TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Indigenous people formally own just one-tenth of the world’s land, according to research released on Wednesday as part of a campaign that aims to expand legal rights to land globally.

Between half and two-thirds of the world’s land is held by indigenous people and communities under informal or customary ownership systems, often not legally recognized by governments, said the report by Oxfam, the International Land Coalition and the Rights and Resources Initiative.

Communities without formal title to lands where they may have lived for generations can be displaced by large-scale resource extraction projects, said the report.

“People who don’t have formal ownership are in a situation of vulnerability,” said Gonzalo Oviedo, senior advisor to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one of several groups lobbying governments to double the amount of property formally owned by indigenous people by 2020.

“They can’t get a loan, can’t develop the land and can’t get legal or technical support activities for better land management,” he said.

His group and others are urging states to change laws and enforce existing mechanisms to protect indigenous land claims.

Expanding land rights can improve food production, reduce conflicts and promote environmental sustainability, as local residents have more incentive to protect land they formally own, the report said.

Globally, an estimated 2.5 billion people lack formal title to the lands where they live, the report said.

To determine how much land is held by indigenous people and communities, researchers of “Common Ground: Securing Land Rights and Safeguarding the Earth” went country-by-country calculating how much property was privately owned, held by the state or classified as protected areas.

All the rest was considered community lands, the researchers said.

For example, most land in Africa is held collectively but not legally, they said.


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(Reporting by Chris Arsenault, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit