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Opportunities for Forest Tenure in Africa

Recognition of customary forest tenure can play a crucial role in ensuring sustainable environmental management, promoting economic development and addressing ongoing conflicts over land and resources. While each case in Africa must be addressed in its own context, there are some promising trends for advancing forest tenure in the region.

Decentralization Processes and National Reform Efforts
Increasingly, African states are recognizing the limitations of highly centralized resource management for providing effective and sustainable forest governance. As a result, a number of governments are now working to decentralize and devolve resource and land management authority to the local level.


Of the world’s twenty most forested countries that have adopted new important new forestland reforms since 2000, eight are in Africa. In these eight countries, the area of public forest designated for use by communities and indigenous more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2008.


RRI Partners and Collaborators have been active in supporting national reform efforts.

  • Liberia’s watershed Community Rights Law of 2009 recognized community ownership of forests. RRI is now actively helping the Forest Development Authority and Land Commission to implement the law throughout the land reform process.
  • Reforms to Cameroon’s 1994 Forestry Law have increased opportunities for communities to manage forests, benefit from industrial concessions and develop viable community-based enterprises. RRI is currently collaborating with the government to coordinate land and forest policy reforms and deepen the rights and benefits of local people.
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo’s 2002 Forest Code and its upcoming regulation provides an opportunity to recognize local communities and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. RRI has provided specific strategic technical advice to the government and other actors engaged in the regulatory and zoning processes. We also piloted participatory rights mapping and advocated for its inclusion in zoning processes.
  • Similar major legal reforms or policy initiatives are underway in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali, where customary rights are prevalent and decentralization processes strong. RRI works to incorporate customary rights and practices into the legal reforms in these countries.


Increasing Regional and Global Attention
Land reform issues are gaining momentum across Africa. In 2009, the African Union adopted the Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa, which recognizes that tenure rights are central to sustainable socio-economic growth. The following year, the Union accepted a Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa, encouraging governments to recognize and strengthen the land rights of Indigenous Peoples, communities and women. Moving forward, dialogues around new climate change and development initiatives - such as REDD, Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) - can provide important platforms for leveraging forest governance reforms.


Growing Civil Society Engagement
African civil society is emerging and providing key support to communities as they strive to gain official recognition of their customary rights and claims. Community organizations and local NGOs are increasingly strong, credible voices in policy debates. New social movements are beginning to question the conventional industrial tenure and enterprise models and echoing calls for reform.RRI has strong connections to community organizations and policy-makers, which amplifies opportunities for long-term impact.


Emerging Domestic Markets
Demand for farm-produced wood and other forest products is growing from domestic and non-traditional markets. In small-scale enterprises, social responsibility markets, community-led conservation projects and ecosystem-service markets, new opportunities are bringing added benefits to local communities. To capitalize on these prospects, governments, forest communities and supporting NGOs must actively share knowledge across sectors.


Growing Attention to Gender Equity
Women are leaders in forest management, mainly in non-timber forest products. Recognizing their rights in both customary and statutory legal systems can provide a significant socio-economic boost to both women and their communities. Mainstreaming gender in forest and land policy is key to equitable and fair tenure reforms that benefit all community members and the resources they manage.