Improving agroforestry practices by clarifying land tenure

Reviewing rights of access to wooded resources
Providing usufruct rights to tree resources
Land tenure that involves the use of trees has been described as a "bundle of rights", that defines not only ownership of the trees, but the right to plant, use, inherit and dispose of by cutting, lending or leasing. Without any formal land tenure agreements, forest communities have no incentive to protect or manage trees.
Trees are slow growing, in contrast to other agricultural crops, and thus the division of tree tenure rights can have a profound impact on their value. Throughout the world, rights regarding forest lands which had historically been regulated at the local level are now accorded by the state. There has been little dialogue between the traditional users and the forest agencies to assure agreement and compliance of the new terms and conditions.

Tenure, or property rights in land and trees, affect farmer incentives for an adoption of agroforestry practices. Agroforestry has tended to be associated primarily with forestry on the holding, but agroforestry is the incorporation of trees into a farming system and the farming system often involves use of resources outside the holding, especially as regards tree products. Principally, three quite different tenure situations exist: trees on the agricultural holding; trees as commons (a communal forest, or a village woodlot); and trees in reserves managed by the state. The farmer may have tenure (rights) in all these situations. The tenure will be most extensive over the agricultural holding but the farmer may also have use rights in a communal forest as a member of the community, and may hold a license, for instance for gathering dead wood, in a state forest. The farmer's decisions about trees are made in terms of his or her overall access to tree products, whether on or off the holding. This means a farmer's options concerning trees in a mixed-rights context cannot be defined in isolation, and even in a single tenure situation may be influenced by the general socio-legal and customary context.

Usufruct rights to trees (Ekwar) in the Turkana silvo-pastoral system are an important aspect of natural resource management, particularly in the drier central parts of Kenya. Originating from a participatory forestry extension programme, a survey was carried out that showed the extent and duration, often in excess of one generation, of occupancy of a person's Ekwar. Such rights center around the dry season fodder resources, especially of [Acacia tortilis]. However, they are not definite and are linked to risk-spreading by flexibility in livestock management and the need that they be maintained through efficient usage and social linkages. Such pastoral people do not compartmentalize their lives into discrete boxes as Research and Development tends to do. This is not possible especially in the arid and semi-arid lands and especially as relates to silvo-pastoralism. The threads are too interlinked. Hitherto, such natural resource management systems have all but been ignored in the development process in favor of the 'tragedy of the commons' paradigm. Likewise, pastoral development has tended to emphasize range and water, while trees are not given the attention they deserve. It is argued that this endangers the resilience of the system, and it is therefore important that development works with, not against, such environmentally-sound practices to try to make them more sustainable in the long term. The basis for change and improvement lies with making the people of the area the focus, making them responsible for their environment through the use of the traditional knowledge base as a foundation stone for sustainable real development, as if people matter.

1. The role of land tenure is vital for the future of agroforestry. The institutional framework of access to and the use of land and trees and their products, and the arrangements between persons or groups in land use operations is paramount. The scientific agroforesters and their native counterparts face an uphill battle for survival or for recognition. It is no small matter to postulate that field and forest should survive together and, better yet, be integrated into productive systems, when progress or modernity have decided that field and forest should be torn asunder.

2. The distinction between the rights to land and rights to plants is often overlooked when viewing agricultural tenure in developing countries. This distinction is crucial to understanding traditional agricultural systems, especially where agroforesty is practiced or its introduction has been proposed. The perceptual separation of land and plant rights needs to be explored if agroforestry practices are not only to be ecologically and economically feasible but also culturally acceptable.

Land type/use
Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies