Global reviews confirm that the main direct or ‘proximate’ cause of forest destruction is commercial farming, which accounts for 80% of forest clearance in tropical countries.64 Remote sensing evidence and forest monitoring updates from Latin America and Asia confirm that large-scale (over 1,000 ha) clearance for cattle (pastures), soybeans and palm oil are primary drivers.65 Other drivers include illegal and industrial logging, cultivation of illicit crops (Latin America), mining, energy, infrastructure projects and urban expansion. Case studies highlight that roadbuilding is a major indirect driver of deforestation as access roads open up remote areas to logging, extractive industries and commercial farming [Figure 3].66

Fact check

  • Commercial farming drives more than 2/3 of forest clearance in Latin America, more than 1/2 in Asia and over 1/3 in Africa (and rising).
  • Soybean cropping is the 2nd largest global driver of tropical deforestation by area.
  • Cattle ranching is a primary driver in the Colombian and Peruvian Amazon and was expanding in 2017.67
  • Illegal logging accounts for over 70% of forest degradation in Africa and Asia.

Implementation of infrastructure and road projects like IIRSA…threatens to exterminate indigenous peoples and accelerate deforestation as it exposes forests to mining, logging and other exploitation…

Kamentsá leader, Upper Putumayo, Colombia

Fact check

  • In Peru planned bi-oceanic railroad and Pucallpa- Cruzeiro do Sol highway threatens uncontacted indigenous peoples and remote rainforest.69

  • City populations in DRC are growing at >4% per year causing more pronounced deforestation around cities and along road corridors between urban areas.70

Insecure community land tenure:

Outdated land laws in tropical forest countries that fail to protect forest peoples’ collective customary land rights constitute a key barrier to combatting deforestation [Figure 3]. These laws often emphasise individual rights, and prioritise the advancement of designated economic activities above all. Insecure lands and poor law enforcement expose community forests to encroachment and expropriation by illegal and ‘legal’ loggers, agribusiness companies and extractive industries and also to settlement and land clearance by displaced colonists and landless people. In many African countries, like Cameroon, community tenure rights remain insecure because the law defines forests as the property of the State without recognition of community customary land ownership rights. Forest peoples are pressing for forest tenure reform:

We, forest indigenous peoples, are asking the state of Cameroon to ensure that our ancestral lands, our living spaces and traditional practices are respected and recognised by collective legal title. We ask that the ancestral lands that have already been taken by third parties be returned to us so that we can exercise collective ownership rights for present and future generations

Declaration on land rights from the Gbabandi Platform, Cameroon, 2017

Following the example of the colonial rulers, post-independence laws (in DRC) dispossessed indigenous peoples and local communities of their customary rights… formal (written) law transferred land ownership to the State.71

In DRC, some options now exist under Forest Decree 14/018 to obtain usufruct rights over customary forests, but it only confers management and harvesting rights for forest communities and places complicated requirements on rights holders. Despite the adoption of progressive legislation, full legal recognition of customary land rights remains a challenge. In Liberia, a draft Land Rights Act (LRA) has been under development following the 2013 Land Rights Policy, which promised to deliver protection for collective customary land rights. The House of Representatives approved a significantly weakened draft LRA in August 2017 prior to the October 2017 presidential elections. This would have circumvented proper civil society scrutiny on the final draft but for the decision of the Senate to return the bill to the committees for further work. Existing progressive Liberian laws such as the Community Rights Law with respect to Forest Lands (2009), though progressive on paper, have not afforded protection in practice as the State has continued to allocate large-scale agribusiness concessions to companies over unregistered community customary forests. Land transactions throughout Liberia are often fraudulent and sales are often enabled by corrupt local officials and courts, leading to dispossession and violent land conflicts.72

Fact check

  • Land conflicts in Indonesia increased in 2016 to 450 over an area of 1,265,027 ha involving 86,745 households scattered throughout the provinces.73
  • New public polices as well as legislation on lands and forests in Malaysia (2014) weaken, erode and/ or extinguish legal protections for customary land and forests and promote privatisation.
  • Unregistered community lands are considered by the Liberian government as ‘available’ for sale or lease to third parties.
  • Mining businesses in Guyana retain contested land rights inside village land titles, driving conflicts.

Many Asian countries still define forests as State land and current government titling procedures limit the extent of community title boundaries. In Malaysia, Native Customary Rights (NCR) to lands are recognised to some extent in state and national laws, yet customary lands are continuously exploited through concessions and licences by the State, disrespecting court rulings that favour native landowners. In Indonesia, positive gains were secured in 2012 in the Constitutional Court on customary rights through sustained legal actions and high level dialogue by the national indigenous peoples’ organisation AMAN, yet implementing legislation had still not been put in place at the end of 2017. Important public commitments have been made by the President to secure customary community land rights, yet the funding and staff to implement these pledges have not materialised. Positive initiatives like the One Map Policy have so far failed to prevent concession overlaps on community lands in Indonesia, largely because permit-issuing authorities and political interests in charge of concessions are reluctant to collaborate and disinclined to recognise community maps of customary land.74 Meanwhile, lands and forests continue to be handed out to loggers and plantation companies.

