Tenure Data

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What Rights? Measuring the Depth of Indigenous Peoples and Community Forest Tenure

A Legal Analysis of 59 Community Forest Tenure Regimes in 27 of the World's Most Forested Developing Countries


RRI has developed a database monitoring the dynamics of statutory forest tenure rights over time in approximately 45 forested countries covering more than 90% of the world’s forests. As a compliment to this work, RRI has prepared a new legal analysis to provide a fuller picture of Indigenous Peoples and community forest tenure rights in 27 countries representing 2.2 billion people and 75% of the developing world’s forests.


This analysis, entitled What Rights? A Comparative Analysis of Developing Countries’ National Legislation on Community and Indigenous Peoples’ Forest Tenure Rights, studies tenure distribution data by clarifying what legal rights are associated with Indigenous Peoples and community forest tenure regimes. It unpacks the collective rights to forestland and forest resources held by communities and codified in law.


In order to compare community forest tenure regimes and to identify particular regional and global patterns in the recognition and allocation of rights, we used the “bundle of rights” typology to guide analysis. This typology was popularized in common-property scholarship by Schlager and Ostrom, which comprises the rights of access, withdrawal, management, exclusion, and alienation. In this study, RRI takes the bundle two steps further to incorporate the temporal and resilient dimensions of rights. Certain regimes expire after a given period, while others confer rights to communities in perpetuity. Therefore, the expanded bundle considers duration as a right to be examined. The resiliency of rights is evaluated in terms of whether the law guarantees communities due process and compensation if the state revokes or extinguishes those rights. The right to due process and compensation is referred to in this study as extinguishability.


The data needed for this study was collected through a literature review and an analysis of approximately 170 laws and other legal documents. Subsequently, about 90 contributors with national expertise verified the preliminary results, helping to ensure that the dataset was as complete as possible at the time of publication.


The findings in this report have major key implications for governments, communities, Indigenous Peoples, and international actors (see Section 7 of the report). Many of the rights analyzed in this study are limited in scope, duration, and completeness, which can hamstring international development, climate and legality initiatives. Even when rights are recognized by law, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and their governments, require support to exercise them. Moreover, the rights recognized by international law frequently remain missing from national law. Efforts to assess the lack of compliance and means of redress can be undertaken using the findings of this analysis.


Several important caveats apply to the data and analysis presented in this report:

  1. The data and analyses apply to statutory tenure systems only. Significant conflicts between statutory and customary rights are noted and described in the country profiles below.
  2. The data are derived from legally binding documents and regulations. While a law might provide Indigenous Peoples and communities with a wide spectrum of rights on paper, these rights may not be exercised in practice. The data do not account for the quality or degree of implementation of the described rights regimes. Where possible, the area of forest under each regime is presented in the report (Tables 10, 11, and 12)) to provide an indication of the extent to which a given regime has been implemented.
  3. The data used in this study are based on national-level legislation only. Subnational tenure regimes were not taken into account due to the difficulty in accessing the relevant subnational legislation.
  4. This study does not endorse the notion that recognizing the entire bundle of rights is always the optimal outcome for all community tenure regimes. Rather, the parameters of particular tenure frameworks must be based upon the more fundamental political human and civil rights of citizens and be negotiated contextually.
  5. This study does not analyze the wider set of instruments that provide or recognize forest communities’ and individuals’ rights, and as such, it does not review the extent to which statutory laws are in compliance with countries’ binding obligations under nationally ratified international laws.

More information on What Rights?

Click on the following links to access more information on RRI's findings:

To access the results of this study by country, please download the following documents (PDF):


RRI's previous work on tenure data

The report, From Exclusion to Ownership? Challenges and Opportunities in Advancing Forest Tenure Reform, assesses the implications of statutory forest tenure change for forest peoples, governments, and the global community.


The Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment, published by the ITTO, presents and analyzes the state of forest tenure in much of the world’s tropical forests.


The brief, What Rights? Measuring the Depth of Indigenous Peoples and Community Forest Tenure, presents our preliminary findings on 33 Community Forest Tenure Regimes in 15 Countries.