Improving access to
Experiences in informal tenure reform from
IUCN’s Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy
LIVELIHOODS AND LANDSCAPES STRATEGY
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Published by: IUCN, Gland, Switzerland
Copyright: © 2012 International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
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Citation: Robert Fisher, Edmund Barrow, Janaka de Silva, Andrew Ingles, Gill Shepherd (2012).
Improved Access to Forest Resources: Experience in informal tenure reform from IUCN’s
Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
Cover photo: © IUCN/Daniel Shaw
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Executive summary ........................................................................................................ ii
About LLS ..................................................................................................................... iii
Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Case studies ................................................................................................................. 4
Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 11
References .................................................................................................................. 1 2
It is commonly claimed that forest tenure reform that provides rural people with rights to access and use of
forest resources can contribute to improved forest management and poverty alleviation. But, at least with
respect to poverty alleviation, there are few experiences with formal forest tenure reform that have
demonstrated this to date. Given how difficult it is to achieve pro-poor tenure reform, an important question is
whether modest informal changes can achieve results. This paper argues that, in advance of full-scale tenure
reform involving legislated changes to tenure laws, more modest locally negotiated changes and local
‘informal’ arrangements can lead to improved access to forests and provide people with the confidence that
enables them to invest time and resources in forest management in the short and medium term. The modest
informal changes can act as useful ‘policy experiments’ to support more formal change. This paper argues
that secure tenure is not always a sufficient condition and is not always a necessary condition for enabling
better management that benefits people.
This paper examines experiences from the Forest Conservation Programme of IUCN, particularly the
Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy (LLS). Cases are presented from: northern Thailand, where negotiated
informal arrangements ensure local confidence about continued access to land and encourage investment of
labour and resources; from the Andaman coast of Thailand, where negotiated land use has benefitted
communities and acted as a ‘policy experiment’; from the Miyun watershed in China, where negotiated land-
use changes have encouraged local people to become involved in forest conservation and management and
have involved a rethink of financial incentives; from Ghana where a simple tree registration system has helped
ensure farmers’ rights over planted trees; and from Uganda, where locally negotiated controls on grazing
have facilitated agroforestry for soil conservation and a pilot joint forest management activity within the Mt
Elgon National Park.
The Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy (LLS) is a global project of IUCN’s Forest Conservation Programme
funded by the Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS) of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. Its first phase ran from 2007-2011. Its overall goal has been “the effective implementation of national and
local policies and programmes that leverage real and meaningful change in the lives of rural poor, enhance long-
term and equitable conservation of biodiversity and ensure the sustainable supply of forest-related goods and
services in line with nationally-defined priorities”.
LLS was designed as a direct response to achieving two of the major challenges facing sustainable development at
the time of its design in 2006:
How to find practical ways to support governments and donors in ensuring that the benefits of national
poverty reduction strategies reach the rural poor, and in particular those who are highly dependent on
natural resources including forests and trees.
How to reverse the current lack of momentum in implementing international commitments on sustainable
forest use and conservation and therefore address the slippage of forest-related issues within international
The strategy is predicated on the belief that although these two challenges
are inextricably linked, natural resource management and conservation
organizations have yet to make a convincing case, on a large enough
geographic or institutional scale, as to how improved resource use and
conservation can make a difference to the livelihood security of the rural
poor. It is hardly surprising therefore that ministries of finance and economic
planning have tended to be unaware of the fact that forest goods and
services remain as important as ever for many poor people and could be
better harnessed to contribute to rural poverty reduction, as well as the
LLS has contributed to shaping a bold new vision of forests as
multifunctional assets that can make a real difference to rural poverty,
economic growth, environmental quality, human well-being as well as
biodiversity conservation. It has promoted this vision among both the forest
sector and decision makers in other sectors whose own goals and targets
impact, or are impacted by, the state and integrity of forest resources. The
strategy has four key thematic components, each addressed in a mutually
i) forests and poverty reduction,
ii) markets and incentives,
iii) governance, and
iv) transforming landscapes
Targeted geographic interventions in nearly 30 landscapes across 23 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America
looked at the linkages between the four themes and avoiding their treatment as stand-alone issues.
This paper is one of a series of thematic working papers exploring the cross-cutting operational components, and
which draw on various aspects of landscape experiences to test some of the assumptions behind LLS, bringing
together a host of its lessons and insights. The papers draw on data and information generated over the last 5
years and in most cases, at the time of publication, successes on the ground have continued into 2012,
when the first phase of the project officially closes.
With sustainability integral to the LLS project design, the work of LLS will in effect live on in each landscape
and often much more widely than that, influencing local, regional and international practice and policy in the
manner already detailed and reported in the LLS Landscape Papers, Thematic Papers, Thematic Briefs and
hat is a landscape?
