Collective forest tenure reforms: Where do we go from here?

By Anne Larson, Principal Scientist, CIFOR

The recent World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, held this past March in Washington D.C., provided a unique opportunity to reflect on collective land tenure reforms not only from a research point of view, but also from that of governments.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) organized a South-South Exchange at the Conference, as part of its Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reforms. Seven government officials from Peru, Colombia, Indonesia, Nepal, Uganda and Kenya were invited to participate. These officials represented land offices from Latin America and forestry offices from Africa and Asia.

The Conference speakers and participants provided me with much room for thought on the subject of land tenure reforms, which I will outline below.

Overall, the topic of collective tenure reforms reminded me of that simple chromatography experiment in elementary school where you put black ink on a wet coffee filter and watch the colors of the spectrum emerge and spread.

The black ink represents the idea of forest reforms to recognize or grant rights to communities living in or near forests. Although some developing countries began to address such issues by the early 20th century – such as Mexico, which granted land (including forest land) rights to communities after the 1910-1917 revolution – the ink hit the wet coffee filter in a few key Asian countries (i.e. Nepal and India) in the late 1970s and for most countries after 1980. Others are just beginning to consider community forest rights.

FIRST-GENERATION QUESTIONS ON REFORM: CONTENT AND EXTENT OF RIGHTS

The result today is that some countries are still grappling with first-generation questions, while others have moved on to the other colors in the spectrum, including second and third-generation challenges.

The former were exemplified at the Conference in the frustrations of those who have been working on these issues for 10 to 20 years or more, who asked, “Haven’t we come further than this by now?”

But some countries are still questioning what types of rights (content, extent, duration), if any, communities should have over forests and/or forestland.

In fact, it is notable that even in the countries that have moved into second and third -generation questions, this first question is still relevant. It concerns new geographical locations, new rights and the relationship between land and forest rights.

In Colombia, as discussed during CIFOR’s Policy Roundtable at the Conference by Andrea Olaya, Principal Advisor to Colombia’s National Land Agency, this refers to new institutions emerging from the recent peace accords, as well as the demand for land from former combatants and displaced peoples in relation to existing rights.

In Indonesia, it refers to the new “asset agrarian reform”, as stated by Pak Hadi Daryanto, Director General for Social Forestry and Environmental Partnership at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry. These reforms resulted in the return of the first 13,000 hectares of customary land to nine indigenous communities in January of this year.

Ronald Salazar, Director of Agrarian Property and the Rural Cadaster Office at Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, pointed out that the distinction between forest rights and land rights in Peru leads to separate laws and government institutions. This is not uncommon among countries, and follows a logic that people in communities may find baffling, or outright oppose. For instance, indigenous activists in Peru are now demanding that their titles recognize “territorial integrity,” covering not only agriculture and pasture, but also forestlands.

This fundamental question about what rights for communities also concerns rollbacks to rights where new demands, or sometimes political and economic constituencies, threaten rights that had already been recognized, such as those behind economic reforms in Peru or Brazil.

SECOND-GENERATION QUESTIONS: TENURE SECURITY AND LIVELIHOODS

The second-generation questions are about rights protection and livelihoods. Formal rollbacks are not the only challenges to tenure security. Even after formal recognition, communities need access to justice if rights are infringed upon or eliminated.

And even secure rights are not enough to secure livelihoods. As one government official said during a private forum: “Why do we have reforms if not also to improve livelihoods?”

At the Policy Roundtable, Krishna Prasad Acharya, Director General of the Department of Forests at Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, said there are now 20,000 organized groups in Nepal, and forest area has increased from 39 percent to 44 percent, but more still needs to be done to support forest use and management.

At the same event, Gerardo Segura, Senior Natural Resource Specialist at the World Bank, highlighted the importance of removing barriers to communities for forest management.

Tenure reforms take time, but are urgent

 Gerardo Segura, Senior Natural Resource Specialist at the World Bank

THIRD-GENERATION QUESTIONS: GENDER AND ELITE CAPTURE

Third-generation questions are focused on problems such as community differentiation, gendered outcomes and how to prevent elite capture at the community level – that is, assuring that livelihood improvements reach those most in need.

At the Policy Roundtable, Dr. Prasad noted that women leaders are emerging in community forestry in Nepal. Bob Kazungo, Senior Forestry Officer at Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment, spoke of the importance of affirmative action and a gendered approach.

On other panels, speakers expressed concern that reforms may be detrimental to women’s tenure rights. For example, researchers reported cases where rights were registered to men as household heads, whereas under customary systems both men and women had previously held rights.

Emilio Mugo, Director of the Forest Service at Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Water, asked: “How do we address community leaders who, on the one hand, serve as custodians, but on the other, play the role of gatekeepers?” This question speaks to institutional strengthening as a way to fight elite capture.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The invited officials were quick to distinguish themselves as public servants, from the politicians who define policy direction and priorities. Dr. Mary Goretti Kitutu, Ugandan State Minister for the Environment, introduced herself on the Roundtable as “the only politician here” and stressed the importance of packaging information on tenure and linking it to development, in order to reach politicians. Dr. Daryanto highlighted the importance of having the budgets necessary for implementation.

When asked by the audience how officials should “insulate themselves from politics”, Dr. Mugo reminded them, “Everything you touch in natural resources is political.” This underscores the importance of building a community of practice and coalitions for change.

Everything you touch in natural resources is political.

 Emilio Mugo, Director of the Forest Service, Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Water

No country has addressed all forest demands from communities, and most still face competing claims or outright opposition to the recognition of collective forest tenure rights.

On the one hand, these three generations of questions suggest that countries are at different places and thus, research for impact needs to prioritize accordingly.

On the other hand, they highlight the importance of South-South exchanges and knowledge sharing. As some countries begin to address the multi-colored spectrum of challenges, mutual learning can suggest ways to address complex issues such as tenure security, livelihoods and gender from the beginning of reform processes, therefore increasing the potential for success.

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at a.larson@cgiar.org.

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

This research was supported by FAO, IFAD, EC and GEF.

This blog was originally posted on the CIFOR website.