Steven Lawry, Director of Forests and Governance Research at CIFOR and speaker at the CAPRi discussion session at Global Landscapes Forum, discusses strengthened community rights and the next steps needed to reach sustainable growth. A version of this blog first appeared in CIFOR Forest News
The historic international climate agreement reached at the COP21 United Nations climate summit in Paris represents a major achievement of international collective action. Now comes the serious work of implementing the agreement.
The Global Landscapes Forum, which occurred during the COP21 meetings, highlighted the importance of secure resource tenure as part of that implementation. In the discussion forum, Commons Tenure for a Common Future, a panel of leading international experts on community and indigenous rights, forest management and investment explored the next generation of common property resource management challenges: How to ensure that communities with newly strengthened resource rights can build and grow strong local economies based on the sustainable use of local natural resources.
Communities living in communal forests in the developing world have made considerable gains over the past 20 years in regaining a greater share of the use, management and other rights to forests that since the colonial era were held and administered by government agencies. Developing country governments for the most part retained the colonial model of state ownership after independence. Where state regulation of timber extraction and development was weak, local people bore the environment and social costs of land and watershed degradation, but had no or little power to protect local land and forests from encroachment by outsiders. Local rules for assigning resource rights lost force, and in many places local-level institutional capacity for governing resource use atrophied. State regulation of forest use could also be aggressive and punitive. Resource use was subject to permitting, payment of fees, and some traditional uses of forests, such as subsistence hunting and collection of non-timber forest products, was criminalized. In several Sahelian West African countries farmers had to secure permits to cut down trees they had planted on their own farms. The result: fewer trees planted.
Progress in the devolution of rights draws attention to the persistent poverty in many communities reliant such commonly used resources as pastures, fisheries and water, wildlife and forests. Tenure security and rights clarification creates conditions for better management of resources, for attracting outside investment, and for the more equitable sharing of commons benefits. Attention now needs to be put on building local governance capacities and social and commercial enterprises capable of generating economic benefits, fostering inclusive growth, and securing investment.
Sustainable growth will require new forms of local governance arrangements and local enterprises, capable of bringing high-value local goods and services to markets, and in ways that provide fair benefits to local right holders. Intermediaries (sometimes NGOs) can be key to building local business acumen, and brokering deals with outside enterprises and investors, in the process building trust among parties not accustomed to working together. While common property resource rights are social rights (that is, gained through membership in the community), the capacity of rights holders to participate directly in commons enterprises may vary by age, education, gender, health and other social and demographic factors. An understanding of these differences, and how they express themselves in power differences, can help build safeguards against elite capture of commons enterprises and fashion benefit-sharing arrangements that ensure all rights holders get a fair of the benefits of commons ownership.
Examples from Namibia and Guatemala highlight impressive initiatives that attempt to build new commons institutions and enterprises, and connect locally produced goods and services to high-value markets. In 1996, Namibia’s government granted a wide range of rights to wildlife—elephants, black rhino, lion and may species of antelope—to newly formed community conservancies. Eighty-two conservancies covering 20 percent of Namibia’s territory now operate, generating full-time employment for several thousand local residents, and strong environmental co-benefits, as people have given up their livestock in favor of wildlife that are better suited for Namibia’s semiarid environment. Conservancies have entered into partnerships with tourist lodges, which employ local people and pay concession fees to conservancies, which use the revenue to build schools and clinics.
In Guatemala, the government in 1990 created the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, and set aside about 40 percent of the reserve as community forestry concessions. The concessions have generated considerable income based largely on sustainable marketing of high-value mahogany and teak. Rates of deforestation in concessions have declined considerably.While both initiatives have brought about significant social, economic and environmental benefits for local residents, local resource governance arrangements are fragile and local enterprises are weak.
Secure tenure on the commons requires external recognition and internal organization. The discussions in this session demonstrated that with these conditions, sustainable and productive land use is possible to provide local livelihoods and global benefits.