Most of the rural poor in developing countries have some access to land on which they can collect forest products, graze animals, grow crops, gather medicinal plants, or in other ways benefit from nature. These “landed poor” typically remain poor not only because their land holdings are small, but because their rights to the land are weak, their tenure insecure (Bruce 2004:1).
Insecure tenure translates to a lack of assurance that one’s land or resource rights will be respected over time (Meinzen- Dick et al. 2002:1). In many countries of Southeast Asia, for example, long-term forest dwellers such as indigenous peoples and local farmers often have de facto access to forests, but their tenurial control over trees, timber, and the right to manage forest uses is often limited in scope and unrecognized in law (Lynch and Talbott 1995:29). For instance, the traditional system of forest tenure (called adat) recognized by many forest dwellers in Indonesia has often been ignored by the government, which asserts legal ownership of all forest areas in spite of customary or historic uses (WRI et al. 2000:36-37).
In addition, the ability of the rural poor to participate in political decisions that affect their livelihoods often is limited by the power of other, more politically connected, parties with an interest in the same resources. Government agencies, corporations, large landowners, poor farmers, indigenous peoples, and different ethnic or cultural groups frequently make overlapping and conflicting claims on the same set of natural resources. Unfortunately, unless the tenure rights of the poor are secure, they usually lose out in these conflicts over competing claims (Alden Wily 2004:5).
While many forms of resource tenure are important, land tenure