Without statutory recognition for customary tenure rights, lands held by communities remain vulnerable to grabs by government and private industry, depriving the continent of the benefits to sustainable development and climate change mitigation that come with secure community land rights.
Since 2009, half of the countries in Central and West Africa have revised or created at least one new legal framework recognizing local land rights in their country, welcoming a new wave of reform across the region. While these reforms are far from complete, they represent the potential for change that could affect millions of lives.
RRI focuses its efforts in three countries that are on the cusp of potentially significant change. Read more about our efforts in Liberia, Kenya, and DRC below.
The stage is set for Liberia to become the West African leader in recognizing community land rights. A proposed Land Rights Act would formally recognize the land rights of local communities without requiring a lengthy, formal titling process. RRI is actively campaigning for the passage of the Land Rights Actthat safeguards customary land rights for all Liberians regardless of class, gender, or religion. If Liberia takes this stride forward, it could catalyze sweeping reforms in forest and land tenure in Central and West Africa.
Until the legal framework is finalized, communities remain vulnerable to land-grabbing in the name of industry and conservation. Historically, the government has welcomed large-scale land acquisitions by timber and palm oil companies, a method that has sparked conflict between local communities and major mining and palm oil companies. Communities have obtained title to over 30 percent of Liberia’s area, but much of these lands have been expropriated without compensation in the name of industry or conservation.
The Opportunity & How RRI Is Creating Change
Liberia’s leaders are on the verge of embracing a new vision for community-based forest management. The forest sectorhas begun to emphasize community-centered forest management and a zero-deforestation approach. Multiple initiatives from international donors, including Norway’s pledge to provide over US$100 million to help Liberia keep its forests standing, reflect a new agenda for the recognition of land and forest rights in Liberia. A new Land Authority Act establishes a governance body on land rights issues.
RRI is working to catalyze change. RRI is recognized for its ability to convene national-level dialogues in Liberia and provide critical analysis and support for strategic initiatives in the country. RRI Collaborators have become the leading civil society organizations working onforest and land rights in the country. In 2016, the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Working Group on Land Rights in Liberia, in collaboration with RRI, produced a statement on the importance of a pro-poor and pro-rights LRA for peace and stability.
The 2010 Constitution in Kenya launched a major reform of the country’s land and forest sectors, recognizing the collective nature of land ownership as well as community rights to customary and ancestral lands. On August 31, 2016, the government of Kenya passed key laws on community tenure rights, most notably the Community Land Act and the Forest Conservation and Management Act.
RRI began engagement in Kenya by focusing on the tenure security of forest-dwelling communities and on the restoration of community land titles to pastoralists. RRI has capitalized on the presence of RRI Partners in Kenya, including CIFOR, ICRAF, and FPP, to develop a strategy for future engagement that focuses on the implementation of the new laws and addresses the impacts of private investment on communities.
DRC holds Africa’s largest tract of tropical forest and is a critical country in the battle against climate change. DRC is home to the second largest forest in the world, and it is crucial that the rights of the communities who manage and protect these forests are respected. Mai Ndombe Province has been selected for a major REDD pilot project, but the area is already a hotspot for land conflict due to insecure tenure rights. The project could exacerbate conflict in the region if rights are not secured first.
DRC passed one of its most progressive laws on community forestry. With the passage of the decree on community forestry in 2014 and the accompanying rules and regulations in 2016, local communities now have the necessary legal framework to obtain Local Community Forest Concessions of up to 50,000 hectares. This marks a major milestone in the recognition of customary forest rights in DRC. However,in spite of this progressive framework for securing customary tenure rights, the law on Indigenous Peoples has not been adopted, and the land reform process has been stalled due to political instability.
The Opportunity & How RRI Is Creating Change
RRI helped establish the civil society platform on land tenure in DRC, CACO (Cadre de Concertation), and was the first to mobilize local civil society, Indigenous Peoples, peasants, and women’s networks around land tenure reform. CACO has gained widespread recognition for its convening power and is focused on securing community land rights across the country. REDD projects in the country present both a threat to community rights and an opportunity to secure them; RRI and CACO are working together to secure collective tenure rights and women’s tenure rights in the implementation of these projects.
RRI is advocating for an inclusive land reform process. RRI seeks to support the creation of a land policy and land law recognizing the rights of local communities, Indigenous Peoples, and women; and to ensure that international initiatives safeguard free, prior, and informed consent and participatory mapping.
Africa Affiliated Networks
- Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD)
- Centre d’Appui à la Gestion Durable des Forêts Tropicales (CAGDFT)
- Coalition des Femmes Leaders pour l’Environnement et le Développement Durable (CFLEDD)
- Confédération Nationale des Producteurs Agricoles du Congo (CONAPAC)
- Conseil national de concertation et de coopération des ruraux (CNCR)
- Conseil pour la Défense Environnementale par la Légalité et Traçabilité (CODELT)
- Forest Indigenous Peoples’ Network (FIPN)
- Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI)
- Green Advocates International (GAI)
- Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners (ILEPA)
- Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR)
- Katiba Institute
- Ligue Nationale des Associations Autochtones Pygmées du Congo (LINAPYCO)
- National Alliance of Community Forest Associations (NACOFA)
- Natural Resources Women’s Platform (NRWP)
- Réseau Ressources Naturelles (RRN)
- Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF)
- Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDev)
- Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)