Land-rights policies in Latin America still fall short, studies show

Source: CIFOR 2017. Indigenous community in Peru. Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma for CIFOR

 JUNE 18, 2017

Scientists present their findings on forest tenure and land use at a major conference in Peru

Peru – Latin American countries have made progress in granting land rights to communities in recent years. Nevertheless, policies often fail to consider the diversity of those communities and the different ways they use their land.

Some of those differences were highlighted in studies presented by researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) at the recent Latin American Studies Association Conference held in Lima, Peru.

Government regulations often take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to forest tenure, which is out of step with local practices that vary from place to place, and sometimes even from one family to the next, said Peter Cronkleton, a senior scientist at CIFOR.

“One thing we’re finding is that forest use is very heterogeneous,” he said. “The problem is that there is very little detailed information about this heterogeneity.”

Several studies by CIFOR researchers that compare advances in tenure reform and indigenous initiatives in various countries worldwide provide a window into local practices, shedding light on areas of policy and legislation that require more attention, said Cronkleton.


In Peru, indigenous communities have gained title to more than 12 million hectares of forest land, and 5.7 million more are pending.

Progress is slow, however, because of the number of steps involved and because in recent years, different government agencies have been responsible for granting titles, said Iliana Monterroso, a post-doctoral fellow at CIFOR.

Overlapping land claims and a lack of a single national land registry also complicate the process, because a community cannot title its land if overlapping claims exist.

Once an indigenous community does obtain title, it does not automatically have the right to use forest resources commercially. The community can only title land used for agriculture, while the state retains ownership of forests. The community can obtain government-granted usufruct rights and permits for commercializing forest products, but this requires another series of steps that often are too expensive for communities unless they have outside support.

The problems revealed by her study point to opportunities for improving policies and regulations said Monterroso, who recommends a stronger role for sub-national governments in the titling process.

Communities need allies in those government agencies, to help them move their applications through the often-confusing titling process, she added.

“Non-governmental groups also have an important role to play in monitoring progress and remaining problems,” said Monterroso. “They have kept records and may have more complete information than government agencies or the communities.”


Just having title does not necessarily enable community members to improve their livelihoods, the researchers say. Other policies are needed to support them, but those policies must take into account the different ways in which people use their forests.

REDD+, conservation, and rural livelihoods

six-country comparative study of initiatives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) is examining those uses and the economic importance of forests for local communities.

The study— conducted in Peru and Brazil in Latin America; Cameroon and Tanzania in Africa; and Vietnam and Indonesia in Asia—surveyed 4,000 households in 150 villages from 2010-2011 and again from 2013-2014, to gauge the impact of REDD+ programs on people’s livelihoods.

Surveys in 2012 and 2014 in eight villages in the Amazonian region of Ucayali, Peru, showed that villagers combined cash-producing activities with subsistence production. It also calculated the economic importance of the subsistence activities.

Family income averaged nearly USD $6,000 in 2012, and USD $3,755 in 2014—a drop researchers are still trying to understand, Cronkleton said.

Nevertheless, the largest proportion of villagers’ income in both years—more than two-thirds in 2012 and nearly half in 2014—came from forest-related activities, with farming and non-farm work making up smaller percentages.


Fish and game from the forest accounted for the largest percentage of villagers’ income. The fish are extracted from riparian forests, where they are an essential part of the ecosystem, spawning during the annual flood season and dispersing the seeds of forest trees.

Villages also reported income from timber and non-timber forest products, in percentages that varied from community to community.

Policymakers must consider not just these variations, but also the different ways in which men and women use forest resources in indigenous and non-indigenous communities, said Anne Larson, a principal scientist at CIFOR.

The Miskitu and Mayangna people in Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) also combine subsistence agriculture with the sale of forest products and some wage labor.