A landscape is a mosaic of different types of
land use such as agriculture, forests, pasture
and conservation areas. Managed as a whole, a
landscape serves a variety of needs for various
The LLS vision of a landscape is of multiple and
complementary land uses based on negotiation
rather than centralized planning. Landscapes do
not exist in a vacuum, but are influenced by a
wide range of external factors including policies
and economic conditions generated far outside
it, land use in adjacent landscapes and perhaps
remote physical features such as dams.
Addressing landscape management issues
always requires interventions outside as well as
inside the landscape.
Landscape mosaic ©IUCN/Intu Boedihartono
Discussions about ‘tenure reform’ almost always interpret it to mean the establishment of secure tenure.
However, the meaning of secure tenure is often vague. It is frequently equated with the need for formal titles
and registration. Elsewhere, it seems to imply a form of tenure that benefits from recognition in law or
government regulation, without necessarily involving registration or title.
In recent decades there has been a high level of agreement that there is a strong linkage between ‘secure
tenure’ (often understood as secure private tenure) and poverty reduction. In development literature, authors
such as de Soto (2000) and Hughes (2004), among others, have been powerful proponents of this idea which
is seen as a core part of the ‘liberal consensus’. Both de Soto and Hughes, along with other economists,
equate secure tenure with private or individual tenure and not with common property regimes. Other authors
agree that weak rights are major factors in people remaining poor but see secure common property rights as
an important alternative in some cases (see, for example, Bruce, 2004).
The broad concern for secure tenure is strongly reflected in the literature on natural resource management
and conservation. UNDP et al. (2005, p 19), for example, argue that “[o]wnership and access are the most
fundamental keys to the wealth of nature”. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
has put considerable effort into examining the role of tenure in improved forest management and poverty
reduction (see, for example FAO, 2008a and 2008b).
There has been a strong push within the forestry
sector for reform focusing on the need for secure
tenure (for example, FAO 2011).
The underlying argument behind secure tenure is
based on the idea that confidence about future
access to land and natural resources will encourage
people to invest time (labour) and resources (such as
agricultural inputs and purchase of equipment) in
improving land and natural resources such as forests.
It is argued that secure tenure gives people
confidence that they, not others, will benefit from their
labour and investment. The corollary is that, in the
absence of secure tenure, they are unlikely to protect
resources or use them sustainably and that they might even deliberately destroy them. It is commonly
assumed that without formal rights to land and natural resources, access to these resources cannot be
A further argument in favour of formal title is that unless land is clearly owned (this is often taken to mean
privately owned) and inalienable, capital for investment is likely to be unavailable. The Australian economist
Helen Hughes has argued strongly, with reference to the Pacific and especially Melanesia, that development
is impossible without individual private tenure (see, for example, Hughes, 2004). Hughes, like many others,
places emphasis on both the need for registration and titles to land and private ownership, by which she
means individual ownership.1 Her position has been strongly attacked on a number of grounds in a series of
papers edited by Fingleton (2005). Some of the papers in the collection attack her findings on empirical
grounds: Bourke (2005) disputes the claim that agriculture in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is in decline and
argues that the status of PNG agriculture is much healthier than claimed by Hughes and her associates;
Mosko (2005) argues from a particular case study that the real constraints are related to poor infrastructure
such as roads and that agricultural production has been successful; Lightfoot (2005), referring to Fiji, argues
1 In Papua New Guinea, a major target of Hughes’ argument, most of the land is under customary tenure which is recognized under the
Constitution, although customary land is not registered. Hughes argues specifically both for titling and individual tenure – a strong version
of the argument for secure tenure.
that Hughes’ critique of communal ownership misses the point that communal ownership can be combined
with private rights which provide much of the security that Hughes claims only exists with clear private title.
There have been a number of critiques against the emphasis on formal tenure and individual property:
Samuelson (2001), reviewing de Soto (2000), argues that de Soto goes too far in making
“property rights – or their absence – the center [sic.] of everything”. He argues that
‘cultural economics’ is missing from de Soto, pointing out that “People around the globe
respond to rewards and penalties, but the rewards and penalties vary among different
Davis (2006), discussing de Soto’s promotion of land titling with reference to slums, argues that titling may
benefit more wealthy squatters, but can have disastrous effects on poorer squatters because it often imposes
additional costs by incorporating them into the tax base. Land titling exacerbates differences between poorer
and wealthier squatters. Although Davis is referring to titling applied to slum dwellers, his observations may
also apply to land titling of farmland or forest rights. Concerns about the unintended consequences of land
titling or registration have also been expressed in relation to the privatization of common land (see, for
example, FAO, 2011). This may have the effect of denying access to people who previously had access.
