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  • How participatory research gets to the bottom of forest tenure

How participatory research gets to the bottom of forest tenure

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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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  • Amazon land tenure study wins top award

Amazon land tenure study wins top award

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The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
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By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

Two scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR),Peter Cronkleton and Anne Larson, have received the top award from the journal Society & Natural Resources for a 2015 article on land tenure in the Amazon, which forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Their paper was judged the most ‘Outstanding Article’ of 2015 for its “innovative and meaningful contribution to the study of society and natural resources and its promise to be influential over time.”

The CIFOR article explored land tenure in a variety of forest communities in Ecuador and Peru – some indigenous, some settler, some with communal land title, some with individual title – and found that these diverse groups shared some surprisingly similar views on land tenure security.

Why did it win?

“The article presents an iconoclastic view of the effectiveness of land titling and questions the clear dichotomy usually drawn between individual and communal property,” says Cronkleton.

A very influential school of thought – known as the ‘property rights school’ and promoted especially by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto – advocates for the wholesale formalization of land ownership through individual titles, even in areas traditionally governed collectively, with the assumption that this will guarantee tenure security and other benefits associated with property.

The CIFOR article explored land tenure in a variety of forest communities in Ecuador and Peru. Photo: CIFOR
The CIFOR article explored land tenure in a variety of forest communities in Ecuador and Peru. Photo: CIFOR

The CIFOR study, however, showed reality is more complex. It found that communities can’t be neatly categorized as ‘individual’ or ‘collective’ – some villages with individual land titles in the study areas displayed forms of collective behavior and land allocation, and vice versa. It also found that formal titling is only the start – it isn’t the only thing that gives people secure rights to their land.

“We showed that in the absence of strong institutional governance, land titling, while important, isn’t sufficient on its own,” Cronkleton says.

“Land titling is often promoted with the assumption that government will be present to provide sufficient institutional support to allow smallholders to benefit from land rights.”

But in remote areas of the Amazon, local and regional governments often have little influence, Larson says. Smallholders can be multiple days’ travel from government offices. In practice, it’s often very difficult to have the title modified when land is divided among siblings, or transferred to another person when it is sold.

Aerial view of Amazon rainforest, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
Aerial view of Amazon rainforest, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

“So the idea that the State is present and is going to solve everything and titles are going to be kept up to date, and that the State really matters, is just a fiction,” Larson says.

“In fact, people were often quite happy with any legal document – in a lot of cases what they had in hand was not a full title but a kind of provisional document that was supposed to be renewed, but they had not even bothered.”


The award-winning study analysed four Amazonian landscapes in Ecuador’s Napo province and Peru’s Ucayali region.  The sample encompassed 21 indigenous and mestizo communities with a mixture of individual and collective property titles. The authors interviewed more than 300 people about their forest and natural resource use and perceptions of land ownership.

What came through strongly across the communities, Cronkleton says, is that while people tend to see formal title as the desirable ideal, there are two other factors that also give people a sense of tenure security: having strong social networks and being a member of an established community, and demonstrating ownership by occupying and using the land.

“Both of these additional factors are seen as very important in legitimizing people’s claim to own a piece of land, even if it’s titled,” Cronkleton says.

This last point has important implications for deforestation. Demonstrating land use is frequently construed as cutting down the trees in order to plant crops.

In addition, in Peru, all forests remain State property, though people are allowed to use them – a situation that creates perverse incentives, Cronkleton says.

“As an unintended consequence of this approach, remnant forest patches are seen as unused, and thus unclaimed, making them ripe for occupation by others,” he says.

“Your typical small farmer in the Amazon would like to have forest patches and regenerating forest on their land. Sometimes policy-makers make that very complicated – often with the misguided notion that they’re taking steps to conserve forests.”


These questions are particularly relevant in Peru, which has just elected a new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

For decades, the free-market ‘property rights’ view held sway in Peru, but recent government and donor-funded initiatives have supported indigenous communities to recognized and title communal land.

That could now be at risk, Larson says, depending on the priorities of the new government. “To return to some idea that universal individual private property is better for the future of Peru would be a big step backwards,” she says. “It’s really important to recognize the importance of communal lands to the future of forests as well as to the future of indigenous culture.”

Policymakers also need to acknowledge the complexity of forest-dwelling communities, Larson and Cronkleton agree. “If you make broad generalizations about what these properties are and how they function, you’re likely to misunderstand the factors that are influencing people’s behavior,” Cronkleton says.

There is also a need to strengthen government institutions and make it easier for people to use and modify their land titles once they’re granted. “We’re not saying that titling isn’t important. We’re saying that absent these other types of institutions and absent a real effort to take into account how people allocate and distribute land and are utilizing resources, it’s unlikely to be successful,” he says.

