Forest Inhabitants Should Have Ownership Rights to Encourage Conservation

A recent article published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) highlights the challenge of promoting forest management in areas that lack secure property rights, and the growing recognition that community forests need to be protected by the inhabitants themselves. Until inhabitants are secure in their right to the land and able to benefit from it, individuals will continue their rush to extract resources as quickly as possible for maximum personal benefit. With an estimated 80% of Sub-Saharan Africa lacking secure tenure, we may well witness the tragedy of the commons on a massive scale.

Developing country governments have shown an increased interest in preserving their forests since the emergence of the REDD+ mechanism. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is an international mechanism to increase forest-based carbon sequestration by providing developing countries with financial incentives to protect and better manage their forest carbon stocks. A continued challenge has been the question of how to ensure that local communities that occupy these forests, yet lack formal tenure, can benefit from REDD+.

Ghana’s complex land administration framework includes a statutory system of land rights alongside traditional approaches that are legally recognized, but which fail to define boundaries between customary groups. These largely undocumented rights in traditional areas do not ensure clear land tenure security or the sharing of forest benefits, which has contributed to the country having one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, according to the Rainforest Alliance. In contrast, CIFOR’s article notes an interesting case in Cameroon, in which traditional leaders have extensive control over their forest resources, and have implemented their own patrols to keep illegal loggers out and promote conservation from within. It is expected, but yet to be proven conclusively that greater ownership rights and benefit sharing within customary communities can lead to improved forest management.

The land tenure and property rights portal features additional research on climate change, property rights, & resource governance.

Also, see USAID’s Forest Carbon Rights Guidebook: A Tool for Framing Legal Rights to Carbon Benefits Generated through Redd+ Programming.