Home  /About / Join  /Newsletter  /Meetings & Courses / Students / Links/ Members Log-in

Inicio  /Acerca de  /Hágase socio / Boletín / Reuniones & Cursos / Estudiantes  /Vínculos/ Sección para Miembros

News Notes by Tom Gill


Land Tenure Problems of Africa Reviewed

In an article “Rights, Trees and Tenure” (Arborvitae 18:11, 2001)is a good general description of land tenure problems facing forestry in Africa. Excerpts follow:

The early history of forestry in eastern and southern Africa was influenced by colonial land and forest policies, which resulted either in inhabitants being forced to move or in people’s rights being severely curtailed. Today, there are three broad land tenure categories – communal, private and state property – with cross-cutting natural resource management laws. Within tenure systems there is a complex mix of overlapping property rights and resource use regulations resulting in dynamic interplay between stakeholders. In general, local communities have been disadvantaged by the informal nature of their land rights, as national legislation gives the State ownership of valuable timber, even if this occurs in peoples’ home gardens. Outside commercial interests, often supported by the State, continue to plunder forest resources from community land.

The majority of the region’s rural people live on customary, communal or trust lands. In most cases, this is owned by the State, with de facto ownership by the occupying group (clan, village or family). Current use rights result from customary tenure systems and overarching national laws. Weak land rights have led to local communities being unable to protect their interests in forests against State and/or commercial interests. For many areas, only isolation has assisted conservation of natural resources.

A new trend is emerging to create alternative forms of tenure, which give legal recognition and support to customary tenure systems. Private property confers stronger rights over forest resources than under customary tenure, but with mixed results. Security of tenure, in these instances, is not enough, but needs to be supported by incentive measures and realistic market based pricing structures. Here, land-use rights on private lands remain unclear and there has been rapid degradation and deforestation.

Collaborative management agreements are evolving throughout the region in and around reserved natural forests. Despite widespread adoption of policies, legislation, and rhetoric, many examples are recent or experimental. This experience may be relevant to many countries where customary rights were expropriated without adequate compensation. Experience shows that restoration, allocation or upgrading of land rights usually creates more significant changes to power-relations between communities and management authorities than co-management agreements.

Tenure and clarity over rights of use and access are thus central to responsible community forest management. This implies not only the existence of boundaries, but also clear membership criteria and rights to include and exclude. Only in a few countries has forest management been linked to tenure policies and laws, yet this is crucial. Throughout the region land reform has been the biggest and most effective driver of change regarding community involvement in woodland and forest management.

posted 23 August 2002

Home  About  Join  Newsletter  Meetings & Courses  Students  Links Members Log-In

Inicio  Acerca de  Hágase socio  Boletín  Reuniones & Cursos  Estudiantes  Vínculos Sección para Miembros

News Notes by Tom Gill

Copyright © 2002-2009 by the International Society of Tropical Foresters.
For problems, questions or suggestions regarding this web site, please contact

Por cualquier asunto respecto a este sitio electrónico, contactar a

Contact us at/Contáctenos en: International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF), 5400 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814. Phone: 301 530 4514; Fax: 301 897 3690;

This page updated: 08 April 2009