RRI’s Forest Tenure Database tracks and classifies the forest area of 58 countries covering nearly 92 percent of the world’s forests—including the 30 most forested countries in the world—according to four tenure categories: owned by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, government administered, and privately owned by individuals and firms.

As of 2017, Indigenous Peoples and local communities had legally recognized rights to 15.3 percent of the world’s forests, a 40 percent increase from 2002. Over 98 percent of this progress occurred in developing countries: communities now have legal rights to 28 percent of the developing world’s forests in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

  • Government administered
  • Designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities
  • Owned by Indigenous Peoples and local communities
  • Privately owned by individuals and firms

Lands or forests under this category are legally claimed as exclusively belonging to the state. Community-based rights to access and/or withdrawal of natural resources may be recognized. Concessions on state-owned lands are included here.

National law recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ rights to access and withdrawal, as well as to participate in the management of lands/forests or to exclude outsiders. Other tenure rights may also be recognized, but the bundle of legally recognized rights held by communities does not amount to “ownership.”

Lands or forests are owned by Indigenous Peoples and local communities where their rights of access, withdrawal, management, exclusion, and due process and compensation are legally recognized for an unlimited duration. Alienation rights (whether through sale, lease, or use as collateral) are not required for communities to be classified as land or forest owners under this framework.

Individuals and firms are considered to privately own land/forestland when they legally hold the full bundle of rights (access, withdrawal, management, exclusion, and due process and compensation) for an unlimited duration, as well as the right to sell their land/forestland.

As a complement to this spatial data, detailed qualitative data on the bundle of forest tenure rights legally held by Indigenous Peoples and local communities—such as their specific rights to withdraw timber and non-timber forest products for subsistence and commercial purposes—is maintained for 80 community-based tenure regimes recognized within 30 low- and middle-income countries covered by RRI’s Forest Tenure Database.

To improve global data on the status of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ land rights, RRI applies the same quantitative methodology to track the area legally owned by and designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities across all terrestrial ecosystems in 64 countries covering 82 percent of global land area. As of 2015, Indigenous Peoples and local communities legally owned 10 percent of the world’s land, with 8 percent of the world’s land designated for their use. This represents a significant gap in recognition, given that communities customarily hold and use more than half the world’s land.

RRI is currently conducting a 5-year update of Who Owns the World’s Land. Do you have information on the status of community tenure from 2015-2019? 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.