Community Forestry Case Study 10:
Tree and Land Tenure: Using Rapid Appraisal to Study Natural Resource Management: A case study from Anivorano, Madagascar

by Karen Schoonmaker Freudenberger


The Forests, Trees and People Programme, coordinated within FAO by the Community Forestry Unit, focuses on strengthening local communities' efforts to improve the management of their forest and tree resources. Land and tree tenure is a central issue in this area. The failure to clearly understand existing rights to land and trees has been a common cause of failure of community forestry projects. As a result, individual incentives are often misjudged, and the benefits of projects are distributed quite differently from the intention of project designers or participants. An understanding of the existing system of tree and land tenure is essential to viable forestry project design.

This case study, by Dr Karen Schoonmaker Freudenberger of the Land Tenure Center of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is a key addition to the series of community forestry publications on the subject of using rapid appraisal tools to study land and tree tenure.

In 1989 FAO published Community Forestry Note 5: Rapid Appraisal of Tree and Land Tenure by John Bruce, also of the Land Tenure Center, which presented a new approach to exploring tenure issues in forestry. This was followed by the publication in 1993 of Community Forestry Case Study 9: Tree and Land Tenure in the Eastern Terai, Nepal, which explored the use of rapid appraisal methodology in a Nepali setting, with a view to the information gained being used for project management. Finally, Community Forestry Field Manual 4: Tree and land tenure: rapid appraisal tools by Dr Freudenberger (1994) drew on the Eastern Terai and other case studies which tested the methodology.

During this process, practitioners indicated a need to gain a better understanding of how to conduct and manage rapid rural appraisals in the field. They also felt it was important to understand how RRA could be used not only for project management, as in the case study from Nepal, but also for policy-level information.

This case study, which applied the field manual, consequently shows not only what was learned by using RRA, it also discusses in detail the practicalities of carrying out a rapid rural appraisal. The case study is from the village of Anivorano in Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world and home to an extraordinary variety of endemic plant and animal species. The degradation of these rich natural resources has been cause for both international and local concern and the rapid rural appraisal described in this case study formed part of a year-long research programme to inform policy debate on land use and tenure in Madagascar.

Dr Freudenberger has long been active in developing rapid appraisal techniques in the field and the Community Forestry Unit was very fortunate to have her expert input into the development of this publication. It was funded by the multi-donor Forest, Trees and People Programme. Within the FAO Forestry Department, the Programme is coordinated by Marilyn W. Hoskins, Senior Community Forestry Officer, Forestry Policy and Planning Division.


List of Maps, Diagrams and Figures

MAP 1 Madagascar
DIAGRAM 1 Territorial map of Anivorano
DIAGRAM 2 Transect of territory
DIAGRAM 3 Venn diagram
DIAGRAM 4 Wealth ranking
DIAGRAM 5 Historical matrix
DIAGRAM 6 Family economy matrix
DIAGRAM 7 Tavy rice 50-year production pattern
DIAGRAM 8 Anivorano territory by soil type
FIGURE 1 Overview of activities for Anivorano RRA on tenure and natural resource management
FIGURE 2 Analytic model
FIGURE 3 Evolution of land use: Proportion of land in rice, fallow and forest, 1945 and 1993

"Diagrams" are visuals produced in the course of activities carried out with villagers during the RRA; "figures" are summaries or analytic models prepared by the team.


Executive Summary

This case study, from a village in Madagascar, illustrates the use of Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) to study issues of land and tree tenure and village resource management. RRA is a qualitative, participatory research method that has proved highly useful in studying these issues in countries around the world. Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, which possesses an extraordinary wealth of endemic plant and animal species, is gravely concerned with resource management issues. The people of Madagascar and the international community alike are alarmed by the degradation of these valuable resources and are searching to understand better its causes so that remedial measures can be put in place.

The RRA described here is one of a series of studies carried out during a year-long research programme intended to inform a policy debate on land use and tenure in Madagascar. The RRA was carried out in Anivorano, a village in the central hilly part of the country which offers a glimpse into, on one hand, the incentives to conserve resources at the village level and, on the other, the factors that constrain or undermine villagers' efforts in that direction.