The argument by Hughes and others that communal property can never be the basis of development misses
the point that some resources, in some situations, cannot be meaningfully privatized. In the case of large-
scale pastures and large areas of forest, communal management is often the only viable form of tenure
(Fisher, 2005). In the case of pastures where extensive seasonal movements are involved or where variable
seasonal conditions require flexibility, communal management is an effective option. Large areas of forest
cannot be sub-divided into small individual plots because the transaction costs of management (protection
and reforestation) would be too much for individual owners.2 Of course, privatization in the form of private
tenure for large concessions or wealthy individuals might work for management, but would not benefit the
Informal tenure is sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ tenure, that is rights that “can be modified relatively easily by
bureaucratic discretion” (FAO, 2011, p.41). One argument against ‘soft’ tenure is that arrangements can
easily be reversed. It is important to remember that this is, to some extent, true of formal tenure –
governments can and do change the laws.
Gibson et al. (2002) assessed a small number of forests in Guatemala to test whether private property led to
forests being better managed. They found that de facto (i.e. informal) institutions work where people have
developed agreed rules and plans about forest use: “Communities holding a forest in common can, under
certain circumstances, create institutions to manage their resources as successfully as – or more successfully
than – private owners” (p.206). Importantly, with regard to the need for formal tenure, they found “that de jure
property rights are not a powerful predictor of variations among the sampled forests” (p 206).
Another argument against over-emphasis on formal tenure has been made by Fisher (1995) and Fisher et al.
(2008). The argument states
...that confidence about future access, whether based on formal tenure or not, is more
crucial than formal title. In fact, legal rights are not always enforced and may even be
ignored by government agencies, while oral agreements may be sufficient if there is a
history of their being honoured... (Fisher et al., 2008, p.110).
Discussion of the literature reveals that the idea that secure tenure is important for resource management and
development (including poverty reduction) is widely accepted and advocated as the basis of sound economic
and resource management policy, although this widely accepted idea is not universally accepted. A problem
2 It is important to remember that communal and individual rights are often combined in traditional tenure systems. For example, in
Turkana, Kenya – broadly a common property pastoralist regime – informal but secure individual rights to important areas of trees are an
important complement to communal land management (Barrow, 1990).
presented by discussions of this issue is that a number of somewhat separate ideas are often, but not
always, linked. The idea of secure tenure is generally equated with registration and title. Many advocates link
this with an assumption that this should, or must, mean individual (private) tenure. The discussion also reveals
that acceptance of either of these ideas is not universal and there are critiques of many aspects of them.
The aim of this paper is to examine some experiences from IUCN’s Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy
(LLS) relevant to the theme of ‘secure tenure’. We will examine experiences from a number of case study
landscapes and, based on these cases, we will argue that formal tenure is not always necessary to achieve
meaningful changes in people’s willingness to invest in land and forest management. We will also argue that it
is often all that is practical in the short to medium term.
The reality is that despite the wide recognition of the importance of tenure rights there are not many cases of
forest tenure reform intended to recognize existing rights of the poor (including indigenous peoples) or grant
new rights through legislative change. While the need is recognized, the task is difficult.
One of the assumptions underlying the LLS approach is that clear property rights and secure tenure for poor
people are necessary preconditions for negotiations to successfully and equitably balance trade-offs between
local and global needs.
Accordingly the LLS programme in a number of landscapes payed considerable attention to the potential for
tenure reform. In practice, the emphasis was on ‘tweaking’ resource access (tenure) arrangements at the
landscape scale, while at the same time using local
interventions as policy experiments.
This paper argues that secure tenure is not always
a sufficient condition, and is not always a necessary
condition, for enabling better management that
benefits people. Given how difficult it is to achieve
pro-poor tenure reform, an important question is
whether modest informal changes can achieve
results. The paper argues that more modest, often
informal changes can be useful steps towards
tenure reform and can provide people with the
confidence that enables them to invest time and
We wish to stress that these case studies do not for the most part demonstrate quantifiable improvements in
livelihoods or forest management. The time frame for LLS has been too short for that. The case studies do
show that minor changes to access arrangements have led to changes in the willingness of people to invest
time and resources, because they have gained confidence in their ability to benefit from their investments
over time. This is particularly significant in the case of long-term investments such as planting trees for timber
and tree crops (such as coffee).
Tacana landscape ©IUCN/Intu Boedihartono
Doi Mae Salong3
Doi Mae Salong is located in the Chiang Rai province of northern Thailand, on the border with Myanmar; it
has been classified as a reserved forest. As a reserved forest,4 agriculture and occupancy are generally not
permitted; however, this has not been enforced and as a result the Doi Mae Salong has become highly
degraded. The area is hilly with important watershed functions; deforestation and soil erosion are significant
Nearly half of the population consists of exiled Chinese Kuomintang forces, along with their families and
descendants. The Kuomintang fled to Burma after the Chinese revolution and subsequently moved to
Thailand in the early 1950s. The Thai government allowed them to stay in Doi Mae Salong providing they
helped the government to combat the communist insurrection of the 1970s. The rest of the population
consists of members from six different ethnic groups (‘hill tribes’) and a small number of ethnic Thai. There
are significant numbers of refugees from Myanmar among the hill tribe population.
Doi Mae Salong is the watershed of the Mae Chan River. Out of a total area of 335 km2, 90 km2 have been
designated for the LLS landscape. The population in the LLS landscape numbers approximately 15,000.
Land use in the landscape consists of a mixture of farmland and degraded natural forest.
Doi Mae Salong has been under the control of the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTAF) because it adjoins the
Myanmar border and is therefore a sensitive security area – this makes it unusual. The role of the RTAF until
very recently (including the period of LLS involvement) went beyond security to include land and forest
management.5 In 2007 the RTAF, conscious of the degraded status of the landscape, initiated an ambitious
forest restoration programme in honour of the King of Thailand’s 80th birthday. The programme began with
attempts to reforest an area that had been used for farming. The farmers involved protested and the RTAF, to
its credit, decided to reconsider its approach to landscape restoration. It approached IUCN for advice about
how to implement the task. IUCN, under the LLS programme, became involved as a partner in the landscape
and brought to the table the concept of landscape management based on negotiated land use.
The institutional basis for the new approach evolved into a multi-stakeholder forum involving community
leaders and representatives of the RTAF, IUCN, local government and various government departments. The
key process was negotiation over land use between areas with high priority for soil conservation and areas for
farming. In the case of the site where the aborted first attempt at forest restoration occurred, the RTAF
agreed to provide access to better farmland in exchange for access to the erosion-prone site for replanting.
This set a precedent for negotiated exchange through the LLS process.
The point to note here is that access to new farmland was based on an agreement with no clear legal validity.
Nevertheless, trust between the RTAF and the community was established and farmers developed
confidence about continued access to farmland. A small informal survey was carried out in 2009; it confirmed
that the people surveyed were aware of the decision-making process and happy with the way it worked. The
survey also confirmed there was a degree of confidence about future access to resources and land. This
3 All of the landscape case studies referred to in this paper have been documented in more detail in a series of published landscape
papers. The case studies draw to a varying extent on information provided in the landscape papers supplemented by the personal
knowledge of the authors of this paper and by other sources as acknowledged. As LLS activities formally ceased in 2011, the
information presented in the case studies applies to late 2010 or early 2011, unless otherwise indicated. See www.iucn.org/forest/lls .
4 The National Reserved Forest Act B.E. 2507 (1964) prohibits agriculture. Occupancy is also prohibited, except under limited conditions
with the approval of the Director-General of Forestry. In practice, political realities have limited the capacity and political will of the
authorities to expel people from Reserved Forests, especially as many communities have been resident for decades. To confuse matters
National Reserved Forests can be declared degraded forests. Such forests can “be allocated to landless farmers... in the framework of
the Agricultural Land Reform Act 1975” (Fischman, 2012).
5 This has begun to change since 2011 and the Royal Forest Department (RFD) is expected to take over forest management functions in
confidence existed despite the fact that there was no likelihood of secure tenure, in the form of land
certificates, in the foreseeable future.
In addition to the negotiations about land use, other activities at Doi Mae Salong under LLS included
restoration of erosion-sensitive sites and the promotion of agroforestry. The agroforestry activities included
mixed plantations of perennial crops (such as fruit trees and coffee) often planted on erosion-sensitive sites.
This approach combined restoration of landscape function with income generation.
From the point of view of tenure, the Doi Mae Salong experience highlights the potential of tinkering with
tenure arrangements without waiting for large-scale formal tenure reform. In the context of the political
realities of forest control in Thailand, it was out of the question that full land rights and land titles could be
issued in Doi Mae Salong in the short or medium term. Attempts to deal with these issues in reserved forests
in the past have always been met with strong resistance politically, particularly within the Royal Forest
Department (RFD). In addition to the usual reluctance to condone farming in reserved forests, there were also
some citizenship issues related to granting title to refugees and migrants without citizenship. In other words,
waiting for the law to change to allow for formal tenure would not have addressed the land degradation or
land access issues. Despite the understanding that the area was a reserved forest in which agriculture and
occupancy were not permitted, people had been living and farming in Doi Mae Salong for many years. This
was in part because the reality that many people live in the forests has had to be tolerated by the government
– it has little choice in the matter. This is a common
situation in Thailand. The rather unique arrangement
between the government and the ex-Kuomintang is an
example of exceptions being made for political or
While farming was formally illegal, the practical reality
was that people lived in the area. This, combined with
the tendency for land-use decisions to be made on an
administrative basis, provided room for informal
tinkering. It was possible to work within the existing
system to offer some sort of confidence about
continued access. There was clear evidence that this
informal approach was enough for people to invest
time and resources in agriculture and agroforestry.
