Who We Are
The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) is a global coalition dedicated to advancing the land and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
Since 2005, RRI has fostered the creation and implementation of innovative solutions to address land tenure insecurity. RRI’s diverse Coalition supports the rights of local peoples to manage the lands and resources that are vital for their wellbeing and the stability of our planet.
Why Secure Land Tenure?
Up to 2.5 billion people have customary rights to the lands they live on. Their management of these lands has protected some of the world’s most critical biodiversity and ecosystems. Yet Indigenous Peoples and local communities legally own just 10 percent of the lands they claim. The lack of legal protection leaves the vast majority of these areas exposed to land grabbing and degradation. Women, who are increasingly leaders in local land governance, are particularly vulnerable.
In contrast, we know that secure property rights reduce inequality and underpin a number of the Sustainable Development Goals, including:
- Gender justice
- Conflict mitigation
- Climate change adaptation & mitigation
- Poverty reduction
- Sustainable economic development
- Ecosystem protection & conservation
- Food security
RRI enables change agents to advance land and forest rights through targeted research, advocacy, and policy interventions at the country and local levels. Our unique convening power, focus on catalyzing innovative solutions, and engagement with strategic networks enable us to bring together unlikely allies working toward this common goal. Our programs include:
- Strategic Analysis & Global Engagement
- Country & Regional Programs
- Networks & Instruments for Scale
- Strategic Response Mechanism
1. Strategic Analysis & Global Engagement
The tenure rights of women within indigenous and local communities are seldom acknowledged or protected by national laws. RRI is working closely with women’s advocacy networks to advance gender justice in collective tenure regimes and integrate metrics on gender equity into RRI’s tenure database. By building the evidence, we can render more visible the gender dimensions of collective tenure systems and deploy strategic and pointed analyses to influence ongoing policy reforms in places like Nepal, Liberia, and Colombia.
Companies and investors, powerful stakeholders in the developing world’s lands, often disregard community rights. RRI accelerates the transformation of business models in rural areas by: 1) supporting community efforts to hold companies and their suppliers accountable; 2) quantifying the risk associated with investing in areas without secure land rights; and 3) working directly with companies, suppliers, and investors (via the Interlaken Group) to leverage international commitments to drive change at the country level.
Global dialogue has increasingly acknowledged the crucial role of local communities in the management and conservation of forests. However, pressures from the extractive industry, protected areas, and carbon markets threaten to slow or roll back rights recognition. RRI thwarts these trends by building a body of evidence incentivizing governments and major conservation organizations to be more supportive of community rights, instigating a movement toward rights-based conservation models.
Indigenous and community forest management contributes significantly to carbon sequestration, at least 24 percent of the total carbon stored aboveground in the world’s tropical forests. RRI tracks these contributions and employs its vast network to convey data-based messages in global fora, such as the UNFCCC and Green Climate Fund, and to shape the global narrative in support of the critical role indigenous and local communities play in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
For more than a decade, RRI has tracked the amount of forestland legally recognized as owned by indigenous and local communities, creating an unprecedented global baseline. Since 2013, RRI has expanded the dataset to include all land types, women’s rights to collective lands, and carbon rights, and is now working to add community rights to water. This suite of groundbreaking analyses are an essential tool to measure progress on global goals, assess setbacks, and inform advocacy efforts across the world.
2. Country & Regional Programs
Just 1 percent of land in Africa is legally owned by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, placing millions at risk of losing their customarily held lands. Research supported by RRI has identified displacement of local peoples as the most significant driver of investment disputes on the continent, contradicting a prevailing belief that there are wide tracts of available land. RRI works with governments and the private sector to ensure rights-respecting policies and practices, focusing on countries on the cusp of significant change.
The stage is set for Liberia to become the West African land rights leader, as the country’s proposed Land Rights Act (LRA) would recognize community land rights without requiring a formal title. The RRI Coalition in Liberia is actively working across sectors to advocate for the passage of a strong LRA.
In 2016, Kenya passed major legislation on community tenure rights. RRI is supporting civil society to draft new regulations under the Act that respect and secure these rights in practice, as well as address the impact of private investment on communities.
Asia is home to 70 percent of the world’s Indigenous Peoples, but as economic growth accelerates, large-scale investment projects increasingly threaten the recognition of communities’ rights. Some countries have demonstrated the political will to recognize these land and forest rights, opening the doors for widespread poverty and deforestation mitigation and the return of forest management to local communities.
Securing the unrecognized land rights of Indigenous Peoples and communities in India alone could ensure the livelihoods of at least 200 million people and protect over 34 million hectares of forest. Under the 2006 Forest Rights Act, RRI is piloting participatory mapping and rights recognition models. RRI also produces analyses targeted at the private sector highlighting the relationship between land conflicts and investment risk in India.
With the largest forest cover in Asia, Indonesia has declared over 70 percent of its land area as forests, but has failed to recognize the rights of the tens of millions of forest dwellers who inhabit these lands. In 2016, RRI Collaborators supported titling of the first 9 customary indigenous forests over 13,000 hectares, positioning the RRI Coalition as the catalyst that could help put 12.7 million hectares of forests under community management.
A new constitution adopted in 2015 provides space for significant land reform in Nepal. RRI is taking advantage of this opportunity by bringing together a diverse coalition of indigenous, Dalit, and women’s groups to draft a new Forest Rights Law that would strengthen the forest, carbon, and land rights of all groups.
Where community land rights are recognized, great strides in poverty reduction have followed. Yet implementation remains limited in Latin America, and pro-industry governments threaten to roll back rights. RRI works to strengthen local resistance to these threats and support regional cooperation, which has proven an effective strategy to influence decision makers in the region.
The recent peace process, as well as new climate change initiatives, provides a unique opportunity in Colombia to ensure that agrarian reforms guarantee respect for collective land rights. RRI is also capitalizing on its recent success in securing titles for Afro-descendant communities in the Caribbean to promote the recognition of other pending land claims, and to push for the regional recognition of the rights of Afro-descendant peoples.
Opportunities have arisen due to new national climate change agreements with international donors for the RRI Coalition in Peru to position land rights for indigenous and local communities, as well as community contributions to mitigation strategies, at the center of these initiatives.
3. Networks & Instruments for Scale
RRI catalyzes new networks and initiatives to mobilize governments, communities, private investors, and international organizations to expand the recognition of community land rights, and address the critical constraints impeding global efforts to respect these rights. Recent examples include:
4. Strategic Response Mechanism
The Strategic Response Mechanism (SRM) is designed to enable flexible, rapid response to unforeseen opportunities, allowing RRI to effectively intervene in shifting political landscapes. Past SRMs include supporting communities
facing imminent threats to their territories as well as maximizing unexpected openings to secure land rights.
A recent SRM of $50,000 to the Ekuri community in Nigeria helped catalyze national and international pressure to challenge the government’s revocation of community land for a superhighway in Cross River State. As a result, over 180 forest communities will no longer be displaced.