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Tenure and Land Use

A complicated array of land ownership and resource use regimes apply across the seven countries, and insecure land tenure and conflicts are long-standing issues. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that few advances in tenure and land use were evident in 2011. Most countries lack a coordinated national land policy or consolidated land law to guide how they will address the issues, but at least in Ecuador there was some positive movement in terms of the land tenure law being reviewed and a bill being developed. In Liberia, the Land Commission also made some progress in 2011 and catalogued a growing number of disputes, but at the same time the government there undermined it by pressing ahead with new major land use concessions. Land disputes also continue unabated in Ghana, where there has been little sign of renewed impetus in the land review process.

In the four African countries and Peru, the state exercises de facto ownership of forests and controls resource usage. It has tended to be reluctant to recognise customary and traditional forest rights and resisted relinquishing control over forest resources, despite legal frameworks providing for this potential. A major advance in 2011 was that the new forest law in Peru recognises indigenous peoples' forest rights, but it is too early to judge its impact until it is implemented in regulations and exercised in practice. The lesson from Cameroon is that since the 1994 forest law and accompanying decree provided for community forests to be established, such initiatives have struggled to make a real impact due to opaque, complex, legalistic and expensive administrative processes. Similarly, although the 2009 Community Rights Law (CRL) in Liberia laid the foundation for customary land tenure even where communities do not hold official title, this has yet to happen in practice. On the contrary, in the absence of programmes to reorient the forestry authority towards empowering communities, there are worrying signs that provisions in the CRL are being abused. In DRC as well, there is little consistency and understanding in practice of the community rights set out in the Forest Code, nor are these rights supported by micro-zoning on land uses.

The situation of forest land tenure and resource use is markedly different in Ecuador and Guatemala, where indigenous peoples, rural communities and private individuals own substantial areas of forested land. In this context, the state plays an oversight role of resource management rather than directly controlling uses. There are good examples of community forest management in these countries, nonetheless insecure titles and rights are a common problem here as well that provide opportunities to exploit the poor and contribute to forest destruction.

Publishing maps with clear land title and forest use rights have the potential to improve accountability in all of the countries, but they are often not sufficiently detailed or comprehensive. Nonetheless, there have been some encouraging trends that continued to develop in 2011, including commencement of a mapping project in Ghana, NGO mapping of community rights in Cameroon, coordination between ministries in Ecuador to develop maps, and further releases of maps on forest resource use rights granted in Peru.

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