Insecure community land rights and the use of unclear language in land acquisition (in Indonesia) lead many communities to forfeit their lands for little gain... Forests and fisheries are being destroyed. When deprived of livelihoods and lands, rural people are forced into piece work on estates…. Community protests are too often met with police violence and criminalisation…State policies favour infrastructure development and tolerance of past injustices.

Pontianak statement on human rights and agribusiness in Southeast Asia75

In Central and South America, with the notable exception of Suriname, land laws and updated national constitutions afford more recognition of collective land tenure of indigenous peoples to a greater or lesser degree. Legal frameworks provide inalienable communal land titles or long-term exclusive use rights over traditional lands held by indigenous peoples and customary landowners. While indigenous peoples and local communities own or hold recognised rights to over a fifth of the land area in Latin America, major blockages to good tenure governance and effective community control over their forests remain. Challenges include defects and gaps in property and land titling laws coupled with flawed national land zoning and allocation frameworks, and highly bureaucratic and cumbersome procedures for registering community land titles [Box 1].

‘As mothers we can only give birth to children not to land. Don’t let them
take our children’s land away. Otherwise, where will they live?’ Dayak
woman questioning the taking of land and forest by oil palm companies,
Sambas District, West Kalimantan Province, Indonesia © Marcus
Colchester, FPP.

‘As mothers we can only give birth to children not to land. Don’t let them take our children’s land away. Otherwise, where will they live?’ Dayak woman questioning the taking of land and forest by oil palm companies, Sambas District, West Kalimantan Province, Indonesia © Marcus Colchester, FPP.

Box 1: Obstacles to securing community forest tenure

Partner action research, tenure assessments and FPP case studies in Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Guyana, Liberia, DRC, Cameroon, Malaysia and Indonesia identify a series of common blockages to secure land rights for forest peoples. Key constraints include, inter alia:

  1. Official legal procedures and frameworks for addressing community tenure are non-existent, slow, bureaucratic and government agencies lack staff and resources to process claims and applications (all case study countries).
  2. National land allocation, land zoning and resource concession frameworks fail to respect untitled customary lands and ‘unregistered’ community settlements: these flawed frameworks impose concessions and public and private investment projects on communities (all case study countries).
  3. Land cadastres, official maps and public information on tenure rights vary across government agencies, are incomplete, inaccurate, incoherent and often lack transparency (all case study countries).
  4. Illegal land trafficking, fraudulent land transactions and corrupt land clearance licences for agribusiness, plantations, mining, logging and road building means customary tenure rights are often violated (all case study countries).
  5. Land titling, demarcation and boundary delimitation procedures do not recognise and respect customary law and traditional systems of communal tenure, including through the denial of territorial titles favouring smaller-parcelled community titles (e.g. Paraguay, Guyana and Peru).
  6. As a result of #5, land titles often only cover a fraction of collective customary lands leaving them vulnerable to expropriation, while communities endure defective legal mechanisms or no formal avenues at all to solicit enlargement of their land titles (e.g. Paraguay, Guyana, Peru, Malaysia).
  7. Limited and separate community and village titles fragment collective forest territories, which suffer multiple overlapping and imposed jurisdictions including timber, mineral, hydrocarbon and agribusiness concessions as well as national parks, forest reserves and major infrastructure projects, including roads, dams, ports (e.g. Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Cameroon).
  8. Countries sometimes lack any legislation to return customary lands taken without prior community consent, including lands obtained by force or deception, as well as lands allocated to third parties by the State (e.g. Guyana).
  9. Even where restitution is legally possible, procedures are cumbersome and complicated compensation rules for third parties generate long delays (sometimes years) in settling land conflicts (e.g. Paraguay).
  10. Specific national laws, policies and court rulings established to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and other customary landowners are not implemented (e.g. Law 904, Paraguay; Constitutional Court rulings on land rights and FPIC in Colombia).
  11. Powerful national agribusiness, logging, mining and business interests control legislatures and otherwise seek to block, weaken or annul progressive legislation in support of community land rights (all case study countries).

Often the government knows very well that we are insecure and without land titles. The problem is that the whole process is complex and drawn out. Officials and lawyers that work for the government do not move the paperwork. The (title) applications are there: the problem is they are just sitting there and are not being processed.