The case study presented here is really two reports in one. The first part of the study discusses the mechanics of carrying out a Rapid Rural Appraisal and addresses in detail how the study was conducted. The second part focuses on the results of the study and what the team learned during the field research. It is hoped that by seeing methodological issues presented alongside the findings, the reader will gain a better sense of both the potential of RRA to provide information on such complex subjects as tenure and resource management and the practicalities of carrying out such studies in the field.

Chapters 2 and 3 follow the Rapid Rural Appraisal process, beginning with the preparations needed before a research team can leave for the field. Chapter 3 describes, day by day, the activities that were carried out by a six-person team during the seven days in the village. From this the reader will get a sense of how the various tools and techniques used in RRA can be put together systematically to collect information on tenure systems and their impact on the sustainable use of resources.

The second part of the case study (chapters 4 and 5) summarizes the findings of the research carried out using the RRA tools presented in the earlier chapters. It looks at the community of Anivorano and its livelihood, the natural resource base and the tenure and resource management systems (both customary and external) that affect how the community interacts with its resources. It concludes that the forested part of Anivorano (which currently comprises only some 20 percent of the village territory, while half a century ago it was more than 50 percent) is under severe threat and may disappear entirely in the next two decades if current patterns of exploitation continue.

This forest is threatened by two intertwining forces. The first is related to the local production system and the pressures of increasing population on the resources of the territory. Anivorano depends for its livelihood on the production of rice, which is mostly grown on steep hillside slopes under a system known in Madagascar as tavy. In this system the slopes are cleared of vegetation and rice is planted for one year. After a fallow of five years, the land is again cleared for rice production. This cycle continues for about 50 years, during which time no more than eight or nine harvests of rice can be obtained. Even with the maintenance of five-year fallows, yields decline as the soils deteriorate over time on these hillside fields, and after 50-60 years the fields must revert to long-term fallow if they are to be used for rice cultivation again. With increases in population, decreases in yields on already cleared lands and the allocation of barren lands to long-term fallow, there is constant pressure to clear new lands, particularly in the forested part of the village territory where soils are the richest.

The customary tenure system, based on a "covenant" passed down from the villagers' ancestors, contains numerous provisions that protect the forest by encouraging the maximum use of lands already cleared. The forest has traditionally been maintained by the local population as a "reserve of last resort" to be used only when the village is unable to produce sufficient food on lands already cleared. This policy is currently being threatened by outsiders who do not respect the customary arrangements.

The second threat to the forest, then, comes from outside the territory. Some five years ago a road to the village was built, attracting commercial woodcutters and resulting in a confrontation between customary and state tenure systems. The State insists that the forest claimed by Anivorano residents as part of their territory (according to the ancestral covenant) is actually part of the national domain. This means that it does not recognize the local inhabitants' rights to manage these lands as part of their territory. The State has granted permits to commercial logging interests, which have begun to cut large swaths through the forest. The result has been not only the anarchic cutting of valuable old trees and the destruction of the forest cover but also the serious weakening of Anivorano's customary tenure system as the local population watches outsiders exploit "their" resources with impunity. This is leading to a breakdown in the covenants controlling the villagers' use of the forest for tavy. Increasingly, the local inhabitants are violating customary rules and clearing the forest for agriculture-just the opposite of what the State intended by claiming the land as national domain.

The study looks at both policy measures and local development actions that will be needed to slow the destruction of the Anivorano forest. Since Madagascar, with the encouragement of some donors, is currently considering the reinstitution of a national policy of land titling, the study considers the impact that such registration of private lands might have on tenure security in the area. It concludes that while territorial titling in the name of the community may be a useful element in protecting the forest by reinforcing the customary tenure system, individual titling of private parcels (the system currently being promoted) would probably be counterproductive and possibly lead to even more rapid destruction of the vegetation. In any case, no policy measures will be sufficient unless care is also taken to address the internal pressures on the forest resulting from population increases and declining agricultural yields on tavy fields.

Since this case study is not so much about Anivorano as it is about the use of RRA to study tenure and resource management issues, the last chapter steps back to look again at the process of doing RRA and issues that arise in using qualitative, participatory research methods. It looks at what kind of information can (and cannot) be gathered in short intensive field studies of this kind, examines the role of quantification in qualitative methods and makes note of several critical conditions needed to make RRA work well. These include, among others, the attitudes of the research team, the allocation of sufficient time to the preparation, fieldwork and analysis phases of the study, and the respect for such key methodological principles as triangulation.