Launch of "Securing Forest Tenure Rights for Rural Development: An Analytical Framework”

During the 2019 World Bank Conference for Land and Poverty, an Analytical Framework for the Securing Forest Tenure Rights for Rural Development initiative was launched, a first product of a longer partnership between World Bank and Global Land Alliance, funded by the World Bank's Program on Forests (PROFOR). 

The Analytical Framework is a product of a World Bank initiative on Securing Forest Tenure Rights for Rural Development, which seeks to enhance the World Bank’s capacity and effectiveness when dealing with land rights issues in forest areas. The initiative is core to Participation and Rights,” one of the three cross-cutting themes of the Bank’s Forest Action Plan 2016–2020 (World Bank Group 2016). The overall objective of the initiative is to provide information and guidance—to client countries, indigenous peoples and local communities, World Bank managers and staff, and other donors—to strengthen forest tenure security in forest landscapes as a foundation for rural development.

The scope of this work is defined by the two key dimensions: forest landscapes and community-based tenure. Although community tenure extends across many ecosystem types, the focus of this initiative is on forest areas. Similarly, among the various forms of tenure that are present and appropriate to forest lands in different countries, the focus of this work is on community-based tenure; that is, arrangements in which the overall tenure right is held collectively, often with rights derived from custom and with governance through customary institutions. In keeping with Shifts in tenure paradigms and international frameworks towards recognition and respect for the full range of existing tenure rights, the prevalence of community-based tenure in forest areas calls for increased knowledge and concerted action to ensure that this widespread tenure form is recognized and protected.

The Analytical Framework both reflects and aims to contribute to the growing international consensus on land rights, including the 2012 Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), UNDRIP, and ILO 169 and their  importance  for global development. This  framework  also  builds  on a wide range of existing work on land and forest governance undertaken by the World Bank and such partners as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the World Resources Institute (WRI). The framework is meant to provide a solid foundation for the development of tools to assess forest tenure security strengths and gaps, as well as links with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This framework consolidates a wide range of experience and evidence on both the relevance of community forest tenure security to rural development goals and the key elements  that need to be in place  for community forest tenure to be effectively secured. The Key elements encompass those that are important for achieving development goals and those that support the overall functioning of the tenure security system. The primary purpose of having distilled these elements is to provide a basis for the development of practical tools to understand and assess community forest tenure security in specific national contexts. By consolidating and presenting these elements together in a concise framework, this work can help establish  a shared set of concepts and common language on community-based tenure security.


Three important factors lead this work to focus on community-based tenure in particular:

  • Community-based tenure is widespread in forest landscapes within lower- and middle- income countries. A  substantial  proportion  of area in forest landscapes is held collectively, often with rights derived from custom and governance through customary institutions. Community-based tenure systems are estimated broadly to involve approximately at least 2 billion people across Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Alden Wily 2011) and 5 to 3 billion people globally (Alden Wily 2018). A study focusing on the extent of indigenous (rather than indigenous and community) lands concludes that indigenous peoples have rights to and/or de facto manage over 25 percent of the world’s land surface (Garnett et al. 2018).

  • Community-based tenure often lacks sufficient legal recognition and/or support. Historically, many governments asserted legal ownership over forests and other lands that were traditionally held by indigenous peoples and local communities. Such assertions can reflect a desire by government to  control  forest  revenues;  lack  of  awareness   of customary tenure systems and/or a view of customary, collective management as  backward  or inefficient (Larson and Springer 2016). Still, many indigenous peoples and local communities have maintained attachments to and governance systems over ancestral lands, resulting in overlapping systems of statutory tenure and customary, community-based tenure.

  • Community-based tenure is increasingly adopted in national and international frameworks that countries are seeking  to    Over  time, several factors have converged to prompt a shift in the legal ownership and control of forest lands back to local communities and indigenous peoples under community-based tenure arrangements. Factors promoting this shift include the mobilization of social justice  movements  for the recognition of customary land rights; the experience and broader awareness of negative forest and poverty outcomes under state control; and increasing knowledge and understanding of collective tenure and governance systems.

As a result of these shifts, significant reforms have been introduced in legal frameworks while the area  of land formally held by indigenous peoples and local communities under collective tenure has increased. A 2018 study found that 73 of 100 countries surveyed had adopted legislation allowing for the formal recognition of community-based land rights (Alden Wily 2018). The land area held by indigenous peoples and local communities under statutory laws was estimated at  18 percent of the world’s land in 2015 (RRI 2015). The comparable figure for forest lands held by indigenous peoples and local communities under statutory laws is 15.5 percent of the world’s forests (RRI 2014).


