In-depth reports spanning twelve years of data paint a clear picture of the state of forest tenure rights around the world

In the 2002 report, Who Owns the World’s Forests?, produced by Forest Trends, Andy White and Alejandra Martin wrote that in the 1980s and 1990s long-standing government claims of state ownership of forests had begun to dissolve as governments began to increasingly recognize 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.

The 2008 follow-up analysis, From Exclusion to Ownership?, measured whether the forest tenure transition previously reported had continued between 2002 and 2008, and assessed the implications 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 2012, RRI prepared a new legal analysis entitled What Rights? A Comparative Analysis of Developing Countries’ National Legislation on Community and Indigenous Peoples’ Forest Tenure Rights. This report studied tenure distribution data by clarifying what legal rights are associated with Indigenous Peoples’ and community forest tenure regimes in 27 of the world’s most forested countries (representing 2.2 billion people and 75 percent of the developing world’s forests). This analysis unpacked the collective rights to forest land and forest resources held by communities and codified in law.

In 2014, RRI published What Future for Reform? Progress and slowdown in forest tenure reform since 2002, which linked methodologies used in From Exclusion and What Rights? to provide an updated assessment of global forest tenure reform in 2013. The study expanded the set of countries analyzed under From Exclusion’s methodology to 52 countries, 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, in spite of the fact that many communities’ rights around the world still remain unrecognized. The study also found that new laws passed in the latter period were fewer in number, and recognized a less robust set of rights than in the previous period.

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 From Exclusion and What Future?, the study expanded upon RRI’s forest tenure analyses to include data on community land rights across all terrestrial ecosystems in 64 countries comprising 82 percent of global land area. The report found that only 18 percent of land area in the countries studied is formally owned by or designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and that most of this area is concentrated to a small number of countries—highlighting a gap between the estimated 65 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.

RRI continuously updates and refines the data from both methodologies in our online dataset, and adds new countries as the data becomes available. For the most current forest tenure information, please refer to our interactive Tenure Data Tool.

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.