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Land Tenure and Social Equity

Securing land tenure rights and promoting social equity and inclusion

Insecure community land rights threaten the livelihoods and wellbeing of at least 2 billion people, or 25% of the world’s population. Without securing land tenure and community land rights more broadly we will be unable to accelerate a just rural transition.      

Supporting community initiatives and securing community tenure are some of the most cost-effective investments in climate mitigation and are the foundations of sustainable and prosperous livelihoods. 

Capturing progress and lessons learned

To help secure equitable and just land and natural resource tenure – which lies at the very center of a just rural transition – we have highlighted success stories, consolidated lessons learned and identified five themes central to reimagining the rural landscape. The five themes and practical recommendations to support their inclusion in policies and planning are provided below.

There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that when rights are recognized and protected, indigenous peoples and rural communities all over the world reduce deforestation and preserve biodiversity better than protected areas managed by governments alone. Recognizing and protecting land and resource rights is therefore essential to the success of conservation and restoration initiatives. 

Recommendations include: 

  • Restore use rights and return management of protected areas to indigenous peoples and rural communities. 
  • End the criminalization of indigenous people and rural communities for the use of essential lands and resources. 
  • Invest in the preservation of local and Indigenous ecological knowledge and build trust with scientific and policy communities.  
  • Employ members of local communities to serve as guardians of existing and new protected areas.  
  • Ensure that the respect of tenure is part of safeguards and guidelines for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries (REDD+) and restoration initiatives.  
  • Include representatives of indigenous and rural communities (especially women) in national delegations to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).   

This approach more accurately reflects existing Indigenous and customary systems for governing forests, rangelands, and wetlands around the world. It is also more cost-effective for governments to focus their resources on the recognition and protection of community rights. Community and customary governance systems should be supported to equitably and inclusively define and secure collective, individual, and household rights.

Recommendations include:  

  • Ensure that communities are recognized as rights-holding entities in national laws. Invest in community-scale delimitation/demarcation of land and resource rights.
  • Streamline the processes for the recognition and delimitation of community lands.
  • Support local communities to equitably and inclusively define and secure individual and household rights within their territories. 
  • Invest in gender-inclusive, community-based land-use planning and integrate these into sub-national land-use plans. 
  • Where rights are recognized, defend them from encroachment and extinguishment. 

A combination of policies, legislative changes, and substantive engagement with local communities can ensure that women equitably benefit from – and exercise control over – lands and resources.  

Recommendations include:   

  • Ensure that women’s rights have equal and consistent recognition and protection across land and natural resource legislation and regulations.
  • Regulate gender parity into land and resource governance institutions. 
  • Identify and support local institutions and leaders (both women and men) who are already advocates of more equitable changes to customary systems.
  • Sensitize both women and men to legislative changes, taking into account how different groups best access and receive information.
  • Provide women with the resources, support and training required to ensure full and meaningful participation in these institutions.
  • Build mechanisms of accountability for customary leaders to provide checks on their powers. 

A just rural transition can be accelerated by levelling the playing field and reducing regulatory barriers for communities and their enterprises, facilitating their access to credit and support, creating incentives for ecologically restorative livelihoods, and repurposing public support to incentivize sustainable agricultural production and environmental stewardship. 

Recommendations include:  

  • Recognize a complete set of rights to land and resources, including rights to manage and economically benefit from their resources, in perpetuity.
  • Simplify legal and administrative procedures to secure and exercise community rights. 
  • Extend credit and small-business support to community-based enterprises. 
  • Eliminate incentives for damaging practices – reorient these resources to incentivize stewardship and compliance with environmental regulations.
  • Hire local communities – especially women and youth – for restoration projects. 
  • Use these projects to improve the protection of their rights and inclusion within local systems of land and resource governance. 

Harmonized and equitably designed laws, regulatory frameworks and independent grievance mechanisms are essential to break cycles of conflict and are safeguards for environmental protection and social stability. They increase trust in institutions, can strengthen relationships within and between communities and attract sustainable investment; they are therefore essential for a just rural transition. 

Recommendations include:  

  • Ensure that peace agreements include robust provisions on land and resource governance, and that they are implemented.
  • Harmonise overlapping and conflicting systems of governance including laws, regulations, registries, and cadasters.
  • Establish accessible and equitable dispute resolution systems to ensure coherence and consistency across institutions and claims. 
  • Promote mediation-based institutions to resolve overlapping claims between communities.
  • Protect and defend the rights of women, indigenous people and rural communities.
  • Strengthen social and environmental safeguards for all land and natural resource-based investments, including the requirement for the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of affected indigenous people.
  • Monitor and report on the progress of land rights and their alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. 

To learn more about this work and find out how to get involved, please contact

Land Tenure Brief