As countries around the world renew their commitments to achieving sustainable development goals, it is timely to review and reconsider how secure community-based forest rights contribute to achieving them. This report starts with a review of the relevance of secure, community- based forest tenure to a range of SDGs as articulated  in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UNGA 2015), including: poverty reduction, food security, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, gender equality, forest sustainability, biodiversity conservation, and combating climate change.

The analysis presents findings distilled from a qualitative literature review of approximately 60 studies on the links between tenure security and these development goals, with a focus on community- based tenure. Where available, the analysis gives particular attention to recent systematic and comprehensive global and regional reviews that themselves synthesize large bodies of evidence and/or provide insights into the strength of the available evidence. This growing body of empirical research and analysis offers compelling insights into the types of linkages between secure community- based tenure and development goals that can be explored in depth in specific national contexts. Evidence  from   wider   international   experience  can also help open dialogues with national policy makers and development partners on the relevance  of community-based forest tenure security to their rural development  goals.  It  is  pertinent  to  note  that even with a comprehensive approach, tenure security may be a necessary though not sufficient condition  for  the  realization  of  some   economic and environmental goals, as these will also depend on additional factors—such as links to markets for poverty reduction and economic growth.

The report presents a set of nine “key elements” for secure community-based forest tenure that are best practices, distilled from multiple sources. They provide a framework for understanding community-based forest tenure security in specific national contexts and a basis for identifying needs and actions for increased support. The elements also provide a basis for the further development of participatory assessment tools to be applied at country level.

The nine key elements are as follows:


Legal frameworks for recognition of community-based forest tenure are a fundamental anchor for tenure security and are widely reflected in existing standards and guidelines.


Beyond the enactment of laws, tenure security requires that laws are implemented through the recognition of legal rights over specific areas of forest land to specific local or indigenous communities.


Even where tenure rights to forests are legally recognized, management and withdrawal rights are often subject  to  further  regulation,  such as requirements for land use planning, forest management planning, and permits for commercial use of resources. Regulations play an important role in ensuring that forest use is compatible with other broader environmental sustainability goals. However, regulations frequently extend beyond these goals and tend to be onerous to land owners.


Effective support from government agencies responsible for recognizing and protecting community-based tenure rights is essential to many  of the key elements included in this framework. Government capacities relate to dimensions of  several of the other key elements detailed here—such as titling, enforcement of rights, and administration  of land information.


Empowered, inclusive, and effective community-level governance is a critical element of tenure security. Community institutions must possess autonomy to make locally appropriate decisions about the use of those natural resources that are owned collectively as commons, including management rules and sanctions, and benefit-sharing arrangements. Locally appropriate decision making  also  requires  the involvement of all members of the community, to avoid elite capture and negative impacts on vulnerable groups, and to engage all resource users in defining resource management rules and monitoring systems.


Systems for recording indigenous and community forest rights contribute to tenure security by preventing allocation of land for multiple, conflicting purposes. Documentation of rights also helps defends those rights against challenges. Forest tenure information systems should allow information on forest rights to be recorded, managed, updated, and communicated on an ongoing basis.


Once tenure rights are recognized and recorded, they will only be secure if they are enforced. Tenure rights often continue to be challenged, for example through encroachment (for farming, drug cultivation, and other purposes), illegal extraction of timber and other natural resources, and violence against local defenders of land rights. This element considers the full range of enforcement activities from prevention to detection to prosecution.


Indigenous peoples and local communities have multiple interests in and uses for forest and agricultural landscapes. Concessions to government and private interests, including various types of industry investment, have resulted in the historical expropriation of community land and/or severe restrictions on resource use, and continue to generate competing pressures on lands and resources. This element addresses the need for high standards regarding respect for existing rights—without which, risks will increase to displace customary and informal rights-holders.


Conflicts and disputes over tenure frequently arise between communities and investors or government as well as within and across communities. Tenure security requires that, where forest tenure rights are challenged or in conflict, mechanisms are in place to resolve conflicts and settle disputes.

The report concludes by arguing that achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require increased attention to the land rights of forest peoples worldwide who govern their lands and resources through customary, collective tenure. Increasing the security of community-based forest tenure offers significant opportunities. Secure land tenure establishes a critical enabling condition for the achievement of goals on poverty reduction, food security, gender equality, human rights, forest sustainability, biodiversity conservation, and climate change.

We hope with this framework to help secure community tenure as a foundation for sustainable development in forest areas around the world. Read the entire report here:

Read the Report

Christen Corcoran