This is particularly clear in the case of agroforestry activities. Coffee and macadamia have been planted in
agroforestry plots, particularly in erosion-prone sites. Farmers have been very keen to grow seedlings and
plant these crops. There has been no cash benefit in the short term, as coffee cannot be harvested until at
least the third year and macadamia generally not until the sixth year. In 2010, 60,000 coffee seedlings were
produced and planted and there is continuing demand. There is, as yet, no measurable output, but it is clear
that people are doing things differently in anticipation of future benefits.
Although the negotiated informal tenure arrangements in Doi Mae Salong operate at a local level, the process
has acted as a sort of policy experiment and has provided a degree of confidence in community capacity that
might lead to long-term tenure changes.
Generally, in Thailand negotiated land uses benefit communities (by providing confidence about longer-term
access) and the government (by reducing expansion of agriculture in ecologically sensitive areas and meeting
broader social obligations). In 2010 the previous government recognized the potential of community-based
tenure and the Cabinet passed a resolution calling for of Community Land Title Deeds (Chanot Chom Chon)
to be issued on an experimental basis (Fischman, 2012). Two villages in Doi Mae Salong were included in the
original proposal for 30 trial villages. According to Fischman, large numbers of communities have
subsequently applied for deeds, but only two have been approved. These do not include the Doi Mae Salong
villages. Fischman suggests the change in government in July 2011 may have resulted in the programme
having a lower degree of priority. It is possible that the low level of implementation demonstrates how little
political support the policy has.
The LLS site on the Andaman coast of southern Thailand includes two watersheds and spans approximately
130 km of coastline. It includes a wide variety of different habitats from montane forest to seagrass beds and
coral reefs. It has been described as a ‘reef-to-ridge’ system. It includes a large number of villages located in
different habitats. There are three national parks, two wildlife sanctuaries, a non-hunting area, a UNESCO
Biosphere Reserve and a Ramsar site. The LLS interventions focused on three sites in each of the two
watersheds. The project aimed to identify priority areas for conserving the ecosystem and collating and
sharing information on biodiversity and restoration to community-based organizations (CBOs), and also
providing technical support to these CBOs. It was also concerned with improving the multi-stakeholder
process for managing the landscape.
Mae Nang Khao Mountain, in Kuraburi district, Phang Nga Province is a montane forest that drops steeply
over an area of 3 km from its highest point to the coast. The upper portion of the area has been demarcated
as a forest reserve with portions zoned under the Agriculture Reform Act. The forests within the area serve as
a watershed supplying freshwater to the communities that surround it. At its base, the mountain is
surrounded by seven villages. The predominant source of livelihoods for the seven villages is agriculture-
based consisting of rubber smallholdings or mixed fruit orchards. However, the seven villages also use the
forest for local traditional uses and as a source of water. The seaward edge of the landscape is surrounded
by a dense mangrove ecosystem and a small proportion of the community is dependent on small-scale
aquaculture and fishing in the near-shore areas for their livelihoods.
Institutionally, the north Andaman coast is a complex landscape. The regulatory framework covering the area
is fragmented, with multiple overlapping jurisdictions. A governance assessment of the Kuraburi watershed
found at least 21 different government agencies with some form of jurisdiction in the area (Knight et al.,
2010), with no one government body having power over the whole landscape. There were large numbers of
government institutions, NGOs and CBOs with interests in the landscape. Government agencies include the
Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Ministry of
Tourism and Sports and the Tambon Administrative Organizations (TAOs – the sub-district level local
An assessment of key natural resource problems within Mae Nang Khoa indicated that local communities
regarded illegal logging and encroachment of forest reserves for agricultural use as the most pressing issues.
Many respondents noted that clear demarcation between the forest reserve and community use areas was
lacking and, due to the lack of land, communities were encroaching on the forest reserves for agricultural
use. Respondents also noted that problems were exacerbated due to insufficient communication among the
different village communities and between the communities and government agencies.
LLS interventions in the area focused on supporting communities to network with each other and the relevant
government agencies. The project also supported the participatory demarcation of community use areas and
monitoring of the ecosystem. Interventions began by supporting one of the seven villages, the community of
Ban Thung Rak, with the support of local Buddhist monks to facilitate a dialogue with the surrounding
communities. Additionally, government-community dialogues were supported by facilitating engagement with
the key government agencies and the communities. Through a participatory approach, six of the seven
villages agreed to a process of demarcating the forest reserve and to voluntary conditions to halt the clearing
of forest land and reduce hunting. In addition, 32 Km2 of forest reserve boundaries have been demarcated in
three of the six villages by the local community network (Ban Thung Rak, Bang Dad and Nai Tui). As part of
the demarcation process, the community, with the support of IUCN, conducted biodiversity and monitoring
assessments of the area. They also compiled inventories that identified over 40 plant species including
rafflesia, which they have documented on their website. As part of livelihood support, the communities have
also received support from the North Andaman Community Tourism Network (NACT) to document and
develop appropriate tourism products that match community and conservation needs. In collaboration with
local monks, a nature trail that showcases the area’s biodiversity has been developed and is marketed to
local tourists through NACT.
