Approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide rely on collective lands as a source of food, fuel and income. The customary claims of indigenous peoples and local communities cover more than half the global landmass, including some of the most important and biodiverse forest areas in the developing world. Recognition of these rights and securing them would make a substantial contribution to reducing deforestation and forest degradation. Secure tenure systems have also been recognized for leading to scaled-up, transformational changes in the landscape for long-term, successful climate change mitigation and activities that enhance sustainable development (FAO-CIFOR 2018).
The recently-launched UN-REDD technical paper, “Collective tenure rights: Realizing the potential for REDD+ and sustainable development,” explores the key contribution of collective tenure rights towards mitigating climate change, and proposes a range of measures that countries can take to accelerate progress towards collective tenure rights recognition. The paper also showcases case studies from Nepal, Peru and Tanzania that each highlight the positive impact of secure collective tenure rights.
Community Forestry in Nepal
In the 1990s, the government of Nepal prioritized its national community forestry program, establishing a supportive legal framework and demonstrating strong political will to expand and scale up the program.
Despite numerous challenges, community forestry in Nepal has contributed significantly to poverty alleviation, community development and forest cover restoration. As just one example, Kayar Khola watershed (see Figure 1), situated in Chitwan district, covers an area of approximately 8,000 hectares, of which approximately 2,382 hectares are managed by 16 community forest user groups. A forest cover change study from 2002 to 2012 revealed that over the 10-year period, forest area increased in all 16 community forests.
The case of Nepal indicates that under a purposeful national approach, the devolution of forest management rights to local communities, with an emphasis on women’s engagement, can reverse the trend of deforestation while also contributing to poverty alleviation.
Indigenous Titling in Peru
Titling of indigenous peoples' lands has advanced significantly in Peru, supported by the Amazon rainforest’s importance in global efforts to reduce climate change. In the Ucayali zone, two native communities, Patria Nueva and Nueva Saposoa, have been officially accredited as forest monitors by the state.
These two villages, thanks to monitoring work supported by the Rainforest Foundation, have completely eliminated deforestation caused by cocoa growers, logging and other illegal activities. Where lands have been titled, there is evidence of a dramatic reduction in forest clearing and disturbance.
Moving forward, Peru’s national REDD+ strategy recognizes the importance of tenure issues; this recognition will help align cross-sectoral collaboration to advance collective tenure rights further.
Participatory Forest Management in Tanzania
Tanzania has made strides in legally recognizing customary land and in promoting participatory forest management as part of its development vision, as well as its Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement (NDC). Implementation of participatory forest management has been shown to improve ecosystem services, from forest conditions to wildlife abundance.
In the coastal village forest reserves in Bagamoyo district, villagers collectively managing the forest have been able to resist a range of threats including extraction activities, in particular of charcoal; unsustainable logging for timber and poles; overharvesting for wood carving; and, unsustainable hunting and mining.
Tanzania's case demonstrates that a development vision and legal and policy framework that support the devolution of rights to communities, can lay the foundation for bringing about transformation in the landscape.
The lessons learned from these countries confirm the rationale for prioritizing secure collective tenure rights, as their impact in realizing the potential for REDD+ and sustainable development is now established. In addition, the expansion of collective tenure rights is a key trigger to achieving transformational change in countries working towards alleviating the climate crisis and enhancing livelihoods. However, securing access to collective tenure rights alone will not automatically lead to reduced deforestation and forest degradation, nor to shifts in discourse or attitudes. Efforts need to be sustained by complementary actions, such as the reform of legal and policy frameworks, integrated land-use planning, income generation and capacity development, gender inclusion and identification and facilitation of access to markets for local enterprises.
Many challenges lie ahead in securing collective tenure rights. The situation across regions and within each country differs greatly, and solutions must be tailored accordingly. REDD+ and the global climate agenda present an important opportunity for countries to engage more actively in securing land and resource rights for indigenous peoples and local communities.