Paï Tavyterä leader, Paraguay

In Peru, more than 20 million ha of community lands remain without official recognition in national registries, while in Guyana on average one third of indigenous forest communities still lack any form of legal land title security.76 Even titled lands are subject to encroachment by illegal resource users and armed groups, while many communities are still ‘invisible’ to the State including in Colombia, Peru and Guyana.

Top down resource concession policies and weak governance:

Key indirect drivers of forest loss and rights violations are flawed national land allocation frameworks that do not recognise customary land rights, lack transparency and suffer from weak mechanisms for prior community consultation and FPIC [Figure 3]. The Malaysian State, for example, has powers under national law to extinguish unregistered rights over lands leased to plantation companies and other business interests.77 In practice, the Malaysian State continues to issue concessions and leases in full violation and in disregard of community customary rights.78

…community representatives from Sarawak note that plantations are being developed without their consent, imposed by ‘gangsters’ and provide paltry benefits to those who have lost their lands. NGOs supporting communities are under increased surveillance.

Pontianak statement on human rights and agribusiness in SE Asia

In Cameroon, logging, oil palm plantations, mining and new infrastructure schemes are causing galloping deforestation aided by colonial laws which deny our rights to our lands and forests…

Palangka Raya Declaration

Loggers are cutting down our medicinal plants. Our diet has been disrupted… When we protect against the invasion of our forests, the police come and arrest us and threaten us.

Baka community member, Bikoro province, DRC, 2015

Fact check

  • At least 25% of Liberia’s land area (c. 2.5 million ha) is the subject of logging, agro-industrial or mining concessions.

  • Mining concessions cover 39% of DRC. Chinese mining companies have signed a US$6 billion agreement to construct roads and dams in exchange for mining rights.

  • In Peru, oil, gas, mineral, logging and agro-industrial concessions are imposed on indigenous peoples’ land and forests, while community land claims and customary lands are made ‘invisible’ by State agencies.79

  • Guyanese mining agencies have granted concessions on over 90% of Akawaio forests in the Upper Mazaruni watershed, in total disregard for prior community legal actions affirming customary tenure rights over same areas.80

Lack of information disclosure and weak community participation:

Defective local participation and missing community agreements in land use zoning and concession allocation are common in many countries. In Cameroon, this lack of public information on land concessions prevents timely community mobilisation to assert collective rights and challenge unjust proposals for land acquisition and land use change.81 If people are informed about official land use decisions, they are often confined to village chiefs and leaders who are manipulated or pressured to accept forest clearance plans without the agreement of their wider community.

You cannot talk of proper consent if negotiations are held with a single person. This is a grave mistake. Free, prior and informed consent is for the whole community

Malaysian forest activist

The cattle ranchers are clearing forests without even letting the communities know about it. SEAM issues licences to the ranchers to deforest without giving us any say. We have never experienced any participation in the environmental licensing process.

Leader of Northern Enlhet people, Chaco region, Paraguay

Fact check

  • Official land maps in Guyana do not show some titled communities and exclude most information on land claims of indigenous peoples.

  • In Cameroon information on agribusiness, logging and mining concessions is denied to forest communities.82

Organised crime, weak law enforcement and corruption:

The forest frontier in tropical forest nations is often associated with lawlessness, banditry, money laundering and criminal activity linked to illegal mining and logging, the cultivation of illicit crops and land trafficking (organised fraudulent land transactions).83 Drug trafficking is also linked to shipments of illegal and ‘legal’ timber and agricultural goods.84 Evidence is emerging from Peru, for example, that coca and other drugs are planted as understorey crops in oil palm plantations.85 In countries such as Colombia, Peru and Paraguay, local authorities are suspected of complicity with criminal land and drug trafficking cartels where forest destruction is closely associated with the ‘narco-ranching’ and ‘narco-agroindustrial’ interests on the deforestation frontier.

Evidence shows that deforestation and rights violations penetrate or “leak” into neighbouring jurisdictions with “light” land environmental and social regulatory regimes, as happens in the Paraguayan Chaco where Brazilian agribusiness firms have occupied land with the stated intention of avoiding stricter regulation in Brazil.86 Corrupt practices of land and environmental authorities also enable violation of customary land rights and deforestation through certification of fraudulent land titles, irregular licences for forest clearance and the illegal acquisition of community lands in favour of powerful political or business interests in countries like Cameroon, Indonesia and Malaysia.87

Fact check

  • Forestry crime including corporate crimes and illegal logging account for up to $152 billion every year, more than all official development aid combined.88

  • As much as 100 ha of forest are cleared each day for commercial coca production in Colombia.89

  • In Guyana and Peru, the drugs trade funds rapid and aggressive mining expansion causing human rights abuse and permanent forest loss

  • Drug traffickers and cartels in Colombia own at least half (4 million hectares) of the country’s fertile land.90

  • In countries such as Indonesia, Cameroon and Guyana, corruption and illegality are enabled by lack of transparency in land use and concession decisions.