“It is going to take more than titling programs to improve governance in some of these areas. There needs to be more effort to understand and accommodate the livelihoods of rural people.”

Peter Cronkleton and Anne Larson won the “Rabel J. Burdge and Donald R. Field Outstanding Article Award”, named for the founding editors of Society & Natural Resources.

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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

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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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  • Tenure Talks Indonesia: Christine Wulandari

Tenure Talks Indonesia: Christine Wulandari

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  • Stronger rights for the commons: A new generation of challenges

Stronger rights for the commons: A new generation of challenges

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The Dayak indigenous people are fighting to regain their rights on their ancestral lands and regenerate the ecosystem of West Kalimantan’s Semenduk lake. Photo: Diah Tantri for GLF 2015 photo competition
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Nearly 20 years ago, in 1996, the Namibian government granted rights to wildlife—elephants, black rhino, lion and many species of antelope—to newly formed community conservancies. Now, Namibia has 82 of these community conservancies, covering 20 percent of its territory. These community conservancies have generated work for several thousand local residents and revenue from tourist lodges that goes to building schools and clinics. The environment is faring better too, as people have given up their livestock in favor of wildlife that are better suited to Namibia’s semi-arid environment.

Something similar happened in Guatemala in 1990, when the government created the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, and set aside about 40 percent of the reserve as community forestry concessions. The concessions have generated considerable income, primarily through the sales of sustainable high-value mahogany and teak. Rates of deforestation in these concessions have declined considerably.

These are two examples of initiatives that sought to build new commons institutions and enterprises—in short, they sought to connect locally produced goods and services to high-value markets.

And in both cases, local residents have reaped significant social, economic and environmental benefits.

This next generation of challenges is, quite clearly, no less daunting than that of earlier eras.

Steven Lawry


These cases exemplify the gains that some communities relying on communal forests and other natural resources in the developing world have made over the past 20 years in regaining a greater share of the use, management and other rights to those forests—areas that, during and after the colonial era, were held and administered by government agencies, often to the detriment of these communities.

Developing country governments tended to retain the colonial model of state ownership even after their countries gained independence. Where state regulation of timber extraction and development were weak, local people bore the environmental and social costs of land and watershed degradation. But they had little or no power to protect their local land and forests from encroachment by outsiders. Local rules for assigning resource rights lost force, and local institutional capacity for governing resource use often withered.

Community rights to resources in Indonesia

State regulation of forest use could also be aggressive and punitive. Local people could often use resources only if they managed to gain permission or paid fees. In some places, traditional uses of forests, such as subsistence hunting and collection of non-timber forest products, were criminalized. In several Sahelian West African countries, farmers had to secure permits to cut down trees they had planted on their own farms. The result: fewer trees planted.

In general, then, the progress made over the past 20 years shows how tenure security and clarification of rights can create conditions for better management of resources, for attracting outside investment, and for the more equitable sharing of commons benefits.

This topic will be featured at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum.
View the event details


Yet we have now moved into what might be called the “next generation” of challenges in the management of common property resources: Communities have newly strengthened resource rights—but then what?

Because despite the gains, local resource governance arrangements tend to be fragile, and local enterprises tend to be weak. What’s more, progress in the devolution of rights has drawn attention to the persistent poverty in many communities reliant such commonly used resources as pastures, fisheries and water, wildlife and forests.

So at the top of the list of next-generation challenges is this: How to ensure that communities with newly strengthened resource rights can build strong local economies based on the sustainable use of local natural resources.

For a start, this will require new forms of local governance arrangements and local enterprises that are capable not only of bringing high-value local goods and services to markets, but of doing so in ways that provide fair benefits to local right holders. Intermediaries—sometimes NGOs—can be key to building local business acumen and brokering deals with outside enterprises and investors—which can also build trust among parties not accustomed to working together.

We have now moved into what might be called the “next generation” of challenges in the management of common property resources: Communities have newly strengthened resource rights—but then what?

Steven Lawry

Also important is an understanding of how people’s ability to participate in commons enterprises can vary according to their age, education, gender, health and other social and demographic factors. An appreciation of these differences, and how they manifest in power dynamics, can help build safeguards against elite capture of commons enterprises and fashion benefit-sharing arrangements that ensure all right holders get a fair share of the benefits of commons ownership.

This next generation of challenges is, quite clearly, no less daunting than that of earlier eras.

Exploring solutions is part of the aim of the panel discussion on “Commons Tenure for a Common Future,” at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum on Saturday 5 December. By identifying these issues and delving deeply into them, we can help common tenure lead to common benefits.

See the rest of the story at

Community rights to resources in Indonesia: A conversation
Climate isn’t everything … so welcome to the Global Landscapes Forum
‘Forgotten guardians’: Local communities in natural resource management

Source: Forests News English

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