Tenure Analysis » Forest Tenure Data

In the 2002 report, Who Owns the World's Forests?, Andy White and Alejandra Martin wrote that in the course of recent decades, long-standing government claims to owning forests had begun to dissolve in favor of greater community control and/or ownership. The transition away from wholesale government statutory ownership and control of the world’s forests continued over subsequent years, prompting further analysis.

The 2008 follow-up analysis, From Exclusion to Ownership?, measured whether the forest tenure transition previously reported had continued between 2002 and 2008, and assessed the implications of statutory forest tenure change. The report found that, between 2002 and 2008, the area of forest said to be owned by governments declined. The report also identified corresponding increases in the area of forests owned or designated for use by communities and indigenous peoples. 

Using the same methodology as From Exclusion, the Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment of 2009 introduced data on 15 new countries and increased the total forest area covered by approximately 500 million hectares.

In 2012, RRI , RRI prepared a new legal 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 in 27 of the world's most forested countries (representing 2.2 billion people and 75% of the developing world’s forests). This analysis unpacks the collective rights to forestland and forest resources held by communities and codified in law. 

Click here to view RRI's statutory forest tenure data  in forty countries for the time period between 2002 and 2008 (Adapted from the Tropical Tenure Forest Assessment, 2009). 

'Deepening Rights': Unpacking Statutory 'Bundles of Rights'

In 2011, RRI began to push this original analysis further, looking to clarify what specific legal rights were actually recognized for Indigenous Peoples and local communities in statutory forest tenure regimes.  Within a sample of 27 countries representing 75% of the developing world’s forests, the research identified a total of 59 distinct forest tenure regimes that allot some combination of access, withdrawal, exclusion, alienation, management, duration and extinguishability of rights to communities.

To review findings of this analysis, click here.

RRI's data, conceptual framework and methodology for the ‘Deepening Rights’ research trajectory was released in May 2012. Read the study.

Whose law is it? – The Data Representation of Statutory versus Customary Tenure Systems

The tenure systems represented by this data is sourced from governments, and therefore only reflects those systems of natural resource management that are legally recognized by those governments. Such officially outlined tenure systems fall under the category of statutory tenure regimes within these studies. . The official data often presents an incomplete picture of the institutions that actually manage natural resources, particularly at a local level. Statutory tenure institutions are often overlaid onto spaces where resource tenure systems already existed. These local tenure systems, broadly labeled as customary in rural and forested areas, were often created by the local users of those natural resources. . When customary and statutory tenure systems overlap, they can come into competition with each other, particularly when it comes to the fundamental question of: Who owns the land and forests?  

Many local communities who operate under customary tenure systems believe that those who own the areas in question are those who live in and near the forests, not the government. The state’s perspective differs significantly from that of the local residents in many countries around the world. In this particular view, it is the government that owns the land.   In some cases, however, governments have transferred varying degrees of ownership and access rights to a portion of the forests to some communities, individuals and firms.

This information on forest tenure focuses mostly on the second (statutory tenure) perspective. The state perspective is used in our work not because it is necessarily the most legitimate, but because the official view is more easily documented and quantified. More importantly, this perspective shapes policy and its implementation, which can have profound consequences on local landscapes. By tracking these official numbers, it becomes more possible to measure recent changes and evaluate the effects these changes have on the ground. 

We invite readers to send feedback on the accuracy, relevance and comprehensiveness of the data presented in From Exclusion to Ownership and What Rights? by contacting Claire Biason at cbiason@rightsandresources.org or Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque at acorriveau@rightsandresources.org.