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Map of Africa Democratic Republic of the Congo Cameroon Liberia Mali Burkina Faso Ghana
Country Summaries

Burkina: RRI supports an emerging civil society platform that promotes forest and land tenure rights within the context of adaptation to climate change, gender equity, and decentralization processes.

Cameroon: RRI is engaged with key stakeholders to capitalize on land and forest policy reforms, REDD initiatives, and other international processes to advance the rights agenda. We are also building recognition of participatory rights mapping as an advocacy tool, piloting alternative tenure and enterprise models and drawing focused attention to women’s and Indigenous Peoples’ rights to land and forests.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: RRI advocates for governments to incorporate participatory rights mapping into forest tenure and use zoning. In addition, we engage with civil society, government and international actors to improve recognition of customary tenure at national and provincial levels, through regulations to the Forest Code and complementary policies and laws in other sectors.

Ghana: RRI supports strategic networking and advocacy to ensure that constitutional reform addresses natural resource tenure and regulations.

Liberia: RRI strengthens communities’ roles in negotiations and social audits, especially with regard to concessions and planned REDD investments. We also support implementation of the Community Rights Law, including the legalization, regulation and sustainable practices of small-scale millers. Throughout all of our projects, we encourage women’s active participation in forest governance.

Mali: RRI supports legislative processes designed to transfer authority to local communities for natural resource management, with particular attention to legal recognition of local conventions within decentralization processes. In addition, RRI advocates for women’s tenure rights in the agriculture law, pastoralists’ rights, and farmers’ rights to benefit from on-farm trees.

Our Work in Africa

While most forests remain under government control, recognition of customary tenure systems can help promote environmental and economic progress.
Did You Know?
Only 1.4% of forest areas in Africa are designated for use by communities and indigenous groups, and just 0.5% of forest area on the continent is officially owned by communities and indigenous groups.
Africa’s customary domain potentially covers to up to 1.4 billion hectares.
Of the 20 most forested countries that have adopted new important new forestland reforms since 2000, eight are in Africa.

Forest tenure in Africa is dominated by colonial and post-colonial law, under which governments still own and control 98% of total forest area. At the local level, however, customary tenure systems remain a vital mechanism for managing forest resources and securing livelihoods for forest-dependent communities. Recognition of traditional systems for managing land and resources can play a crucial role in ensuring sustainable environmental management and promoting economic development at both local and national levels.


European colonization severely marginalized customary tenure systems. To ensure their control, colonial governments developed European-based legislative systems for managing land and resources, superseding customary claims. Post-colonial governments followed their example and claimed valuable forest resources as their own.


Nevertheless, customary tenure is still widely in use at the local level, operating independently of statutory law. Across the continent, communities have longstanding customary rights that regulate use, access and ownership to land and resources. These complex systems are embedded in particular cultures, landscapes and social systems, but they have been inconsistently codified into statutory law.


The clash between official and customary governance structures presents problems from both policy and practical standpoints. Official laws need to better reflect on-the-ground realities and enable economic development for local people.


Africa is subject to a number of global challenges as well, including climate change and population growth. Local management of African forests faces further threat from industrial concessions, and increasingly from extractive and infrastructure projects, which often outweigh the interests of small-scale enterprises and local markets. The dominant model in forestry relies on state control and export-oriented industrial concessions, and has not delivered economic growth as promised.


It is increasingly clear that most concessions are not sustainable and have not generated expected added value. New economic models that reflect customary ownership and practices are emerging as important alternatives. Thus far, however, governments have provided limited support to the emerging local and domestic markets that benefit local economies and lead to more balanced and resilient economic development.


RRI’s Approach
RRI’s strategy in Africa addresses the different contexts of the Sahel and the Congo Basin. It also capitalizes on synergies across Central and West Africa, both politically and in terms of gathering lessons from relevant experience.


In response to current challenges and opportunities, RRI strategic actions in Central and West Africa include:


Work to improve knowledge and understanding of the status quo of the political economy of tenure. Advocacy efforts and policy changes must be informed, guided and propelled by sound situational research and analysis.


Map land tenure, use and rights. Revealing the existing realities of land use and customary tenure is an important tool in advocating for statutory recognition. 


Strengthen and network civil society organizations. In turn, these groups provide key support to communities as they strive to gain official recognition of their customary rights and claims.


Engage and secure commitment from international and regional institutions. These important institutional players need to understand and respect land ownership rights of local communities.


Create space for policy dialogue. This includes facilitating national and regional meetings with governments, policy makers, civil society and communities. 


Initiate action and support the implementation of rights. Support the reform goals and strategies defined through research, by civil society groups and networks, and during policy dialogues.