Communal tenure and the governance of common property resources in Asia
Kirsten Ewers Andersen
FAO Land Tenure Working Paper 20, April 2011

This paper presents an overview of the distinctive features of communal tenure in different community-based land and natural resource management systems. Communal tenure refers to situations where groups, communities, or one or more villages have well-defined, exclusive rights to jointly own and/or manage particular areas of natural resources such as land, forest and water. Two models of communal tenure are presented. In the first model, the permanent title model, the state fully and permanently hands the land over to local indigenous communities for private collective ownership. In the second model, the delegated management model, the state maintains ownership of the resources and delegates management to local groups, most often villages, for a specific period of time, with the possibility of renewal. In addition to these two general models, one may still find traditional customary communal tenure in remote communities. Here the state does not actually regulate or intervene in the management of resources, but all local communities in the area would know of the local rules of harvesting and withdrawal rights. Both the permanent title in communal land and the delegated management model may originate from an existing customary arrangement, where the rules are known and have been adhered to by right-holders – and their neighbors – for generations. The state can acknowledge these existing communal systems through formalization of existing rules and rights. In a different situation, where customary arrangements are no longer present and the resource is degraded and under open access, the formalization of delegated management of, for example, a new community forest, may imply setting up or inducing communal tenure institutions, where they did not previously exist.

Communal tenure will very likely play a significant role in the policies and actions for climate change mitigation. With the emergence of REDD initiatives, governance and benefit-sharing of carbon finance become critical questions in defining who owns the carbon stocked in forest. Marketable community rights to this special resource unit (stocked carbon) must be supported by national legislation that favors communal tenure of some of the carbon properties. This may lead to a separation of rights to carbon from the broader rights to the forest and land, an aspect not yet addressed by theoretical work on communal tenure. Download the paper [pdf] …

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