Community Rights to Forested Lands
What are the conditions for success?
In recent years, many governments have been formalizing the rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples to use and manage forest resources. This is expected to contribute to both sustainable rural development and forest conservation.
Now, with forest tenure reforms on their way in many parts of the world, it is a good time to reflect on the experiences so far: Do the reforms have the desired outcomes? What are the barriers and conditions? And how can the outcomes be improved?
To address these questions, Tropenbos International is conducting a review of experiences with community forest rights. We dive into the literature, collect stories of communities, and bring together the perspectives of various experts.
On this page you will find links to the publications so far, including a booklet, interviews, articles, and several short videos. In the months to come we will continue our exploration, including a review of specific community forest tenure models in 13 countries. We will share our findings through regular updates on this site. So, come back soon to find out more!
Click here for our booklet on community forest rights, based on a review of the literature
Indigenous groups control a significant portion of the land in Colombia. This is good news for the forest, as the Indigenous worldview is based on the idea that people are an integrated part of nature. But this does not necessarily mean they reject modernity. There is a need to cherish and pass on Indigenous culture, while at the same time taking local development aspirations seriously, according to Carlos Rodriguez, director of Tropenbos Colombia.
In 2014, the Indonesian government started an ambitious social forestry program, aiming to provide communities with legal permits to manage and use forests located on state lands. As of March 2019, around 2.5 million hectares of land were titled under the program.
In large parts of the tropics, women collect fuelwood, fruits, vegetables and medicines from the forest. Although they depend on these forest resources for their livelihoods, their rights to the forest are often not secure. Esther Mwangi believes that this should change. Mwangi is a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and here she talks about the relationship between gender and forest tenure – two topics she has been researching for many years.
Myrna Cunningham is the first Miskitu woman to study at a university. In 1973, she received a degree in medicine and returned to her home region in the isolated northeast of Nicaragua, where she was born in a small village surrounded by lush forest. Working as a surgeon, she served in more than one hundred remote villages.
Before becoming a scientist and expert on community rights to forests, Anne Larson was an activist – but not a very good one, she says. “To be a good activist, even if you understand the complexity of things, you have to be able to put it in simple terms, and run with ideas that are catchy: things that can be said in a few lines, or a few words, and which can be put in a headline.”
More and more Indigenous peoples and local communities are having their collective rights to the forest formalized. Between 2002 and 2017, forest areas with formally recognized collective property rights grew by 152 million hectares – three times the size of Spain. This is one of the findings of a recent analysis of global forest tenure data from 58 countries, published by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) in 2018.
In Colombia, the government recognises the right of Indigenous groups to use and manage their forests in Indigenous territories, called 'resguardos'. In this video Indigenous people and peasants talk about their perceptions of the forest, and how they can learn from each other.
After having received a village forest permit, the village of Laman Satong in West Kalimantan can earn money from its forest by selling carbon credits. However, the money should not be the prime motivation to protect the forest, according to one of the village’s customary elders.
In this short video we present how the villagers of Laman Satong in West Kalimantan prevented their forest from being converted into an oil palm plantation by applying for a village forest permit. But they did not ban oil palm completely.
In Indonesia, local communities can apply for a village forest permit, which gives them the right to use and manage forests that are located on state lands. In theory, this provides an incentive for sustainable forest management, which in turn generates income for the community. In practice, it is not always that easy. In this video Yohanes Dogol, the head of the village forest committee of Laman Satong in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, describes some of the challenges they are facing.
Laman Satong is a small village located on the foot of two forested hills in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The forests are formally owned by the government, but in 2011 the community successfully applied for a so-called village forest permit, giving them the legal right to sell forest products for a period of 35 years.
In Indonesia, forest tenure has long been a source of conflict. About two thirds of the country's terrestrial area is classified as state-forest land, even though local people have been living there for many generations. When the government allocates these areas for production or conservation purposes, local people face the threat of losing access to their traditional territories. To resolve this, the Indonesian government launched an ambitious social forestry program in 2014, giving communities formal rights to use and manage forests that are located on state land. Significant progress has been made, but many challenges remain. This video introduces the program and highlights some of the conditions for success.
The 2019 annual event of the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn focusses on rights and rights-based approaches. It will help draw attention to a discrepancy that is still common in many countries: while local communities and Indigenous Peoples depend on forest resources for their livelihoods, they do not have the legal right to use and manage them. However, change is in the air.
By applying for a village forest permit, the villagers of Laman Satong in West Kalimantan prevented their forest from being converted into an oil palm plantation. But they did not ban oil palm completely.
After having received a village forest permit, the village of Laman Satong in West Kalimantan can now earn money from its forest by selling carbon credits. However, the money should not be the main reason for protecting the forest, according to one of the village’s customary elders.
In 2019, Tropenbos International will conduct a review of community rights to forested land and the key conditions for success. We will dive into the literature and review experiences from across the world. We will collect the stories of communities with collective rights, and bring together the perspectives of various experts. The findings will be shared through regular updates on our website.
Over the last couple of decades, civil society organizations have been calling on governments to recognize community rights to forested lands. These rights are seen as a pathway to sustainable rural development and forest conservation. At the same time, it is also a call for autonomy and self-determination over the lands that hold social, economic, cultural and spiritual values for local people.