Both indigenous and non-indigenous households extract firewood, timber, wild animals, wild fruit, herbs, honey and craft materials from the forest. Except for firewood, however, indigenous people depend on the forest far more than non-indigenous people, according to surveys of indigenous and non-indigenous women and men conducted in that region.


Men and women extract different products in different proportions, studies show.

“The prevailing wisdom on gender and forest products is that men extract timber and women extract firewood and non-timber forest products, however, our data concur with other studies showing that this does not hold true in Latin America,” said Anne Larson, a principal scientist at CIFOR.

Tenure reform: Lessons from the Global South

Her study in Nicaragua found that women extract fewer products from the forest than men do. This is true even of firewood and non-timber products in indigenous households, which use a much larger variety and quantity of forest products than non-indigenous families.

When products are sold, however, indigenous women tend to handle sales more than non-indigenous women, and they sell more fruit, herbs and craft materials than the men in their households.

But while women may play a larger role in household decisions about resource use, their voice in community-wide decisions is often muted because leaders limit them to traditional roles, said Larson.

Besides revealing such gender differences, research points to ways of increasing women’s participation in forest management decisions.

According to Larson, more research into how people use forest products is needed because Latin America lags behind Asia and Africa in data. Across all three regions, there is very little data on gender-differentiated forest use in collective lands.

“We need to take a closer look at differences within populations and cultures.”


Indigenous people are playing an increasing role in shaping policies for preserving their forests and using their resources, according to researchers.

In Peru, where deforestation is the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the government has set a goal of preserving 54 million hectares of forest, said Emily Dupuits of the University of Geneva.

She compared two approaches to REDD+ in indigenous communities in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, an indigenous territory in Peru’s southeastern Madre de Dios region.

What’s in a land title?

A national government program that focuses on carbon storage pays indigenous communities to preserve their forests in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program operates only in communities that have formal land titles.

An alternative program promoted by national and Amazonian indigenous organizations focuses on indigenous rights instead of carbon storage and includes financing to help communities obtain titles.

The government-managed national program is based on forest management plans and productive projects for the communities, while the alternative program takes a more holistic approach to territory and includes mapping the way the Harakmbut people have traditionally occupied their territory, said Dupuits.

The different models are examples of the evolving process of co-management of forests by governments and indigenous communities, said Cronkleton.

Challenges remain, as tensions arise between national and sub-national government authority, and the value of incentives is not always clear, he said, adding that issues like those point to needs for future research.

“There are challenges and difficulties, but processes are underway that are mitigating the impacts and strengthening the advances,” said Cronkleton. “When we look at the progress that has been made in tenure and rights, there is a reason to be optimistic.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Peter Cronkleton

at or Anne Larson at or Iliana Monterroso at This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. This research was supported by European Commission, the Global Environment Facility, The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the Center for International Forestry Research and retrieved on 06/18/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Forests, people and data

Landscape features, land use, and land cover can be identified using participatory mapping through focus group discussion such as this one in Papua, Indonesia. Photo by: Manuel Boissière/CIFOR


Participatory monitoring for REDD+ put to the test

Growing up in a village in Indonesia’s Central Java in the 1980s, Dian Ekowati went to the local Posyandu every month.

At the community primary healthcare center, her height and weight were recorded and reported to the government by local healthcare volunteers called kaders. One of those kaders was Ekowati’s mother, who volunteered there for years, receiving only a tiny stipend in exchange for her labor – just enough to pay her bus fare.

The Posyandu program was established in 1984 by then Indonesian President Suharto to promote immunization and nutrition, and to address the high child mortality rate – and it was extraordinarily successful. By 1990, there were 250,000 posts in communities throughout the archipelago, and many still operate today.

Years later, as part of a team of researchers at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Ekowati realized the Posyandu system could provide useful lessons for REDD+. The UN-backed scheme aims to motivate tropical countries like Indonesia to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, as a way to combat climate change.

Protecting forests and child health? The connection may not be obvious. But before communities can be compensated for emissions reductions, it’s necessary to measure, report and verify their activities, a process known as MRV.

