The devolution of land tenure rights to forest-dwelling communities over the past quarter century has led to the development of entrepreneurial initiatives with substantial positive socio-economic outcomes for livelihoods, according to a leading scientist.
Through case study examples in Guatemala, Namibia, Nepal and Mexico, Steven Lawry, director of Equal Opportunities, Gender, Justice and Tenure at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), demonstrates how ownership and exclusionary rights provide incentives for communities to proactively manage resources, leading to equitable distribution of benefits and sustainable environmental outcomes.
“These are communities that hadn’t had meaningful rights – where independence governments kept the colonial model of state ownership,” said Lawry, who recently delivered a research paper on the subject at World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Forest communities lacked the ability to organize themselves to develop organizations and institutions,” he said, explaining that investment readiness develops over time.
“Now we have a new architecture that’s way out ahead of governments in terms of really improving things on the ground. These are largely market driven reforms leading to better outcomes that are now really taking shape.”
At an upcoming one-day Global Landscapes Forum summit on May 30 titled “Building the Investment Case for Sustainable Landscapes and Restoration” in Washington, delegates will discuss how tenure reforms that give communities stronger rights over forests and other natural resources attract new forms of financial investment in businesses using those resources sustainably.
Lawry, who is leading the knowledge committee designing the framework for discussion at the summit, which will also take place at World Bank headquarters, says his research demonstrates that since 1992, 20,000 community forest user groups have been given access to land tenure rights by the government in Nepal, for example.
Land rights have led to the emergence of a range of entrepreneurial initiatives in Nepal, including bio-compost fertilizer processing and marketing, timber production and milling, citronella and lemongrass harvesting, and manufacturing of essential oils. From these locally led user groups, a portion of revenues is funneled into forest restoration, roads, schools and health centers.
Additionally, local communities, particularly women, have gained greater financial independence and become entrepreneurs in their own right.
Land and resource rights create investment ready environments that evolve in stages, Lawry said. First, collective ownership gives members of the group assurance they will benefit from revenues generated by new group and private enterprises. Local people invest their own savings in small businesses, housing and other social goods.
In Guatemala’s Petén region in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, local communities have benefitted since the mid-1990s from 25-year leases on forestlands to harvest and market high value timber to high sustainable use standards certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
As a result, individual community members receive dividends from sales of timber and employment has increased. Local people also earn money through regulated hunting, sales of non-timber forest products and farming, Lawry said, adding that deforestation rates are substantially lower than in surrounding areas.
Additionally, funds have been channeled into road maintenance, health clinics, schools and other services.
A major community-led forest management project involving 475 communities in Mexico has resulted in the certification of 40 communal forests and sustainable forest management of more than 1.5 million hectares of land. Profits from community enterprises are reinvested commercially into new logging infrastructure or support services for the community, including potable water systems and health clinics. Community forest enterprises in the state of Oaxaca provide 75 to 100 percent of all logging jobs. These investments have been enabled by a 1985 reform of the forest law that gave ejidos (communal landholding groups) stronger rights over local forests.
After independence from South Africa in 1990, the Namibian government established community-based natural resource management programs to better protect wildlife. Local communities were given clear rights to wildlife and were enlisted to patrol communal lands and report poachers within over 80 community wildlife conservancies established by the reform; the conservancies now cover almost 20 percent of the country’s land area.
“Namibia’s community based natural resource management program is now considered one of the most successful examples of communities protecting biodiversity and gaining social and economic benefits through tourism worldwide,” Lawry said.
All four projects have received seed funding from various international development agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, Britain’s Department for International Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as international conservation organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and the World Wildlife Fund.
For privately run business operations, investing in contexts where rights are held collectively can raise a host of questions — the successful cases have involved intermediaries who work as brokers between communities and local businesses, Lawry said.
“Investing in settings where resources are collectively owned requires private investors to develop experience and a better understanding about what it takes to work with businesses in those kinds of contexts,” he added.
One of the opportunities of rights recognition is that a community forest user group or an ownership group take responsibility for investments because they act and speak on behalf of the right holder group.
“Devolution of rights triggers new kinds of action at the local level and creates the conditions for investments in new forms of community forest enterprises,” he said.
Check this recent PIM webinar with Steven Lawry: Community forestry. Where and why has devolution of forest rights contributed to better governance and livelihoods?
Find out more about the upcoming Global Landscapes Forum 2018 Investment Case Symposium