In the 2002 report, Who Owns the World’s Forests?, produced by Forest Trends, Andy White and Alejandra Martin wrote that long-standing government claims of state ownership of forests had begun to dissolve in the 1980s and 1990s as governments increasingly recognized areas under community control and/or ownership. The transition away from wholesale government statutory ownership and control of the world’s forests continued over subsequent years, prompting further analysis.

Since then, RRI has continued tracking changes in statutory forest tenure, and has regularly updated and expanded our databases to track communities’ rights to land and freshwater, as well as women’s specific rights to community resources.

Fifteen Years of Forest Tenure Data

The 2008 report, From Exclusion to Ownership?, measured whether the forest tenure transition previously reported had continued between 2002 and 2008, and assessed the implications of changes in statutory forest tenure. The report found that between 2002 and 2008, the area of forest land under legal government administration declined. The report also identified corresponding increases in the area of forests owned or designated for use by Indigenous Peoples or local communities.

In 2014, RRI published What Future for Reform? Progress and slowdown in forest tenure reform since 2002, which used both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to provide an updated assessment of global forest tenure reform in 2013. The study expanded the set of countries analyzed to 52, representing nearly 90 percent of the world’s forests. The study found that while the global forest tenure transition had continued since 2008, the new area recognized under community control and ownership was substantially less than in the period from 2002 to 2008, suggesting a “slowdown” in the recognition of communities’ rights. The study also found that new laws passed in the latter period were fewer in number and recognized a less robust set of rights, and emphasized that many communities’ rights around the world remained unrecognized.

The most recent update in this series is At a Crossroads: Consequential Trends in Recognition of Community-based Forest Tenure From 2002-2017, published in 2018. This analysis found that the pace of legal recognition of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as forest owners has generally remained slow since 2008, despite a very slight uptick since the publication of What Future. Notwithstanding the limited progress overall, emerging evidence and opportunities provide reason for hope: across the 41 complete case countries, two-thirds of the advancement in community tenure between 2013-2017 relate to increases in community forest ownership, with over 90 percent of this progress stemming from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

RRI’s Forest Tenure Database currently measures the distribution of forest tenure in 58 countries, covering 92 percent of the world’s forests.

Land Tenure Database

In 2015, RRI released Who Owns the World’s Land? A global baseline of formally recognized indigenous and community lands, the first report to quantify the global land area statutorily recognized by national governments as owned by or designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Applying the methodology used in RRI’s forest tenure analyses, the study assessed the status of community land rights across all terrestrial ecosystems in 64 countries comprising 82 percent of global land area. The report found that only 10 percent of global land area is legally recognized as community-owned, with an additional 8 percent designated for their use. Most of this area is concentrated in a small number of countries—highlighting a gap between the over 50 percent of land held customarily worldwide, and the area where those rights are recognized by governments. Furthermore, the analysis found that less than half of the countries studied have established legal frameworks that would recognize Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ full ownership rights to their lands.

Bundle of Rights (“Depth of Rights”) Database

This qualitative database reflects RRI’s in-depth legal analysis of the bundle of rights (Access, Withdrawal of timber and non-timber forest products, Management, Exclusion, Due Process and Compensation, Duration, and Alienation) held by Indigenous Peoples and local communities under 80 community-based tenure regimes legally recognized within 30 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that contain approximately 78 percent of LMIC forests around the world. It includes data from 2012 (What Rights?), 2013 (What Future for Reform?), and most recently underpinned analysis in Power and Potential in 2016.

Gender Justice Database

RRI’s Gender Justice Database (featured in the 2016 report Power and Potential) captures qualitative data on indigenous and community women’s legally recognized tenure rights to community forests across the same 30 low- and middle-income countries for which data on the bundle of communities’ rights to forests was also collected in 2016. Although gender norms and women’s forest tenure security vary widely across community-based tenure systems, this analysis concludes that national laws and regulations on the rights of indigenous and rural women to inheritance, community membership, community-level governance, and community-level dispute resolution are consistently unjust, falling far below the requirements of international law and related standards.

We invite readers to send feedback on the accuracy, relevance, and comprehensiveness of the data presented in RRI’s reports and website by contacting cginsburg@rightsandresources.org.