With most REDD+ initiatives taking place in remote areas, and limited funding available, it’s been proposed that forest communities themselves participate in this monitoring. It’s likely to be cheaper than sending in outside experts, could increase transparency, and could make communities feel more empowered and engaged in REDD+.

But it is feasible? What are the challenges? What still needs to be worked out?

Those are some of the questions addressed by a series of 12 papers that form a new special collection in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Together, the authors assess the feasibility of participatory monitoring (PMRV) for REDD+ from a broad range of perspectives, from social science to governance to remote sensing.

From the technical side, PMRV is definitely doable, says Martin Herold, a CIFOR associate from the University of Wageningen, and a guest editor of the collection.

He says new technologies have made it possible for communities to easily access satellite data on forest change on their mobile phones, check out what’s driving that change on the ground, and feed the information back to authorities.

The studies in the collection suggest adopting PMRV can indeed support the implementation of REDD+, and communities can contribute to monitoring both forest changes and other elements like safeguards and benefit sharing, Herold says. “There is no excuse now not to do it.”

It’s the social aspect of PMRV that still needs more work, says Manuel Boissière, a scientist from CIFOR and CIRAD who coordinated the collection.

As a whole, the studies reveal many important considerations that must be taken into account when setting up a PMRV system.

“This kind of research can help provide information about the conditions that need to be addressed in order to conduct PMRV,” Boissière says.


One key question is how to motivate individuals to do the work in the first place.

“Why should a community participate in MRV for REDD+?” asks Boissière. “Do they have time? Do they have the capacity, the resources, the willingness and the interest to do so? If they participate, will it threaten their daily livelihoods if their own activities are causing forest degradation?”

“Motivation is key. You cannot expect communities to participate if they don’t clearly see the interest in it for themselves.”

That’s where the Posyandu study comes in. It formed part of a broader project Boissière and his team carried out in three Indonesian provinces – West Kalimantan, Central Java and Papua.

Lessons for REDD+ Participatory Measurement, Reporting, and Verification from Three Decades of Child Health Participatory Monitoring in Indonesia

“One of the interesting things about the Posyandu reporting system is that it’s happening despite very diverse access to networks,” Boissière says. “In Java, people can SMS the data, and they have 3G networks in the villages so they can send it by email.”

“In Papua, they have to take a small canoe to the capital of the district to provide the information. It’s very diverse – but it works.”

Dian Ekowati and Carola Hofstee focused on what motivated the Posyandu kaders to volunteer.

“It might seem really different, participating in health monitoring compared with environmental monitoring, but going deeper, we can see there are a lot of similarities,” she says. “Even with the Posyandu, the community didn’t get on board straight away.”

They discovered communities were very skeptical about the health centers when they were first introduced. Villagers relied on traditional healers, and didn’t believe that regularly measuring children’s height and weight was important.

It took a major promotional campaign by the government to convince people to value the centers and to volunteer. Ekowati remembers being asked to sing a jingle at school about the Posyandu: Aku Anak Sehat(‘I’m a healthy child’).

“It was all over the radio during my childhood,” she says. “The song was so massive that we even had a parody version.”

The researchers found that kaders volunteered because they felt a responsibility to their community and were convinced they were making a contribution. Some had a personal interest in childcare, or joined because they were asked to by a respected person.

In Central Java, people were motivated by religious values, and in West Kalimantan, some volunteered out of village pride – because they would be ashamed if a neighboring village had a Posyandu and they did not.

Many of those motivations could also be encouraged under a REDD+ PMRV system, Ekowati believes.

“We’re not necessarily sure that PMRV for REDD+ will work in Indonesia – it’s such a diverse country, with different levels of literacy, access to communication and transportation – but the Posyandu success gives us hope. It was just as hard in the 1980s to ask people to measure children as it is now to ask them to measure trees – so it shows that this is not impossible.”


