Covering 31 percent of global land area, forests are major carbon sinks that play an important role in combatting climate change. Despite the critical need to remove carbon from the atmosphere, forests continue to face ongoing threats from deforestation and forest degradation. Governance interventions are needed to dramatically slow the loss of forest area. As part of these interventions, recognition of the tenure rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities is a key step towards reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
Countries such as Nepal, Peru, Tanzania, Liberia, Indonesia and Zambia, among others, have begun to promote the recognition of tenure rights for local communities and Indigenous peoples and to implement more supportive policies and legislation. In many countries, the work undertaken within the framework of the UNFCCC REDD+ process, and supported by the UN-REDD initiative, promotes enhanced engagement in securing land and resource rights for Indigenous peoples and local communities. Open Tenure, the tool developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has also helped secure tenure rights for these groups. If embedded in governance and community efforts, it can be a valuable tool in achieving REDD+ goals.
This open-source mobile application enables community-based mapping and recording of activities, as well as the capture of data regarding legitimate tenure right holders. A product of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT), it supports 10 languages and can be used both on and offline. With a tutorial component, Open Tenure guides users on the functions of the application, which include a fit-for-purpose mapping tool to collect information regarding the land/area to be mapped, capturing and submitting land-related claims, challenging dispute claims, capturing community boundaries and recording boundary points. The use of this application, as part of local solutions, can help reduce conflict over resources, illegal settlements and infringements, safeguarding forest biodiversity, natural resources and, ultimately, reduce deforestation and forest degradation.
Since it was launched, Open Tenure has been successfully used in countries around the world. The application has increased local understanding of land use and land rights, empowered communities and traditional authorities and laid a foundation for formal land registration.
Forest cover in Tunisia has been drastically reduced, and as such, there is a great need to protect the remaining 1.1 million hectares of forest cover (FAO FRA2020). Also, a 2016 assessment of tenure regime, supported by the UN-REDD Programme, found that around 500 000 hectares of native Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) are threatened, likely by increasing agricultural needs. Among other actions the country has taken to clarify state forest boundaries and address tenure issues, Tunisia used Open Tenure to survey and map land claims along the boundaries of state forest. To date, 77 tenure claims have already been submitted using the Open Tenure tool. The use of this tool to formalize forest boundaries in the country is helping to reduce encroachment by settlements and agricultural lands, both major drivers of deforestation.
Through a project with Makerere University, Open Tenure was customized to adhere to legal requirements in Uganda. Graduate interns, staff and IT personnel were trained on the use of these free, open-source solutions to protect and strengthen tenure rights. Stakeholders from the university, as well as from the Area Land Committee, District Land Board and the District Land Office, were trained on how to collect data in the field using Open Tenure and how to access that data on the community server. The solutions were deployed in specific areas. The application of this methodology and the use of these solutions resulted in selected areas being re-adjudicated. As a result, land disputes were reduced, and most notably, women’s land rights became more widely recognized and protected. Specifically, the project resulted in 4,706 beneficiaries, resolved 78 land disputes and granted 46 loans based on Certificates of Customary Land (CCO).
Open Tenure was first used in field testing in Guatemala in 2015. The application has since been used to strengthen alliances between civil society and local communities. For example, it drew participation from the Fundación Guillermo Toriello (the Guillermo Toriello Foundation) and the Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Utz Che (the Community Forestry Association of Guatemala Utz Che). Open Tenure trainings and knowledge exchanges among local governance systems produced several valuable results. It enabled land mapping, provided GIS, computer science and programming opportunities to men and women in local communities, created a community registry of tenure relationships, allowed for more accurate analysis of land use, management and environmental risks and also strengthened community governance systems.
Open Tenure: newly updated for optimal use
In 2021, the Open Tenure software was upgraded, and installation instructions were improved, giving users the best product possible. It has been, and will continue to be, an important tool for countries working to increase recognition and respect for tenure rights. Not only will clarified forest boundaries and strengthened tenure rights allow for more sustainable forest management and a reduction in deforestation and forest degradation, but they will also improve the lives of those who heavily depend on forests - an estimated 2.5 billion rural people.
To learn more information about Open Tenure, please refer to the following Open Tenure webinars:
English version: https://youtu.be/_UdlqN5vHRE
Spanish version: https://youtu.be/9Wiyw6dRqCc
French version: https://youtu.be/KrXgzMTeiCU