One of the key outcomes of the multi-stakeholder process, and in particular efforts to engage local authorities
and government staff in discussions with communities over resource issues, was an increase in trust and
confidence, with outsiders more trusting of community capacity and commitment and communities more
willing to work with the outsiders. By fostering monitoring and assessment by the communities, the project
increased the knowledge of members enabling them to interact more effectively with the government. In this
case de facto ownership and management have been strengthened as a result of confidence building and
networking. More generally, in the landscape various communities manage forests and coastal resources
under local informal arrangements ‘within village boundaries’. The building of trust with government agencies
has contributed to an increasing willingness to recognize these local systems or at least to provide
One indicator of the value of supporting informal arrangements and including officials in activities that give
them a sense of ownership, is reflected by the inclusion of Mae Nang Khao in the initial list of 30 pilot sites for
the communal titling (Chanot Chom Chon) programme, although, as mentioned above in relation to Doi Mae
Salong, this process seems to have stalled.
Additionally, leadership skills among the community
have been strengthened and one of the local
community leaders is a member of the government-
appointed team. Despite difficulties in securing formal
recognition (through a Chanot Chom Chon deed), the
Mae Nang Khoa community continues to exercise
improved control over the forest resources through
the establishment of a local institution in the form of a
network and increased capacity to prevent outsiders
from damaging their forest resources.
“Moving closer to nature”,
Miyun watershed, China
The Miyun watershed is another of the LLS landscapes. It is a major source of Beijing city’s water supply. It
has a total area of 15,788 km2. Approximately one million people live in the watershed upstream from Beijing.
The forest within the watershed has been heavily deforested over a long period of time, presenting a serious
threat to the Beijing water supply. Efforts to tackle this have consisted of two major strands. The first is a
logging ban that has been in place for more than 30 years. The second is a plantation programme that has
involved planting large areas with various species, including conifers. Despite extensive reforestation efforts,
the plantations are in very poor condition and have limited value for watershed conservation. The paradox is
that, despite strict protection, both the remaining natural forests and the planted areas have limited capacity
for watershed protection.
While logging bans and a protection regime have not led to forests suitable for watershed protection, they
have contributed significantly to the impoverishment of the people living in the watershed because of the
restrictions they have placed on local forest access and use.
LLS began working in the watershed in 2007. A major focus of the intervention was on developing modified
silvicultural systems using an approach termed ‘close-to-nature’ silviculture. This involves attempts to restore
the forest to conditions that resemble the original ‘natural’ condition as closely as possible. Management
plans were prepared by project staff and partners and discussed in the two pilot villages prior to approval by
the forest department. On the basis of this participatory approach to developing forest management plans,
Market in Thailand ©IUCN
the Forest Department issued timber-use permits for small quantities of timber. This was a major policy ‘step
forward’ and was directly attributed to the interventions.
The new approach to silviculture allowed for the removing trees that competed with target trees. Overall, this
modified the forest structure in a way that favoured species that had been present in the past and also
removed unhealthy trees. Allowing people to harvest selected trees of substantial size also took pressure off
the harvesting of shrubs and small regenerating trees, which are important for protection against erosion. The
emphasis shifted from protection to active management and involved the communities in decision making
about forest management and management activities (including harvesting).
Improvements in the forests in the selected ‘pilot’ villages have been significant, in terms “of forest structure,
quality and function”6 At the same time there have been changes to people’s livelihoods, particularly in
access to fuelwood. This has been accompanied by the development of improved (more fuel efficient) means
of using fuelwood for heating.
The LLS activities concentrated on two pilot villages, with the expectation that improved forest governance
and new approaches to silviculture might be applied more widely throughout the landscape. Changes to
livelihoods have been limited due to the short time period since the interventions started. Changes to
biodiversity have also been limited compared to the overall size of the watershed. However, the experimental
approach has shown evidence of working effectively.
The crucial issue in the landscape has been the logging ban. This has had negative effects on livelihoods and
forest condition, since it has protected large trees and has not adequately promoted regeneration. It was not
possible in any realistic timeframe to overturn the logging ban as this was an entrenched policy. However, it
was possible, working with the forest authorities in the relevant jurisdictions, to achieve a relaxation of the ban
on a pilot basis. This had significant benefits for forest management and on the ability of villagers to access
forest resources. Tinkering did work, and the acceptance of ‘close-to-nature’ silviculture by the forest
authorities indicates that there is potential for the policy experiment to contribute to policy changes in future.
