Governance of Tenure

Forest Tenure - Resources

Forests are a source of livelihood for millions of rural families that collect timber, NWFPs, firewood, fodder, food, medicinal plants, and water for meeting subsistence needs (and offsetting the need for cash), or for sale and generation of income. It is estimated that over 2.4 billion people worldwide depend on forest goods and services for the direct provision of food, wood fuel, building materials, medicines, employment, and cash income. Most rural families collect these forest resources informally, with no legal recognition or security of rights.

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Although the majority of the worlds’ forests remain under public ownership and state control, especially in developing countries, a diversification of forest tenure arrangements is taking place worldwide. Depending on the context, these approaches have included: 

  • De-centralization of governance of forests from central to district and local level governments
  • Recognition and formalization of indigenous and local community claims to land and forests such as in Latin America
  • The increasing adoption of smallholder and community-based forestry with associated changes in rights to access and use of forest resources
  • Introduction of the co-management of forests between government and local communities. Some countries have chosen to privatize national forest assets, such as in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, or de-collectivize forests such as in former Soviet republics, China and Vietnam.
  • How have these reforms served the users of these forests, and what impact has it had in terms of improved forest governance? 

What lessons can we draw from these experiences to improve forest governance in other countries? 
How can the internationally agreed guidelines on tenure of land, forest and fisheries inform efforts to improve governance of forests and ensure equity?

FAO’s work has attempted to respond to these questions, and to help countries move towards forest tenure arrangements that improve governance, recognize customary rights, and address issues of equity.