The formalization of forest tenure rights of Indigenous people and local communities is expected to contribute to forest conservation, livelihood improvement and local self-determination. But formalization alone is not enough. More attention is needed for the conditions that must be in place for these expectations to materialize.
The formalization of community forest rights is seen as a major condition for sustainable community forest management, benefiting conservation and livelihoods. Moreover, increasing local communities’ self-determination over their ancestral lands, is considered a matter of social justice. Pressured by local social movements and civil society organizations, many governments have been installing tenure reforms to transfer the rights to use and manage forests to communities.
Members and partners of the TBI network have been supporting such reforms. They have been helping communities with applying for community forest titles and supporting community forestry activities. To learn from these experiences, TBI initiated a network-wide review of community forest tenure models in nine countries in the forested tropics. To structure the review, they developed a simple theory of change, outlining the possible impact pathways between formalization on the one hand, and expected outcomes on the other.
The results of the review were compared and synthesized, resulting in the identification of ten general conditions that need to be in place for community forest tenure rights formalization to achieve the intended outcomes. Together, the theory of change and associated conditions form a conceptual framework that can help with designing and monitoring interventions. At the landscape level, for example, it can be used to see where the gaps are, and to identify conditions that need more attention. The framework is summarized in the figure below. More details can be found in a recently published scientific article based on the review.
Formalization of community forest rights is sometimes presented as a silver bullet for achieving forest conservation, livelihood improvement and self-determination, but that is too simple. TBI’s conceptual framework helps with drawing attention to the contextual factors— both internal and external to communities — that influence the extent to which formalized community forest tenure rights contribute to the intended outcomes. Only with due attention to these conditions will forest tenure rights formalization ensure that communities can actually claim their rights, and benefit from them.