Challenges implementing rights-based approach for sustainable management, restoration of landscapes and forests

26 Jun 2019

Photo credit: Anne Larson, CIFOR Scientist, team leader, equal opportunities, gender, justice and tenure. GLF/Pilar Vabuena

Anne Larson delivered the following presentation at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany at a side event sponsored by Germany’s International Development Agency (GIZ).

Given the importance of land, land use and land-use change in any landscape approach, who owns the land, who controls access to resources are central questions.

I think there are two key issues here. When I think about the features of landscape approaches, one of the central elements is the emphasis on taking a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder approach.

So there is a tenure element on the one hand and a participation element on the other.

So I will talk about results from research on both of these:

1) Multi-stakeholder approaches
2) Tenure security and livelihoods
3) Challenges


I. Multi-stakeholder approaches

Over the past year my team has been studying multi-stakeholder forums in four countries and also in the literature. Everybody seems to be turning to this idea of bringing multiple actors to the table as a key part of the solution. From the literature, we wanted to see what we could learn from past experience.

We conducted what is called a realist synthesis review of academic literature on multi-stakeholder processes. I won’t go into the methods for lack of time but I’m happy to explain this afterwards. The idea of the realist synthesis is to systematically select the best literature; then study how context affects the outcomes – so in this case we wanted to know how issues of governance, history, power relations, and so on, affect the outcomes of multi-stakeholder initiatives.

We started with almost 1,000 articles and thinned this down through the systematic selection process to 17 articles, and 19 case studies.

  • 984 articles >124 articles >42 articles >17 articles (19 cases)

While we had intended to study context, something else jumped out at us. It wasn’t the context itself that seemed to determine outcomes. It was how the project or initiative engaged with context.

Findings suggest that the most successful multi-stakeholder processes are those that are committed to engaging with multiple actors at multiple levels over time: they identified barriers, built capacity, and built political will, thus supporting the creation of an enabling environment, and they were designed as adaptive learning processes.

It wasn’t about blueprint approaches.

It wasn’t even about how to design better for different types of context.

Rather, it is about how to design for engagement to address context, whatever its distinct features. And that means engaging local people and being open and willing to change the initiative based on this engagement.

Key message: landscape approaches are more likely to be successful if they engage broadly and deeply and are committed to adapting/changing based on learning from that engagement.

II. Tenure rights

So local people should be engaged in any initiative that is going to affect them, but they are harder to ignore – and they are likely to have more control over outcomes – if they also have secure tenure rights. I think we all agree on this. So I just want to focus on two specific points.

The results here are based on surveys with 2,700 men and women from about 1,350 hh in 54 communities in Peru, Indonesia, Uganda.

We looked at titled villages; and at villages with formalized legal use rights; and at customary villages without title. (But within each of these large categories, the specifics were highly varied.)

1. First, it is important to remember that a lot of the benefits associated with titling, or formalizing rights, are not directly associated with just having a piece of paper, but with increasing tenure security.

We found that formalizing rights – in any form – is widely likely to be perceived as improving tenure security. But it’s not always true. For example: it has to be better than what was there before:

A really well-organized, well-governed customary community that can fight for its rights and defend its borders may not be better off with those rights recognized – because they might not need it. A land title that is done poorly can make people worse off. In one customary village in Uganda, people said they thought a title might make elite capture easier. So this is a case where people did not see a title as better than what they have now.

This is also true if the area formalized is a lot less than the area claimed. Or if they are granted a right that is weaker than the one they believe they are entitled to (such as in a village in Indonesia that was granted a use right rather than a title). Or if formalization forces them to make problematic changes in their customary governance systems.

I’m not saying that rights shouldn’t be formalized – I’m just trying to point out that it is a very complicated process and we shouldn’t take it for granted. It needs to be done right. Tenure security does not depend on the title alone, but also on all of these other factors.

2. The second issue I want to mention about tenure is livelihoods. And this pertains to the question on this panel about additional incentives, or “what else is needed” for successful landscape mgmt. or restoration.

In almost of the sites with formal rights that we studied, on average people reported improvements in income, livelihoods and food security over time relative to customary villages.

The arrows point to three of the four legalized regimes, and you can see in comparison that higher percentages are in green, meaning more people report improvements over time in these regimes (see below).

Nevertheless, the data we have on food security in these villages is still a concern.


The different colors represent portions of the year during which people had trouble feeding their families in the last year. Though generally this appears worse in the customary villages, we still see 40-almost 60 percent of people interviewed in formalized villages as having some trouble for at least some part of the year.

In our interviews with government implementers of forest tenure reforms, there were large differences in responses regarding government responsibility on this topic.

Whereas 60 percent of government officials in Uganda consider improving livelihood benefits as an objective of tenure reforms, 46 percent say so in Indonesia and only 12 percent in Peru.

Focus groups from the villages also demonstrate broad concern over livelihoods. In land owned by communities, 53 percent of focus groups expressed livelihood concerns. In land with community use rights, 61 percent reported livelihood concerns.

So what else is needed for long-term sustainability? More attention needs to be paid to livelihoods, wellbeing, income.

So IPLCs need secure tenure, which includes secure livelihoods, and they need to be able to fully engage or participate as rights holders.

III. Challenges

You will hear many challenges from the cases people will present, so I will just mention a few here from our research:

1. Land use planning, expert approaches, restoration – these are sometimes – maybe often? –top-down exercises based on a particular framing of the problem. This includes failing to see customary systems and institutions, and a desire to apply blueprint solutions to problems as understood by the experts. It’s also a concern when we start to talk about urgent solutions – because the MS approach I mentioned above takes time, adaptive learning takes time.

2. Even when policy makers or practitioners recognize rights as a problem, they often remain unresolved.

CIFOR colleagues recently did a review of restoration initiatives following the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM). This method provides guidance that encourages practitioners to incorporate tenure and governance considerations likely to affect forest landscape restorationAlthough all of the reports reviewed identified lack of rights orweak rights as a problem for scaling up restoration, none provided a robust analysis of the problems or solutions for addressing them.

3. I can’t emphasis enough the important role of government: the choices the government makes can make or break commitments to tenure security, livelihoods and participation

4. There is often resistance to rights recognition, more so for Indigenous peoples than other rural populations – so alliances, networks, organizing for collective action is essential.

5. Finally, women face additional layers of challenges in all of these arenas

Additional Reading:

Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform

The role of multi-stakeholder forums in subnational jurisdictions: Methods training manual and tools for in-depth research

Models for formalizing customary and community forest lands: The need to integrate livelihoods into rights and forest conservation goals

Recognition and respect for tenure rights


This work was made possible by Norwegian Agency for Development Corporation (NORAD), Germany’s International Climate Initiative (IKI), UK Department for International Development, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) Global Environment Facility (GEF), U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), European Commission, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and through CGIAR Food, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM).

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