Stronger rights, protected forests, better livelihoods

The Rights and Resources Initiative is a global coalition of organizations encouraging the reform of policies that affect forestland tenure and livelihoods. Its new goal is to increase the amount of land controlled by indigenous people by 100 million hectares. The World Agroforestry Centre will play an important part in achieving that goal, say Jenna di Paolo and  Robert Finlayson


Forests and drylands in developing countries constitute almost 40% of the Earth’s land surface (almost 6 billion hectares) and house over 40% of the planet’s population. These more than 3 billion people are among the world’s poorest and most ignored by mainstream society. Their customary land and resource rights are typically unrecognized by national legal systems. This leads to land grabbing, deforestation and degradation of ecosystems: these forests continue to be cleared at a rate of around 13 million hectares a year. But they are the key to slowing the rate of climate change because they store about 67% of the world’s carbon.

forest, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Forests in Kalimantan, Indonesia

However, rapidly rising global demand for agricultural land, bio-energy, minerals, water and other natural resources, along with speculative investment, is driving an unprecedented rush for rural land and resources. Tens of trillions of US dollars are planned to be invested in infrastructure and mining projects in developing countries over the next several decades. This vastly outstrips investment in forest conservation and climate-change mitigation and adaptation measures. It represents a major threat to the remaining tropical forests.

But there has also been significant progress in recent decades in recognizing local people’s land rights, addressing illegal logging and trade, and transforming forestry and agricultural supply chains to adhere to social and environmental standards. The challenge now is to expand these successes throughout the developing world.

To help make this happen, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) was formally established in 2005 by nine organizations. In 2013, 14 development and research organizations, including the World Agroforestry Centre, were involved. RRI is designed to support local communities’ and indigenous peoples’ struggles against poverty and being sidelined by mainstream elites. It does this by encouraging reforms to policies, markets and legal regimes so that local and indigenous people can secure their rights to own, control and benefit from natural resources, especially land and forests.

Each of the partner organizations plays an important part in helping to change things for the better for the world’s poor. They also engage with a wide group of about 140 collaborators who support RRI’s activities in close to 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

RRI is now expanding its already successful operations to meet the opportunity for making a wider impact. It will mobilize greater global action to confront land and resource grabbing; and to recognize and strengthen customary rights to rural lands.

The main goal is to achieve, by 2017, an increase of 100 million hectares of forest owned or administered by indigenous peoples and other local communities, bringing up the total of such forest area in developing countries to 35% of their total forest estate. This is an increase of 8% from the 2008 baseline of 27%.

The World Agroforestry Centre, as a founding partner, will contribute significantly to achieving these goals. In close liaison with our collaborating organizations—governmental, non-governmental and private—we will continue to produce groundbreaking research into the specific causes of conflict over land rights and methods to resolve it.

In particular, we will continue to develop our negotiation support toolbox, which is a suite of methods or ‘tools’ that we have created over the last decade. The tools are designed to help local communities, governments and the private sector work together to unravel land rights and manage landscapes for the benefit of all. Tools include participatory methods to analyze land tenure issues, measure carbon stock, water flows in a watershed, assess biodiversity, identify the best agroforestry system for a landscape and create low-emissions development plans.

We will also continue our important work with spatial analysis, using satellite imagery and on-the-ground research to identify changes to land cover. We will hold policy briefings with governments in countries in which we work to discuss the results of our research into land tenure issues and present suggestions for improvements to policies. And we will continue to work with indigenous people’s organizations to provide them with scientific ecological knowledge as they share with us local ecological knowledge.

In this manner, we expect that the Centre and the other 13 partners will be able to achieve the goal set through RRI and begin to see a turning point in the relationship between forests, people and development.


Edited by Robert Finlayson



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This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry




Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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