In recent years, many governments globally have formally recognized community land and natural resource tenure, either based on existing customary practices or more recently established land governance arrangements. These tenure arrangements have been called by a variety of names, such as community, customary, communal, collective, indigenous, ancestral, or native land rights recognition. In essence, they seek to establish the rights of a group to obtain joint tenure security over their community’s land. This approach is not necessarily limited to use by those communities that largely manage their lands solely on a communal or collective basis, because it can encompass individualized arrangements within it. In fact, recognizing the boundary of all lands held by a community, and then allowing the community itself to define individual rights within that community land boundary, can be much more cost-effective (Deininger, 2003). Neither is it an approach solely used by indigenous, ancestral, or native communities, because any rural community with established occupation of their lands can potentially be eligible for such protections.
We use the term “community land and resource tenure” because many community-based forms of tenure encompass a range of different land use types, including permanent agricultural land, shifting or swidden cultivation areas, forests, grazing areas, and water bodies. In some jurisdictions, rights are limited to settlement and agricultural lands; while in other countries, lands recognized may include forests, shifting or swidden cultivation areas, grazing land, hunting areas, fallow fields, coastal lands, water bodies, and sacred forests. Finally, the set of rights conveyed by various recognition processes vary considerably across countries, particularly with regard to the rights of alienation, such as rights to lease or sell land.
The global experience indicates that there is no one best practice that is applicable to all national contexts. Instead, it is clear that careful tailoring of a national approach to community land and resource tenure recognition requires a detailed understanding of the national government administration, policy, and legal context; the political economy of development; and the diversity of existing land tenure practices (customary or otherwise) that prevail across a country. This review of a wide variety of country experiences aims to support the design of local-level pilots for community land and resource tenure recognition in Myanmar, which will, in turn, inform the national land policy, legislation, and regulatory reform process that is underway with USAID support.