Data on ownership of the world’s forests
Findings from RRI assessments of statutory forest tenure
Tracking the World Forest Tenure Transition
In the 2002 report Andy White and Alejandra Martin wrote that in the course of recent decades, long-standing government claims to owning forests had begun to dissolve in favor of greater 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.
From Exclusion to Ownership? measures whether the forest tenure transition continued between 2002 and 2008, and assesses the implications of statutory forest tenure change. The report finds that, between 2002 and 2008, the area of forest said to be owned by governments declined, and there were corresponding increases in the area of forests owned or designated for use by communities and indigenous peoples.
The Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment of 2009 introduced data on 15 new countries and increased the area covered by approximately 500 MHa.
Key Research Findings
- The area of public forest land administered by government decreased from 2.6 billion hectares (76% of the global forest estate) to 2.3 billion hectares (66%).
- The area of forest designated for use by communities and indigenous groups increased from 70 million hectares (2% of the global forest estate) to 110 million hectares (3%).
- The area of privately owned community and indigenous forest land increased from 369 million hectares (11% of the global forest estate) to 466 million hectares (13%).
- The area of forest land owned by individuals and firms increased from 403 million hectares (12% of the global forest estate) to 641 million hectares (18%).
We invite readers to send feedback on the accuracy, relevance and comprehensiveness of the data presented in From Exclusion to Ownership by contacting Lucas Bailey (email@example.com).
Understanding the Numbers – Statutory versus Customary Tenure Systems
The quantitative information monitored here is government data on formal and legal (statutory) tenure. Statutory tenure often overlaps and competes with systems of pre-existing, locally-determined property rights, broadly labeled as customary tenure. These two systems of governance and tenure offer two fundamentally different views of the deceptively simple question: Who owns the world’s forests? From the point of view of the many local communities who operate under customary tenure systems, those who own the forests are those who live in and near the forests, not the government. From the state’s perspective in many countries, when it comes to forest ownership the government controls much of the land, though in some of these countries the government has transferred ownership and access rights to a portion of the forests to some communities, individuals and firms.
This information on forest tenure focuses mostly on the second (statutory tenure) perspective. This is not because it is the most important, but because the official view shapes policy and its implementation, because with official numbers it is possible to measure recent change, and because there are profound consequences related to this change.