In another paper featured in the collection, CIFOR scientist Indah Waty Bong and colleagues set out to analyze local drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and their relationships to community members’ livelihoods.

How Are Local People Driving and Affected by Forest Cover Change? Opportunities for Local Participation in REDD+ Measurement, Reporting and Verification

Remote sensing technologies can show where deforestation is occurring, and how quickly – but local people can give important insights into the reasons why it’s happening.

However, in some cases, the deforestation may be driven by the everyday livelihood activities of those same people – such as harvesting timber, or clearing trees for swidden agriculture.

That means proponents of REDD+ initiatives need to investigate and understand those connections if they are going to ask local people to participate in monitoring, Bong says.

“If you want to address a particular driver of deforestation and the majority of households in that village have it as their main livelihood, then you are talking about something that will have a big opportunity cost – and they may be less willing to be involved in monitoring.”

There is also the potential for conflict, if one group of people are asked to monitor and report on activities carried out by other members of the community. “From a project perspective that’s an ethical issue you need to think about,” Bong says.

A key finding was that the local processes behind forest cover change are dynamic, and vary both between and within communities. A driver – such as logging – might be responsible for a relatively large area of forest degradation, but only provide income for a small proportion of the community.

That means interventions and incentives can be targeted directly at those people, ensuring greater fairness and efficiency, Bong says.


Participatory MRV is in part motivated by the need to ensure the interests of local people are fairly represented in REDD+. To ask a community to participate, you need to be clear about who exactly you are talking about, Boissière says.

In another paper in the collection, CIFOR scientist Stibniati Atmadja investigated how researchers have assessed ‘community perceptions’ of REDD+.

“You can’t be everywhere at the same time – you have to sample, and then generalize to a bigger area,” she says. “So research on community perceptions involves fundamental choices about how to represent heterogeneous communities.”

That’s fine, Atmadja says, as long as authors explain what those choices were and why they made them.

“Most academic papers we looked at did not really give readers enough information to answer the simple questions: Who did you sample? What does your sample represent?

What Is a “Community Perception” of REDD+? A Systematic Review of How Perceptions of REDD+ Have Been Elicited and Reported in the Literature

The study did not analyze websites, newsletters and advocacy material – which are disseminated more widely than academic research – but these sources are even less likely to provide information about their sampling methods, Atmadja says.

“They say, ‘we went to the field, we met with local people’ – well, which part? The easiest part to get to? Which people – those who were already disenchanted? How much can you really generalize based on those people’s perceptions?”

Both researchers and non-researchers can and should do better, she says. This matters because REDD+ initiatives tend to happen in remote areas, in forests that can be hard to reach.

“The few voices that do come out carry a lot of weight – so it’s important to be mindful of that,” Atmadja says.


As a whole, the collection shows the need for embracing diversity when it comes to designing PMRV systems for REDD+.

“Even in one country, there is not one recipe for engaging local communities,” Boissière says. “People don’t have the same activities, they don’t depend in the same way on forest products, or have the same access to roads or infrastructure. You really need to develop something which is adaptive.”

It seems PMRV can work at the local level, he says, but to be successful, the next step is figuring out how to scale it up into a system that works at multiple levels of governance.

“You need to have a consistency in the kind of data that communities collect, and then come up with a way to merge it into a national system.”

Practitioners also need to acknowledge that it may not work everywhere.

“Any project or government program that wants to increase local participation in REDD+ or MRV should conduct a preliminary study looking at why they should engage this community in that place,” Boissière says.

“From there, they can understand whether it’s worth pursuing, and design something to engage with them – or whether it’s better to send a team of experts instead.”

There are many hurdles to overcome – but this comprehensive new body of detailed research lays the foundations for putting participatory MRV into practice.

For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Boissière at or Martin Herold at or Christopher Martius at This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry. This research was supported by USAID, AUSAID, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the Center for International Forestry Research and retrieved on 06/30/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.