Report charts paths through social forestry tenure minefield

Fit-for-purpose approaches to tenure security can boost social forestry in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asian countries must improve tenure rights for people who depend on forests if they are to achieve their goals on social forestry, a model of resource management through which communities control and benefit from local forests. 

This is among the findings of a report published today by RECOFTC, Tenure and social forestry in ASEAN Member States. The report warns that tenure insecurity is one of the main barriers to achieving the social forestry commitments and climate goals of Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The report also warns that conflict over tenure is increasing, making solutions ever more urgent.

“Rapid economic growth in the ASEAN region has reduced poverty but has also increased inequality and left marginalized forest communities even more vulnerable,” says RECOFTC Executive Director David Ganz. “This growth has also put more pressure on governments to expand development, which strains tenure arrangements and changes dynamics within traditional communities. Flexible, adaptable and multifunctional solutions to tenure issues are needed to cope with the challenges that lie ahead.”

Tenure arrangements in the region are complex and often contentious. Government officials, civil society, donors and rural communities recognize the need to increase tenure security but they often have a limited understanding of how to do it. 

Social forestry has an important role to play in sustainable development and action to address climate change. Secure tenure is key. - David Ganz

The report provides an overview of customary and statutory tenure arrangements in ASEAN countries and identifies the challenges and opportunities that these arrangements present. 

The report highlights the potential of practical approaches countries can use to achieve “enough security for social forestry to flourish while in the long term aiming for a fair and secure tenure system for all”. The report stresses, however, that there is no single solution because each ASEAN Member State contains a diversity of customary tenure systems and governments take a different approach to tenure arrangements for forests. 

Social forestry is an approach that offers a means for countries to address social, economic and environmental challenges by allowing marginalized communities to manage local forests. Recognizing this, ASEAN Member States have set goals for increasing social forestry, also known as community forestry or village forestry.

But while millions of people in Southeast Asia depend on forests for their livelihoods, most still lack clear and secure rights to do so. And even when communities have some formal recognition of their right to use, manage and benefit from forests, they can feel insecure as those forests come under increasing pressure.

Local communities harvest coffee in Indonesia
A farmer from Tambagguruyung Village Forest Community Institution (LMDH Tambagguruyung), Indonesia is taking out moss and unwanted bud from his coffee plants. He plants coffee on his 2 hectares of land in the forest.

“To prosper, people who depend on forests must be able to use, manage and benefit from forests,” says Ganz. “They must also be secure in the knowledge that they will be able to carry on doing so for the foreseeable future. But across Southeast Asia these rights are insecure or absent. The report helps to untangle these issues and provide guidance on ways forward. Social forestry has an important role to play in sustainable development and action to address climate change. Secure tenure is key.”

RECOFTC commissioned the report with the support of the ASEAN–Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC) initiative. The ASFCC documented good practices that enhance tenure, rights and the benefits of social forestry. The need for this information is identified as a strategic thrust of ASEAN Cooperation in Forestry 2016–2025.

RECOFTC will share the findings at the 3rd Mekong Regional Land Forum, taking place online from 26 to 27 May 2021.


RECOFTC’s work is made possible with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).