“Small changes for big impacts”, Ghana7
Sometimes legal or policy changes are not enough to provide people with confidence about future access to
trees and forest resources. Problems with implementation may mean that lack of confidence persists. Simple
local arrangements may change this.
In the cocoa belt of southern Ghana, cocoa farmers have a clear understanding that the cocoa trees and
food crops they plant on their land belong to them, subject to whatever leasehold arrangements tenants may
have with customary landowners.8 However, farmers do not have rights to naturally regenerating trees on
farmland.9 These belong to the government. Under a Forestry Commission Administrative Directive of 3
August 2006 on the Registration of Private Plantations Located Outside Forest Reserves, farmers were given
rights to non-cocoa trees they planted, subject to registration. However, farmers were often unaware of this
and, even when they were aware, there was a reluctance to plant trees because it was difficult to
demonstrate that trees they had planted actually belonged to them because they had no evidence to prove it.
6 Li Jia, Lucy Emerton (2012). Moving Closer to Nature: Lessons for landscapes and livelihoods in the Miyun landscape, China. Gland,
7 Samuel Kofi Nyame, Michael Okai, Adewale Adeleke and Bob Fisher (2012). Small Changes for Big Impacts: lessons for landscapes
and livelihoods from the Wassa Amenfi West Landscape, Ghana. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
8 Most land in Ghana is under customary tenure, which has full constitutional and legal recognition. However land registration covers only
a small portion of land. Complex arrangements exist for the allocation of land, with many farmers (including cocoa famers) obtaining land
through lease arrangements made with landowners.
9 It is important to note that the 2006 directive does not apply to naturally regenerating trees on private land, although policy discussions
are apparently in hand about a similar provision relating to naturally recurring trees.
The LLS field team in the Wassa Amenfi West landscape, which included the Forestry Commission’s Forest
Services Officer, developed a simple solution to this problem. First, photocopies of the registration certificate
were provided. Second, improvements were made to the original certificate which was a simple A4 sheet.
The improved tree certificate consisted of a booklet with background information on the regulation. This was
accepted for use by the District Forest Office. The farmers now get a certificate documenting the trees they
have planted, detailing numbers and species. They receive one copy while another copy is filed with the
Forestry Office. This simple measure has increased confidence that farmers are able to benefit from the trees
As this system became more widely known and used there was a rapid increase in the number of trees
planted, as indicated by registration figures:
2008: 22 certificates, 7,201 trees, nine species
2010: 16 certificates, 46,615 trees, 15 species.
The increase in planted trees is related to the high-value market for timber and the realization that trees
planted belong to the farmers who will be able to benefit from the sale of trees when they mature. People
have not received income as a result of this change so far, as tree registration is a new process. However, a
mechanism has been put in place that provides opportunities for the future and farmers are clearly
responding. The registration process is a simple
change. It is a local arrangement made with the District
Forest Office. Replicating it nationally would presumably
have significant impacts on tree planting.
“Rights, resources and
rewards”, Mount Elgon,
Mount Elgon is located in eastern Uganda and western
Kenya. There are national parks on either side of the
border managed by the respective wildlife departments.
The Ugandan Mount Elgon National Park is located on
the western side. The Mt. Elgon LLS landscape is
located on the northern slopes just outside the park.
This area is in Benet sub-county. The majority of the population consists of people from the Benet ethnic
group. Many of these were relocated from the national park when it was created. Other members of the
population include Benet who have been living in the lowlands for a longer period and have been engaged in
agriculture. The Benet who were evicted11 from the national park were traditionally hunter-gatherers. There
has been a long history of tension between the park authorities and the people in the landscape.
The landscape area has been badly deforested and suffered soil erosion. Despite extensive efforts to reforest
the degraded landscape through various projects, tree planting was unsuccessful, mainly due to uncontrolled
livestock grazing in the dry season. Livestock grazing also made on-farm soil conservation difficult.
During participatory planning discussions, local people, facilitated by the LLS team, identified the need for
some by-laws to control grazing, along with several other natural resource management regulations. (In
Uganda, by-laws are allowed as long as they are passed by the sub-county and, subject to checks by the
Attorney-General to ensure they conform to the constitution and other laws, come into force locally.) The by-
10 Barbara Nakangu, Chemonges Awadh, and Stephen Kelleher (2012). Rights, resources and rewards: Lessons learned on rehabilitating
landscapes for livelihoods in the Benet landscape, Uganda. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
11 The preferred administrative term is probably “relocated”.
Community consultation, Mount Elgon, Uganda ©IUCN
laws, proposed by the communities (villages) of Benet sub-county, have been passed at the sub-county and
district levels, and, even before they were formally approved by the Attorney-General, they were already
having an effect, because they were subject to popular agreement within the sub-county. While the incentives
for the by-laws mainly related to soil conservation and being able to plant trees successfully (something they
had been trying to do for many years, but failed because of the livestock), it is clear that these investments
were perceived by the communities as more advantageous than continuing to allow their own livestock to
graze and browse wherever they wanted.
