Overlapping land rights and deforestation in Uganda: 20 years of evidence

Sarah Walker, Jennifer Alix-Garcia, Anne Bartlett, Jamon Van Den Hoek, Hannah K. Friedrich, Paulo J. Murillo-Sandoval, Rosemary Isoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The majority of the world's land is held in customary tenure systems, often with overlapping claims. Designing effective policy to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation requires understanding land management choices within these systems. Using a nation-wide random sample of over 300,000 hectares of forested land in Uganda from 2000 to 2019, we examine how deforestation trends across a system of overlapping rights, known as mailo land tenure, change in response to legal amendments intended to increase land tenure security. Graphical analysis reveals that mailo land has always had higher deforestation rates, compared to private and customary land, which increased relative to other tenure systems beginning in 2010 when a law was passed to protect tenants on mailo land. Statistical analysis controlling for spatial and time effects shows that prior to 2010, trends across tenure systems were similar. After 2010, deforestation increased significantly on land with overlapping rights and then began to decrease after 2017 relative to rates on customary or fully privatized land. We hypothesize that the uptick in deforestation resulted from unintended, increased uncertainty generated by the 2010 law, which changed owner/tenant relations on land with overlapping rights. The decrease in deforestation rates after 2017 was consistent with increased tenure security from an acceleration in the uptake of permanent certificates of occupancy. These findings demonstrate that outcomes under systems of overlapping rights can be destabilized by well-intentioned reform, and that securing tenant rights can reduce deforestation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102701
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • Deforestation
  • Land certification
  • Overlapping land rights
  • Sub-saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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