Story | 22 Jul, 2013

Improving access to forest resources

It is commonly claimed that forest tenure reform that provides rural people with rights to access and use of forest resources can contribute to improved forest management and poverty alleviation. But, at least with respect to poverty alleviation, there are few experiences with formal forest tenure reform that have demonstrated this to date.

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Photo: IUCN

Given how difficult it is to achieve pro-poor tenure reform, an important question is whether modest informal changes can achieve results. This paper argues that, in advance of full-scale tenure reform involving legislated changes to tenure laws, more modest locally negotiated changes and local ‘informal’ arrangements can lead to improved access to forests and provide people with the confidence that enables them to invest time and resources in forest management in the short and medium term. The modest informal changes can act as useful ‘policy experiments’ to support more formal change. This paper argues that secure tenure is not always a sufficient condition and is not always a necessary condition for enabling better management that benefits people.

This paper examines experiences from the Forest Conservation Programme of IUCN, particularly the Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy (LLS). Cases are presented from: northern Thailand, where negotiated informal arrangements ensure local confidence about continued access to land and encourage investment of labour and resources; from the Andaman coast of Thailand, where negotiated land use has benefitted communities and acted as a ‘policy experiment’; from the Miyun watershed in China, where negotiated land use changes have encouraged local people to become involved in forest conservation and management and have involved a rethink of financial incentives; from Ghana where a simple tree registration system has helped ensure farmers’ rights over planted trees; and from Uganda, where locally negotiated controls on grazing have facilitated agroforestry for soil conservation and a pilot joint forest management activity within the Mt Elgon National Park.