers also found that on average, GDP was increasing in the sites much faster than deforestation rates: in almost all the jurisdictions, they concluded that “economic growth (signaled by GDP) appears to be decoupled from deforestation.”

Already, there has been positive feedback. According to Rafael Robles de Benítez, Climate Change Director of Quintana Roo, Mexico (a co-hosting city of the GCF-TF Annual Meeting), “This report is really useful because jurisdictions can share fundamental information about their progress with each other and partners. It also helps with planning and identifying gaps that require attention and management.”

Read also: CIFOR now hosts comprehensive REDD+ tool ID-RECCO


To realize the full potential of JAs, the political leaders putting the processes into practice need more support, the co-authors conclude. “Even the front-runners among jurisdictions [in terms of achievements in sustainability] have not seen a whole lot of benefits for their efforts,” says Stickler. Almost USD 15 billion has been pledged in support for sub-national jurisdictions (directly or via national or regional programs or funds) to pursue REDD+ and low-emissions development since 2008. But the study found that “substantially less has actually disbursed to jurisdictions in that same time period,” she says.

According to co-author and EII Executive Director and scientist Daniel Nepstad, this means that, with a few notable exceptions, “the political leaders of tropical states and provinces who want to take this on – who are ready to put the policies and programs in place to slow deforestation and support forest communities across vast regions – are not getting the partnerships that they need to make it happen.”

An oil palm smallholder in Brazil. Photo by Miguel Pinheiro/CIFOR

As such, Stickler advises that “jurisdictional governments and other actors need to continue receiving positive signals that their efforts are worthwhile and should be expanded.” They also need help accessing resources and building better processes and partnerships, she says, in order to move toward achieving their commitments to reduce deforestation and degradation, as well as to improve well-being for their citizens.

Without this kind of explicit support, these jurisdictional-level efforts risk fading into obscurity and failing to achieve the level of change required. At present, says Nepstad, “the fight against tropical deforestation is still a political ambition that is hard to get elected on if you want to be governor of a tropical forest state or province – and that is a problem.”

At the meeting, Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board Chair, emphasized how the GCF-TF, which California helped create, has grown to include governments together holding a third of all tropical forests. She went on to highlight that “the GCF-TF has increased its inclusivity and its focus on real success stories involving science and traditional knowledge. To see the level of engagement and joint efforts by states and provinces with foundations, donor countries and, most importantly, indigenous communities, this gives me great hope for the future and our ability to really address the climate crisis.”

By Monica Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Amy Duchelle at [email protected].

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB); and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

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  • Emergent dynamics of migration and their potential effects on forest and land use in North Kalimantan, Indonesia

Emergent dynamics of migration and their potential effects on forest and land use in North Kalimantan, Indonesia

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  • Independent data for transparent monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions from the land use sector – What do stakeholders think and need?

Independent data for transparent monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions from the land use sector – What do stakeholders think and need?

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The agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sectors contribute substantially to the net global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To reduce these emissions under the Paris Agreement, effective mitigation actions are needed that require engagement of multiple stakeholders. Emission reduction also requires that accurate, consistent and comparable datasets are available for transparent reference and progress monitoring. Availability of free and open datasets and portals (referred to as independent data) increases, offering opportunities for improving and reconciling estimates of GHG emissions and mitigation options. Through an online survey, we investigated stakeholders’ data needs for estimating forest area and change, forest biomass and emission factors, and AFOLU GHG emissions. The survey was completed by 359 respondents from governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, research institutes and universities, and public and private companies. These can be grouped into data users and data providers. Our results show that current open and freely available datasets and portals are only able to fulfil stakeholder needs to a certain degree. Users require a) detailed documentation regarding the scope and usability of the data, b) comparability between alternative data sources, c) uncertainty estimates for evaluating mitigation options, d) more region-specific and detailed data with higher accuracy for sub-national application, e) regular updates and continuity for establishing consistent time series. These requirements are found to be key elements for increasing overall transparency of data sources, definitions, methodologies and assumptions, which is required under the Paris Agreement. Raising awareness and improving data availability through centralized platforms are important for increasing engagement of data users. In countries with low capacities, independent data can support countries’ mitigation planning and implementation, and related GHG reporting. However, there is a strong need for further guidance and capacity development (i.e. ‘readiness support’) on how to make proper use of independent datasets. Continued investments will be needed to sustain programmes and keep improving datasets to serve the objectives of the many stakeholders involved in climate change mitigation and should focus on increased accessibility and transparency of data to encourage stakeholder involvement.

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  • Modeling Land Use and Land Cover Changes and Their Effects on Biodiversity in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

Modeling Land Use and Land Cover Changes and Their Effects on Biodiversity in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

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Land use and land cover (LULC) change causes biodiversity decline through loss, alteration, and fragmentation of habitats. There are uncertainties on how LULC will change in the future and the effect of such change on biodiversity. In this paper we applied the Land Change Modeler (LCM) and Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) Scenario Generator tool to develop three spatially explicit LULC future scenarios from 2015 to 2030 in the Pulang Pisau district of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The district is experiencing a rapid loss of biodiversity as a result of unprecedented LULC changes. Further, we used the InVEST Habitat Quality model to map habitat quality as a proxy to biodiversity in each of the scenarios. We find habitat quality decline is largest in a scenario where past trends of LULC change continue, followed by a scenario with planned agricultural expansion. Alternately, a conservation-oriented scenario results in significant improvements in habitat quality for biodiversity. This information can support in developing appropriate land use policy for biodiversity conservation in Indonesia.

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