As a result of this simple breakthrough, people were able to see the benefits of on-farm tree plantation and
soil conservation because the results would not be destroyed by uncontrolled grazing. Already more than
30 km of contours have been dug by hand using collective labour. This change in behaviour would never
have occurred if the by-law had not been passed. The enthusiasm for the construction of contours and
associated tree planting is evidence that farmers saw benefits in terms of agricultural productivity. Villagers
report significant changes in downstream water quality. All that was done to support the work logistically was
the provision of some digging tools – there were no payments. Others outside these moderately supported
villages have copied the approach without any support. Since the by-law was established, families in the
landscape have planted an average of 200 trees each.
This represents a form of tenure change insofar as access rights to the affected area for livestock grazing
were previously restricted. The changed access rules were agreed and implemented locally (by the
community consisting of several villages) even before they became formalized through approval of the
Attorney-General. LLS helped facilitate the by-law development process, and LLS staff also assisted by
providing technical support for terracing and for tree nurseries.
The degree of trust and confidence built up within the Benet community through these activities had the
additional effect of increasing trust between the community and the park authority. This led to the park
authority piloting restoration of degraded forest within the park boundaries through a joint forest management
approach based, not on a formal national policy, but on trust and perceived mutual benefit. In return for their
role in restoration, communities were given access to non-timber forest products (NTFPs) within the park
(including the right to establish beehives within the park). There has also been an agreement that the
communities will be given a proportion of any carbon payments resulting from the restoration.
The Mt Elgon case is an example of how improved access can be negotiated in a situation where national
laws and regulations do not allow access to forest resources. During the life of the LLS work, livelihood
benefits were not yet quantifiable and there were no benefits from forests inside the park before. These
changes will enable people to benefit in future from the trees planted on-farm, and from the restored forests
inside the national park. Laws governing national parks in Uganda do not allow any extractive use. In the
absence of facilitating laws, ‘institutional tweaking’ played an important role.
This paper aims to qualify some of the claims made about the importance of ‘secure’ tenure (taken to imply a
level of formal legal recognition) as a basis for improved forest management and poverty reduction or
livelihood maintenance. This is not intended to be an argument against the value of secure tenure, but rather
a caution against assuming it will solve everything, and encouragement to attempt modest changes rather
than doing nothing in the absence of reforming laws relating to tenure and allocating certificates. The key
point is that formal tenure change cannot always (or even often) be achieved in the short to medium term. In
the meantime, smaller informal changes can have valuable benefits.
There are several additional points that can be made about tenure reform. Of these, this paper has focused
on the first, but the others are important:
Formal changes are not always necessary. A lot can be achieved through informal tweaking and, in cases
where large-scale formal reform is politically unlikely, tweaking is better than nothing.
Formal tenure is not always enough. It is common to have tenure reform in cases where marketing laws
or administrative practices undermine the intent behind the formal tenure arrangements.
Formal changes can be counterproductive if carried out without adequate exploration of locally
recognized rights and practices. This can
occur when de facto common property is
converted to private property (see Bruce,
2004; FAO, 2011), or when rapid
registration of rights claims provides tenure
to the wrong people or misses the claims
of people who have secondary rights.
There are some situations in which
formalization of tenure may be a priority. For
example, the harnessing of non-traditional
benefits, such as Payments for Environmental
Services (PES), carbon and biodiversity
markets (especially from voluntary sources) will
probably need some degree of formalization of
The reality is that forest tenure has often been very difficult to change, especially in a manner that is pro-poor.
Efforts to pass laws that provide for community rights to forests are generally resisted, partly because
governments and forest authorities do not trust communities to manage forests responsibly, and partly
(perhaps mostly) because vested interests do not wish to see rights to valuable resources transferred. For this
reason tenure reform is largely about the politics of the possible. Major tenure changes don’t happen quickly
and require trust and confidence. In this context, working on informal small-scale tenure is often the only
possibility. The lessons from modest tinkering may lead to the confidence and knowledge needed to enable
more formal change.
This paper has argued that secure tenure is not always a sufficient condition for sustainable management and
may not always be a necessary condition. We have also argued that modest and often informal changes can
be useful steps towards tenure reform when full-scale reform is not politically possible in the short to medium
term. This can happen because ‘institutional tweaking’ or ‘tinkering with tenure’ may operate as policy
experiments which demonstrate the potential for more comprehensive changes. As is clear from several of
the cases discussed in this paper, small steps can build trust and confidence between people who don’t
normally trust each other.
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