Interview: “It’s something that must be done”

Juan Manuel Torres-Rojo is a founding member of the Tenure Facility’s Board of Directors and was head of the board’s project selection committee before stepping down in late 2020. He is a Doctor in Economics and Natural Resource Management from the University of Oregon, has served as a Researcher in the Economics Division of the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE), and is currently a researcher for the National Council of Science and Technology in Mexico.

Why is it so important to provide support to Indigenous and local organisations to strengthen their land rights? 

After all these years, I believe having well defined property rights for the use of natural resources – any resources, not only forest – is very important in order to ensure the adequate distribution of benefits from those resources. And in addition, it’s an incentive, to have sustainability in terms of people receiving benefits from the adequate management of those resources, and they also have the incentive to keep them in the best way, to reach a high yield and production from these resources. What I have seen in many countries is that this is true, it is a necessary condition, but it’s not sufficient: you need to provide capacities to these people who have these property rights recovered. So land rights is one of the most important things, but not the only one.


What is the significance of the Tenure Facility in the current land rights ecosystem, and how can it maximise its impact?

It provides financial help to try to solve some of the problems that different countries or regions have in achieving tenure in those indigenous communities. As I say, tenure is not the only important factor for ensuring sustainable management of resources, so maybe one action that the Tenure Facility could carry out would be to try to link to other networks, so when they are reaching the point of ensuring tenure for Indigenous Peoples, they can provide, through these other organisations, capacity building, in order to ensure the appropriate use of natural resources. The other thing is to scale… Scaling is one of the factors which could be very important for the Tenure Facility to have more impact in this arena.

How can you build the capacity of indigenous and local communities whilst also respecting their knowledge, wisdom and culture?

That’s what we call the transdisciplinary approach, which is very important. What I mean with this capacity building is that there are some already tested “best management practices”, some already tested administrative procedures, in areas which are not strictly linked to this traditional knowledge, but that Indigenous Peoples need in order to incorporate those strategies in a more efficient way to use their resources. I think there are ways to integrate that traditional knowledge with these other approaches, in order to incorporate these communities into the economy.


How important is it to plug indigenous communities into existing markets, in terms of creating sustainable solutions for communities moving forward?

I really think that’s a crucial thing. Look, I see in my country, you go into a store where they sell traditional medicine and plants, and sometimes you take a bag, and it says ”Made in China”. How come? We can produce that. Those plants are grown in Mexico. But those communities where those plants grow do not have the capacity to sustainably bring those products to the market. There are many other examples. It’s important to build on different strategies in order to market those products. But obviously you need to first identify sustainable ways to use those resources, and combine that knowledge with traditional uses practiced by these communities.


How do you see the role of the Tenure Facility evolving in the years to come and what additional support will indigenous and local communities need to manage their lands?

 I would say that the Tenure Facility would have worked on having a strategy to scale, to help more communities get tenure. I think that would be the best way – to let the Tenure Facility specialize in that area. I would also really like to see the Tenure Facility cooperate with other organisations more, not only to ensure tenure, but to link these different stages to ensure the appropriate use of natural resources.


What have you learnt during your time with the Tenure Facility?

I’ve learnt a lot! Especially because I was leading the project selection committee, and read all the proposals, and led the discussions on what to finance and not to finance. From that I can see that the problem (of tenure) is huge, because there are many different circumstances in each different country, not only the legal problems and the social problems, which are very important, but also the political conditions in each region which force you to use different approaches. Do I feel hopeful? Sometimes I have had doubts about the impact, especially where Indigenous Peoples are ignored by the government. But it’s starting. It’s something that must be done. In some regions it’s very much more complicated, but the Tenure Facility has to keep working on it.


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