* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Land conflicts between palm oil companies and communities in Indonesia. Squatters with no documentation of land rights in Brazil. Local leaders exploiting customary practices to gain favors in Tanzania. Encroachment into a national park by an agro-industrial company in Cameroon. Unclear rights to carbon in Vietnam.
These are just a few of the many complex land tenure issues that proponents of REDD+ projects around the world are working hard to address.
But their best efforts alone may not be enough to resolve tenure security, according to a study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
“In most cases, proponents are trying to resolve at the local level tenure challenges whose origins and scope are well beyond the boundaries of the project,” said CIFOR’s William Sunderlin, lead author of the paper “How are REDD+ proponents addressing tenure problems?”.
Tenure security is a necessary condition for the success of REDD+, a proposed mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation by offering land managers conditional incentives to keep forests standing.
If it is not clear who has the rights to forests or carbon, then it is not clear who is responsible for reducing emissions or who can claim the benefits. Furthermore, anyone who is unsure of their tenure has little incentive to take part in REDD+ activities. Failure to clarify tenure could also provoke a resource rush on forest carbon, lead to violation of existing rights and damage local livelihoods.
Private land, keep out?
For Sunderlin and his colleagues, the tenure of those living in the forests is of particular concern, “because they are the ones who will implement REDD+ on the ground, and who will benefit or lose from its method of implementation”.
They are also the ones working with the various organizations that are running demonstration projects in villages in forest-rich countries. The CIFOR study examined tenure in 19 such project sites, encompassing 71 villages in Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Tanzania and Vietnam. The researchers asked villagers about their perceptions of their tenure, and project proponents about their tenure-related actions.
More than half of the villages surveyed reported that their tenure over at least some of their land was insecure. They cited land competition, invasion and lack of title as some of the main reasons.
Yet “the biggest threats to tenure security are external claims on forest lands,” Sunderlin noted. Many villages struggle to keep out others, such as neighboring villagers, colonists, logging companies and agro-industrial firms.
Although residents of most villages believed they had the right to exclude outsiders, the field research revealed that almost a fifth of the villages had been unsuccessful in excluding unwanted outsiders.
Generally, project proponents identified even more issues with tenure than the locals did, if only because villagers are more interested in their well-being, whereas proponents are also concerned about REDD+.
“Our interview results suggest that proponent organizations are taking tenure issues seriously,” Sunderlin said.
“They have begun to reduce tenure insecurity at project sites, and have mobilized substantial resources to address the issue.”
Common actions include addressing the causes of conflicts, demarcating village and forest boundaries through mapping, developing spatial land use plans, identifying legal rights holders and registering property.
Other approaches depend on the specific context. In Tanzania, some proponents are working to obtain village land certificates to strengthen the legal basis for community-based forest management. A project in Indonesia is petitioning the government for hutan desa (village forest) status, which gives villages relatively strong statutory rights and a bulwark against outside claimants.
An uphill struggle
Whatever their progress, however, none of the proponents thinks that the job is complete.
“At some projects there is optimism that tenure insecurity is well on the way to being resolved,” Sunderlin said. “But others see large challenges still to be overcome.”
And they are right to do so, the authors argue, especially since proponents are acting through their own initiative and with little external assistance.
“Most proponents are experiencing a considerable mismatch between the tools applied and the size of the tenure challenge,” Sunderlin said.
“The best remedies in many cases cannot be the piecemeal efforts at tenure clarification within the bounds of the project, but instead require wholesale, landscape-wide reform.”
This will require urgent action from national governments and better integration of national and local efforts, the authors argue. Donors too can support efforts by specifically earmarking funds for tenure issues.
The recommended homework list is long and onerous: governments must improve consultations, clarify land claims, make data publicly available, enforce laws and achieve clarity on carbon rights, among others.
For proponents, the full extent of the problem and adequacy of their solutions likely won’t be revealed until REDD+ is well underway.
“Proponents are advised to anticipate further complications that could arise when REDD+ is introduced on a larger scale,” Sunderlin said.
“They can start from the assumption that, in many cases, REDD+ will be implemented at potential flash points where disputes and lack of tenure clarity are the norm.”
This work is part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ and was carried out as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. It is supported by AusAid, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).