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CSR Asia: Land rights and forest peoples
By Richard Welford
June 6, 2012
Reports of ‘land grabs’ and people being forced off their property in countries where the rule of law is unclear or unenforced are not new. In many cases we have seen people forcible evicted from land that they and their families have inhabited for centuries because land rights are ill-defined.
More positively, a new report, published last week by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) shows that hundreds of millions of forest peoples in tropical nations have, in the last 20 years, actually gained unprecedented legal rights to their land. But, the research also finds that more than one-third of the rules governing land rights in most of the forests significantly limit a community's ability to exercise those rights.
The new report provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the status of forest tenure rights held by indigenous groups and other local communities in developing countries. But the report warns of an imminent risk of rollback of these rights because of the ongoing global ‘land grabs’ by investors and developers in many countries.
The RRI report says that forest peoples are caught between a drive for sustainable development and the intense pressure of economic growth. Despite tremendous progress in establishing legal tenure regimes, a lack of political will and bureaucratic obstacles make it a struggle to implement any real action in many countries. In Indonesia, for example, laws and policies recognise the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands. But the constitution says all land and resources belong to the state. Tens of millions of people living in more than 20,000 villages are essentially squatters on their own land.
The RRI report identifies a significant global trend that began in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, as indigenous and community leaders pressured governments for legal rights to their traditional forestlands. The area of forest under the control of forest peoples in developing countries has risen from 21 percent of the total forest area in those countries to 31 percent; globally, such rights now cover 15 percent of all forests, compared to 10 percent in 1992.
Research by RRI and others has also shown that when their rights are secure, indigenous and community forest peoples are spectacularly successful at sustaining themselves, while at the same time protecting their forests at least as well as governments or industry.
The findings of a recent World Bank report estimates that the incidence of forest fire was cut five-fold or more in protected forests controlled by indigenous peoples, when compared with those managed by the state. Studies in Nepal show that community control leads to increases in both forest area and tree density.
As ever, the private sector can make a contribution by ensuring that their own operations and supply respect land rights, and indigenous populations. They can also see to source from well managed sustainable forests and help to contribute to the incomes of indigenous groups.
The world's forests are increasingly valuable and relevant to our efforts to slow global climate change and encourage sustainable development. If governments, policy makers and businesses are serious about reducing poverty and conserving forests, they will call on forest nations to strengthen community land rights in their forests. Only when such rights are a reality on paper and in practice, will communities be able to manage the forests and curb the unsustainable practices now threatening tropical forest nations worldwide.
Posted By David Robeck at 1:33pm on June 06, 2012
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