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The SDG-tenure nexus in forest landscapes: applying a rights-based approach

written by Lukas Giessen, Pia Katila and Maria Schlossmacher

As a chartered member of the Global Landscape Forum (GLF), EFI Bonn was delighted to host a jointly organized event together with our long-term partners and friends from IUFRO-WFSE, FAO, and Luke at the GLF in Bonn, Sunday 23 June 2019.

Through an introductory presentation by Pia Katila (IUFRO-WFSE, Luke) followed by a panel discussion, several questions were discussed: How are tenure and rights included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?  What is the evidence on the links between rights/tenure and sustainable landscapes? Why has the progress on strengthening tenure rights of local communities been so low? And what are the most promising approaches to strengthening the link?

The SDGs call for equal access and rights to land and other productive resources. Pia Katila noted that rural land rights are implicitly included in three SDGs: SDG 1 on poverty, SDG 2, on hunger and SDG 5, on gender. However, tenure and rights are instrumental for moving forward with several other SDGs as well, such as e.g. SDG 8 on employment and economic growth.  They are also crucial for SDG 10 to reduce inequality within and among countries, SDG 14 to conserve and sustainably use coastal areas and mangrove forests and SDG 15 on protection and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems such as forests.

In the SDGs, rights are not connected to land and resource governance issues such as participation and empowerment, accountable and just institutions and processes, although, these are addressed in other SDGs, especially SDG5 on gender, SDG10 on inequality, and SDG16 on peace, justice and institutions. But the progress made in these SDGs would also need to encompass the institutions and processes affecting land tenure and the processes for clarifying and formalizing rights to land and resources.

Lukas Giessen (EFI) moderated the discussion. Photo credit: Maria Schlossmacher

Lukas Giessen, Principal Scientist onForest Governance at EFI Bonn, moderated the panel discussion and therefore introducing our panelists: We were happy welcoming Nonette, Royo, from the Tenure Facility, Safia Aggarwal from FAO, Connie McDermott, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxfordand Anne Larson, CIFOR, as parts of the panel, that focused on the evidence on the links between rights/tenure and sustainable landscapes and its challenges as well as the most promising approaches to move forward. For decades, efforts to establish, clarify and strengthen rights to land and resources have been central to improving rural livelihoods and advancing sustainable use of natural resources. However, progress has been slow and livelihood and resource impacts variable. The discussion concluded with the following main messages:

  • It is well known that clear and strong rights to land and resources are important (but not sufficient) preconditions for improving forests, local livelihoods, or contributing to other SDGs. This is very evident from global reviews that point to highly variable results.
  • Securing indigenous community rights is essential for self-determination. Whether this improves resource management/ sustainability or livelihoods – for both men and women – depends on other factors such as: the strength and breadth of the rights to forest lands and resources, recognition and protection of these rights by the State, the extent and degree of external pressures, community governance and collective action, enabling regulatory framework, and access to markets, finance, capacity building and technologies.
  • In practice, strengthened community rights to forests or customary rights recognition are rarely accompanied by security of tenure or various forms of support given to other sectors (agriculture) and to other actors (large industry).
  • Successful cases show that strong rights to communities can improve forests and livelihoods, but only when these are accompanied by multi-dimensional support to communities.
  • SDGs and other initiatives emphasize the ‘rule of law’, but State laws governing high value resources such as timber often favour large-scale industry and international trade while conservation laws continue to restrict local forest access and control. Unless local resource tenure and use rights are strengthened, increased law enforcement will worsen existing inequalities. ‘Safeguards’ are not enough to counter the current forms of resource exploitation and conservation that favour formalization, standardization and legalization over local systems of governing resource access.
  • FAO is working with countries to advocate for and strengthen policies and programs for more comprehensive support to communities, aligning them with internationally endorsed principles on tenure and human rights, and building on recent reviews and lessons learned. It complements work of the Tenure Facility (an independent foundation) that provides grants and technical support directly to Indigenous Peoples and local communities for land rights/tenure recognition through collective titles.

Once again, we would like to thank all panellists for sharing their views and all guests who joined us!

Photo credit: Jose Bolaños

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