A report by Frank Mintah


The theme for the conference was: “Governing land for the future – what (r)evolutions do we need?”. With increasing pressure on natural resources and patterns of dispossession, inequality, and resource depletion in the global south, the aim of the conference was to question whether the evolution of existing governance approaches was necessary or rather, a revolution of land governance thinking. While looking into the future of governance arrangements for natural resources, the conference took a stock of the past and sought to generate discussions around the questions: what worked and what has not worked in terms of land (and natural resources) governance for equity and sustainability? what have been the impacts of land grabbing and land-based investments on livelihoods and natural resources like forests? What governance approaches can be beneficial for livelihood improvement and sustainability of natural resources?

Day 1 in summary

Following the acceptance of my abstract, I made a presentation of the first article (work in progress), at the Ph.D. student’s session of the Conference. The research has the title: “Governance of forest use in the tropics and its impacts on the forest persistence and re-emergence. An archetype approach”. This opened a discussion about forest governance led by the assigned discussants for my research, Dr. Joanny Belair (Utrecht University) and Dr. Gemma van der Haar (Wageningen University). Among the critical comments that were made were: to incorporate power analysis (of the various actors) and its impacts on the forest; account for other factors that can potentially threaten the sustainability of forests; as well as issues related to forest tenure and user rights.

(summary of research available on the Land portal: https://landportal.org/blog-post/2022/07/governance-forests-and-its-impact-persistence-and-re-emergence-forest-patches)

I also got connected to Maria Clara (Tropenbos, Columbia) who has been working on forest governance within the Amazonia region. My interaction with her was useful in identifying on-going forest governance programs, like “Forests for a just future” by the Green Livelihoods Alliance (Gaia AmazonasIUCN NLMilieudefensieNTFP-EPSDI, and Tropenbos International) whose aim on governing tropical forests in a sustainable and inclusive way is aligned with my research and hence, can be relevant for knowledge sharing or collaboration (working in Cameroon as well).

(Also read further here: https://www.tropenbos.org/projects/forests+for+a+just+future+-+green+livelihoods+alliance+) She also shared some insights into strategies for engaging forest communities, for example with the use of games, and some publications by the Tropenbos on indigenous forest rights and community forest management. These will be useful for my research and the Sustain-forest field data collection.

Day 2 in summary

The discussions in the sessions I attended were centered on responsible land and natural resource governance which featured issues such as equitable access to land and forests, protection of tenure rights, transparency, and participatory decision-making. Key highlights were the application of innovative land governance tools, importantly, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) developed by the FAO, the “fit-for-purpose” approach to land administration, the 5Rs of natural resource governance, and the environmental justice framework.

The VGGT guideline is useful for the purpose of recognizing and securing the tenure rights of forest-dependent people which is fundamental to sustainable forest management and securing livelihoods in forest communities. In several cases, for example in Rwanda, the fit-for-purpose approach had been used to promote participatory and inclusive means of registration of collective land use and land rights that focused on providing security of tenure for users. Principles of these frameworks could be adapted in my research as related to the fourth objective where I undertake governance assessment and make implications for international forestry norms. It was interesting to note the use of justice frameworks such as the ‘5Rs’ (interrelated ethical principles – Recognition, Restitution, Redistribution, Regeneration, and Representation) on one hand, and the 3 principles of environmental justice (Recognition, Participation and Distributive justice) on the other hand. Considering the evidence of dispossession and alienation of rights against indigenous communities in the tropics, as in the case of Myanmar, the use of the environmental justice framework has become a useful tool for understanding the processes or power concentration in the control of land and natural resources and the multidimensional nature of land-based injustice. While applying the environmental justice framework, I will rather use it to understand how forest communities are able to use their resource in a sustainable manner.

Day 3 in summary

The focus of the sessions I attended was on assessing the impact of land-based investment on communal assets like forests and livelihoods – referencing the Global Land Matrix – and the growing involvement of the financial sector in forest sustainability. The major insight was understanding the multiplicity of interests in forests beyond actors at the local level and how such actors can influence the conversion of forests. It was evident in the cases presented that political and capitalist interests were favoured instead of community interests, resulting in land enclosures and forest giveaways. Being evidence of violations of responsible land and natural resource governance, questions regarding the legitimacy of such forms of investments were discussed, including compulsory land acquisition, participation or informed consent, consultation, community dialogue and adequate compensation. Such developments have contributed to food insecurity, conflicts, and poverty. On the other hand, financial institutions have been involved in local forest governance, especially in unprotected areas. Institutions like the Rabobank and ROBECO, based in the Netherlands have supported farmer cooperatives in West Africa, as well as Indonesia and Brazil with agro-forestry training, entrepreneurship, and access to credit facilities to undertake sustainable land management practices. Through investor policy dialogue financial institutions are cooperating with investors along the agricultural value chain to avoid deforestation and reach the net zero-deforestation agenda. Through working with local communities, financial institutions help farmers to gain extra income through carbon trading and carbon banking (in the soil) related to forests and agro-forestry practices. These could be potential drivers of forest re-emergence in the tropics as related to my first objective.

Lessons learnt

The VGGT guidelines (https://www.fao.org/tenure/voluntary-guidelines/en/), as well as the Global Land Matrix (https://landmatrix.org/), can provide useful inputs in analyzing forest governance across the local, national, and international scale, especially regarding my fourth objective which is to analyze forest governance across the study countries and make inferences for international forestry norms.

“Responsible land governance” also connotes “responsible forest governance”. This concept places emphasis on customary rights and tenure arrangements, socio-cultural context, and the aspirations of forest-dependent people (fit-for-purpose governance approach). This justifies the adoption of a participatory modelling approach in forestry research, which helps to develop future possible alternative scenarios for sustainable forest management based on the collective ideas of forest-dependent people.

Responsible forest governance should account for social justice and evolve the needed transformations that will ensure sustainable forest management, hence the need for environmental justice framework. This helps to re-examine governance practices by asking the question: Do governance interventions reflect the goals of communities? How are they involved in decision-making? Whose interest is served? Who benefits and who loses? What narratives or paradigms influence forest interventions?