  • Environmental impacts studies legally required for forest clearance licences in countries such as Paraguay, Liberia and Malaysia are often missing, weak or are never undertaken.91

  • 40% of timber extraction in Cameroon is estimated to be illegal.

  • Corruption in the issuance of land clearance licences is a common cause of illegality in Malaysia.92

  • In Paraguay vast areas of forest are the subject of irregular and illegal land titles (“tierras malhabidas”).

Defective redress mechanisms:

Lack of rule of law, corrupt practices and defective local, national and global redress mechanisms allow impunity for forest destroyers, land grabbers and rights abusers, by failing to sanction legal violations and non-compliance with agreed standards [Figure 3].93 Domestic laws may deny indigenous peoples the standing in courts to redress their collective rights. Local courts may not offer timely access to justice or issue rulings which are unfavourable to customary landowners and in support of commercial land use and the extinguishment of community rights, as in Malaysia (see above).

Fact check

  • Senior forest officials, politicians and business interests in Cameroon have virtual immunity from prosecution.94
  • Local courts in Liberia are often very slow to resolve land conflict cases and fail to sanction human rights violations.95
  • The Indonesian judiciary is notoriously corrupt and few communities feel confident of a fair hearing in the courts.
  • Local judicial bodies and environmental enforcement agencies in the Chocó region of Colombia reportedly often turn a blind eye to land grabs, violence against HRD and the illegal drugs trade.
  • Community complaints over illegal land clearance are routinely disregarded by the Paraguayan police and authorities.96
  • Weak witness protection schemes in Paraguay prevent victims giving court evidence for fear of their lives.

Welcome to the land without law. From that (logging) inspection post all the way back here, there is no law. The only law is the law of the gun.

Late Asháninka leader and forest defender Edwin Chota, Peru

The …systematic discrimination of the Paraguayan State against the Pai Tavyterã indigenous people is related to its complicity with privileges enjoyed by cattle ranchers, drug dealers and cartels... These are the main culprits responsible for the considerable and high number of homicides and disappearances aimed at Pai Tavyterã97

Information gaps and secrecy in global finance:

The ‘real’ national and local drivers of forest loss, illegal resource use and rights abuse identified above and in Figure 3, are reinforced by weakly regulated global supply chains, which lack transparency and rarely (if ever) divulge any information to traders and consumers on tenure and human rights impacts (see section D). Unaccountable and hidden international finance for investments and companies active in tropical forest countries is an added significant underlying driver of forest conversion. Scrutiny of the information in the leaked Panama and Paradise Papers confirms that offshore tax havens and tax avoidance schemes are being used to fund shell companies and subsidiaries of major pulp, logging and mining companies operating in deforestation and land conflict hotspots. Companies benefitting from these financial flows include the plantation conglomerate APRIL in Indonesia and the Glencore mining corporation in DRC.98

Contradictory policies and perverse incentives:

All nine countries featured in this review suffer from policy contradictions whereby national and global policies and funding are fuelling deforestation drivers.99 Global private and public financial institutions like the World Bank are promoting agribusiness and industrial infrastructure, while also hosting global funds for reducing deforestation and adopting a Forest Action Plan meant to foster cross sectoral coordination and support for the tenure rights of forest peoples. Patent contradictions are evident in Indonesia, where the World Bank is funding large-scale roadbuilding programmes, which impact on forests and forest communities.100

Fact check

  • DRC is promoting large-scale ‘agribusiness parks’ to attract foreign investment, with limited regulation to protect communities and forests.101

  • Cameroon’s Vision 2035 national development strategy promotes mega-mining, infrastructure and agribusiness.

  • The Peace Accord in Colombia aims to attract foreign agribusiness and mining companies, while tax rules incentivise the growing of oil palm and sugar cane for biofuels.102

  • National policies in Peru promote infrastructure, agribusiness and extractive industries – including through the IIRSA infrastructure programme supported by the Inter-American Development Bank.

At the national level, major legal and economic perverse incentives exist that drive forest clearance and emissions of GHG. In Colombia and Peru land and property laws and legal codes still favour land clearance in order to grant titles to smallholders.103 Numerous countries now have targets to increase oil palm production and agribusiness development, including Indonesia, Liberia, DRC, Cameroon, Colombia, and Peru. Several also have tax breaks and subsidies to promote the planting and processing of biofuel crops (e.g. Colombia).

Indigenous leaders in Peru, for example, point out that zero deforestation pledges made by the government are directly contravened by policies that encourage biofuel plantations, agribusiness development and mega-infrastructure projects that threaten to open up remote old growth forests, including territories occupied by indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. In Cameroon, the Vision 2030 strategy for national development includes major plans for roadbuilding, mega-mines, railroads and ports to boost extractive industries, industrial farming and export-led growth.104