Developing and testing a national guideline for community self-identification
Protection of customary collective community land rights in Liberia

The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) led a multi-stakeholder initiative to develop and test a national guideline for community self-identification in partnership with Liberia’s Land Commission, the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), Development Education Network (DEN-L) and Parley Liberia. Liberia is still recovering from two civil wars. A crucial element of the Accra Peace Agreement, signed by the warring parties in 2003, was ensuring a more just and equitable process of land reform. The guideline will support the land reform envisioned by Liberia’s new Land Rights Policy by clarifying the first step in a process to gain collective title to their customary land, when Liberia passes the draft Land Rights Bill. This project has also built capacity for implementing the protocol and prepared for national adoption and upscaling.

Communities identify themselves as

a first step toward gaining collective land title

Communities map

their territories and land uses

Communities come to

agreement with their neighbouring communities

Community members

sign a memorandum of understanding

NGOs and the national land agency tested and refined over 21 months a practical and scalable guideline to enable local communities self-identify–the first step toward gaining collective title to their customary land under Liberia’s new Land Rights Policy

“While there have been some issues…the trust, mutual understanding, and communication channels developed through the pilot project represent major assets for further developing the relationship with CSOs, and jointly move forward in the recognition of community customary lands.” — Othello Brandy, Chair of the Liberian Land Authority


To ensure that collective community land and natural resource tenure rights of local communities in Liberia are recognized, secured and formalized


  • Develop and test a community self-identification guideline in diverse community and forest situations
  • Increase awareness of the self-identification guideline and the capacity of stakeholders to use it
  • Build support for national approval and adoption of the community self-identification guideline


  • Develop consensus on self-identification guideline
  • Train pilot communities, Land Authority staff and civil society organizations on how to use the self-identification protocol
  • Test the self-identification guideline in 12 communities in diverse settings
  • Gather and reported lessons from the application of the community self-identification process
  • Achieve a multi-stakeholder consensus on the final self-identification protocol


  • Developed and tested a draft guideline in 11 communities in diverse settings, involving 45,000 people and 150,000 hectares
  • Trained representatives of civil society organizations and government organizations to implement the guideline
  • Initiated national discussions on the guideline and its application, in preparation for national adoption and upscaling
  • Strengthened relationships between government and civil society organizations and pioneered a successful model for a partnership between communities, civil society organizations and government
  • Increased the capacity and influence of local civil society organizations
  • Through the projects Advisory Group, raised awareness about the guideline and the process for achieving collective title to customary lands with civil society organizations, government ministries, international organizations and private sector companies
  • Contributed to Liberia’s Framework for Implementing Collective Tenure Rights Recognition Nation-wide
  • Increased awareness of customary land tenure among local communities and other stakeholders
“This initiative is very good for our community. We as local authorities and traditional people are happy about it. I think it changes our story, ‘from caretaker of customary land to real owners’ and it shows us how to do it [tenure security].’ So, I as the Paramount Chief, me and elders give you and the project our full support.” — Paramount Chief of Kpelle Chiefdom, Salayea District, Lofa County


  • Built government and civil society capacity for implementing the protocol in preparation for national adoption and upscaling when the Land Rights Bill is ratified
  • Strengthened the civil society-government partnership, which is crucial to advancing the land and forest tenure rights of local communities in Liberia
“The land discussion is good. Things are changing. Women are now sitting with men to talk about land issues in our community.” — Leader of Twenty Sisters in Rock Town Community, a women’s group Rock Town Community, Maryland


From: 01 December 2015
To: 01 October 2017



Sustainable Development Institute


Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI)

Liberian Land Authority

Development Education Network (DEN-L)

Parley Liberia


Communities in pilot sites, including women, youth and other marginalized groups

Local and national civil society organizations

Government ministries

Development partners

Private sector

Liberian society


Liberian communities test

new national guideline for self-identification

Lessons Learned

  • Communities will have to manage the self-identification process themselves, and will need local support. A broad base of community-level organizations will be needed to upscale at an affordable cost.
  • Involving statutory, local government officials, and customary leaders is essential to success in the process.
  • As the process rolls out, it may be advisable to link self-identification to boundary harmonization and demarcation.
  • A relationship built on trust, mutual respect and accountability between civil society organizations and government is a prerequisite for an operational partnership to be feasible, durable and fruitful. Full transparency and honesty is needed on each side. A code of conduct can be useful.
  • Having a highly diverse coalition of civil society organizations involved in implementing the protocol benefited the project by bringing to it new knowledge and additional strengths. Prior experience with communities appeared to be more important than prior knowledge of land rights issues.