Giving land rights to communities stops deforestation. Here’s the evidence

By Chris Lang, Conservation Watch, 4 April 2017

“Granting formal land rights to indigenous people living in the world’s tropical forests is among the most effective, but underused, ways to stop illegal deforestation that fuels violence, poverty and global warming, according to new research.”

That’s Paula Totaro, land rights editor at Thomson Reuters Foundation, writing about the 18th Land and Poverty Conference, which was held at the World Bank in Washington DC two weeks ago.

Totaro writes that,

“Local communities are best equipped to safeguard valuable forests, and those with strong land rights are the most effective, said a raft of studies presented this week at the World Bank’s annual Land and Poverty Conference.”

In her article about the conference, Totaro writes about a “six-nation study for the World Bank’s Program on Forests” that found that,

deforestation rates are significantly lower where communities have legal rights to the forests and government support for management and enforcement, compared with areas elsewhere.

This isn’t meant as a criticism of Totaro’s article, but a link to the report would have been useful. I don’t want to think about how long I spent looking for the “six-nation study” on the Land and Poverty Conference Programme.

The conference was attended by more than 1,500 people, who between them generated a vast amount of information. Here’s a screenshot of one small part of the conference programme:

I wrote to the conference organisers at the World Bank, who were very helpful (without actually sending me a link to the report). Eventually, I found the report on Profor’s website: “Securing forest tenure rights for rural development: Lessons from six countries in Latin America”. I’ll feature the report in a future post on Conservation Watch.

(Of course, the World Bank’s Land and Poverty Conference is not just about land rights and conservation. This is the World Bank, after all. The Oakland Institute describes the conference as “just another occasion for a show of pro-poor hypocrisy, while the Bank continues to plot policies to benefit the rich”.)

Land rights and conservation

Conservation Watch launched in September 2016. In an introductory post, I wrote this sentence:

Studies by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Bank show that deforestation is significantly lower in community-managed forests than in strictly protected forests.

The links refer to the following two papers:

  • Porter-Bolland, L., et al. (2011) Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics. Forest Ecology and Management, doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2011.05.034.
  • Nelson, A., and K. M. Chomitz (2011) Effectiveness of Strict vs. Multiple Use Protected Areas in Reducing Tropical Forest Fires: A Global Analysis Using Matching Methods, PLOS ONE, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022722.

That wasn’t bad, as a start at least, but there are plenty other reports out there on the topic of land rights and conservation.

In 2014 three major reports came out, each of which compiled evidence that giving communities and indigenous peoples land rights helped to reduce deforestation:

  • Seymour, F., T. La Vina, and K. Hite (2014) Evidence linking community level tenure and forest condition: An annotated bibliography, CLUA.
  • Stevens, C. et al. 2014. Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change: How Strengthening Community Forest Rights Mitigates Climate Change. World Resources Institute and Rights and Resources Initiative
  • Zulu, L., R. Yin, and J. Qi. (2014) Empirical Linkages between Devolved Tenure Systems and Forest Conditions. Washington, DC: Tenure and Global Climate Change Program, U.S. Agency for International Development.

Two years later, journalist Fred Pearce wrote a report for Oxfam, Land Rights Now, the International Land Coalition, and the Rights and Resources Initiative:

  • Pearce, F. (2016) Common Ground: Securing land rights and safeguarding the earth. A Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights. Oxfam.

A request for help

This post is slightly unusual for Conservation Watch. It’s a request for help — but one that I think will be helpful for a lot of people.

In the comments following this post, I’d like to compile a list of new studies, ongoing research, and initiatives about land rights and conservation. I know that there is a vast amount of research on land tenure — so I’d like to keep the focus on research addressing the argument that giving legal rights to communities will help to stop deforestation.

Conservation Watch looks forward to your suggestions in the comments section below. I’ll write short summaries and reviews of some of these papers in future posts on Conservation Watch, collected under the tag, “Land rights and conservation”.

Originally published at Conservation Watch on 4 April 2017.