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.
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