How participatory research gets to the bottom of forest tenure

October 11, 2016
Agricultural land at Seram Barat District, Maluku. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR

Agricultural land at Seram Barat District, Maluku. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR

Adapted from CIFOR’s Forests News

What are the biggest obstacles that local communities face when ensuring rights to their forest resources? Community leaders say it’s the red tape and the cost of travel from rural villages to the towns where government offices are located. They also see poor-quality education and health care as additional hurdles that make it more difficult for communities to organize. Meanwhile, government officials note other obstacles, such as a shortage of staff or the difficulty of traveling to remote villages. Because these groups do not often engage in dialogue, problems can persist and forest-tenure reforms can stall. A recent workshop in Peru organized under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry brought both sides together with technical experts to discuss land tenure and land use rights. Barbara Fraser spoke to the researchers involved.

Participatory Prospective Analysis (PPA) is an innovative approach to discussing tenure problems that combines the knowledge of technical experts and decision makers with the knowledge of people from the communities. This happens in workshops which are part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform, undertaken by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Peru, Indonesia and Uganda. This helps to identify factors affecting forest-tenure reform and design scenarios that could lead to better policies.

The workshops show participants how they can best address the complex issues of forest-tenure reform. Thy identify potential pitfalls, such as obstacles to the reform and to putting it into practice. This allows them to come up with strategies for mitigating negative factors.

“The first challenge is identifying the stakeholders, because you don’t know the people and their skills,” says Iliana Monterroso, coordinator of the study in Peru. “The process itself takes time, given the amount of discussions and brainstorming. And people have to listen to each other, so you don’t want people who are too dominating.”

It all begins with a workshop in which participants identify the social, technical, economic, political and environmental factors that affect the process of securing land tenure.

GCS-Tenure Project, Ambon  Seram island. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR

GCS-Tenure Project, Ambon
Seram island. Photo by Tuti Herawati/ CIFOR

The researchers enter this information into a computer program, and participants use the results to examine how those factors influence each other directly and indirectly. After eliminating factors that they cannot control, they choose about five that they agree are most important. They then envision different scenarios to explore how land-tenure policy could change, depending on those factors and the actions that they and their organizations take.

This sounds complex, but it is worthwhile, says CIFOR researcher Nining Liswanti. “Discussing these scenarios help people think about strategies for avoiding outcomes that would not be as positive.”

Focus on Maluku, Indonesia

In Indonesia, the workshops included community leaders, officials from government forest, land and water agencies, and representatives from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and universities.

The goal was to design scenarios for implementing forest-tenure reforms on the densely populated island of Maluku, where no reforms have taken place, and for improving the livelihoods of people who depend on forests in the district of Lampung, on the southern tip of Sumatra, where most people are migrants and reforms are already under way.

The participants outlined possible future scenarios that ranged from the ideal—in which all stakeholders would make some concessions—to others in which the government or private interests had more power.

Participants all considered the government’s willingness to support forest-tenure reform as crucial for positive scenarios. Enforcement of forest regulations, community participation in forest management and respect for local cultures were also mentioned frequently.

Forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by Douglas Sheil for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by Douglas Sheil for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Migration part of the picture in Uganda

In the western district of Kibaale, Uganda, immigration has swelled the number of people who depend on forest resources. This creates uncertainties about tenure and rights, which are further complicated by absentee landholders.

Masindi, also located in western Uganda, is marked by the destruction of forests for corporate farms and ranches, as well as the imminent possibility of oil production, which could harm forests, but which could also create better-paying jobs that might reduce people’s dependence on forests.

The Ugandan participants envisioned scenarios in which the government made and enforced clear rules for immigration and resettlement, budgeted for forest management and provided enough personnel to enforce regulations, while traditional community leaders received training in sustainable forest management.

Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon is the third location of the study. Photo: CIFOR

Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon is the third location of the study. Photo: CIFOR

PPA in Peru

In Peru, the analysis was done with government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations and leaders of communities scattered along rivers in the Amazonian regions of Loreto and Madre de Dios.

One persistent obstacle for the indigenous communities is that that they are not free to make decisions about forest use, because forests are considered a public good, governed by national laws as well as regional regulations. This makes building local and regional scenarios difficult, because they are still subject to the limitations imposed by national laws, according to researcher Alejandra Zamora, who is leading the application of the methodology in Peru.

Tensions also arise over overlapping land rights. Community leaders said they felt regional governments lacked the will to resolve tenure problems, while government officials said they were limited by budget constraints.

“These discussions help participants arrive at implementation processes that are more effective at improving tenure rights and resource access, as well as identifying who should be responsible for these actions,” says Monterroso. “They discover that there is not only one possible scenario, but rather various potential futures.”

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