As investment in the region expands and economic growth accelerates, the large scale transfer of land for agribusiness, logging, mineral concessions, and other investment projects continues to pose a serious threat to the recognition of customary and community land rights.

In many countries, women, Indigenous Peoples, lower castes, and ethnic minorities lack adequate representation or the opportunity for participation in local or national institutions. Even though their lives and well being are critically tied to these lands, local communities and Indigenous Peoples usually have little voice in the governance of those lands and are often displaced to make room for development projects and conservation areas. Policies that favor industry access to forests have also led to alarming levels of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in Indonesia.

Some countries have demonstrated the political will to recognize these customary land and forest rights by returning forest management to Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Strong civil society movements and willingness by state and corporate actors to engage with communities open up strategic opportunities to secure land and forest rights.

RRI’s Partners and Collaborators have been particularly effective in advocating for forest reforms in India, Indonesia, and Nepal. Read more about our efforts in these countries below.

  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Nepal

The History

After years of engagement, India’s government may be getting serious about land reform. Until the Forest Rights Act passed in 2006 in India, millions of tribal peoples lived as squatters on their own lands. In 2015, the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked nine states to speed up implementation of the Act.

At the same time, the government has been a friend to big business. The administration is supporting efforts to make it easier for the private sector to acquire land while diluting social and environmental safeguards and mechanisms for community consent. The effort has thus far failed in the face of consistent opposition by local movements, civil society, and the opposition political parties. The government has also supported efforts to displace local and tribal communities in the name of conservation.

The Opportunity & How RRI Is Creating Change

The potential impacts of the Forest Rights Act are huge. RRI research published in 2015 shows that the Forest Rights Act could unlock the claims of 150 million rural Indians to 40 million hectares of land. Where communities have had their rights recognized—such as in Gadachirolli (Maharashtra) and Narmada (Gujarat)—there have been substantial benefits to livelihoods and poverty alleviation.

RRI is seeking to facilitate the recognition of 10 million hectares of forest land by 2020. In 2015, efforts by local and national civil society organizations, with the support of RRI, led to the recognition of over 26,000 hectares of community forest rights for 43 tribal villages in the Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha. The RRI coalition has created and tested participatory mapping and recognition models that are now being scaled up on the ground. We are working to ensure that technologies and protocols for forest rights recognition are adopted by CSOs and state governments across the country, and conducting evidence-based analysis on rights-related issues.

The History

Indonesia had declared over 70 percent of its land area as legal forests, without recognizing the rights of tens of millions of Indigenous Peoples and other forest dwellers who inhabit and customarily claim these lands. This has led to large scale dispossession, displacement, criminalization, and conflicts. As democratic politics take root in Indonesia, conflicts over forest tenure are becoming more numerous and intense as people assert their rights. Burgeoning civil society and grassroots movements have spearheaded the push for land and forest tenure reforms.

Customary lands in Indonesia have been put under concessions for private corporations on a wide scale and remain vulnerable. In the past half-century, 30 percent of Indonesia’s land—much of it belonging to customary rights holders—was handed to private companies by the government, leading to land-grabbing, displacement, and tenure conflicts. These agribusiness concessions are also a major driving factor of deforestation and ecological degradation. The globally significant forest fires in Indonesia in 2015 are directly linked to companies who have received concessions on these fragile ecosystems and drained peat lands for plantations. A critical solution is recognizing the customary rights of local communities as well as their traditional, sustainable use of these lands, which would help prevent fires, contribute to food security, and mitigate climate change.

Efforts to secure recognition of community rights over forests and land is opposed by powerful vested interests and hindered by a lack of bureaucratic will. A comprehensive law on indigenous rights has stalled; the long awaited Indigenous Peoples’ task force has not yet been set-up; and the One-Map Policy will not include indigenous territories maps before 2019.

The Opportunity & How RRI Is Creating Change

Indonesia is on the cusp of a radical land reform that could affect tens of millions of Indigenous Peoples. Concerted advocacy by Indigenous Peoples, civil society, and social movements has created strong support for customary forest rights recognition. President Jokowi’s administration has declared its support; the Human Rights Commission concluded months of public hearings on crimes against Indigenous Peoples in early 2015; and the Constitutional Court ruled in 2013 that the government wrongly appropriated customary forests, opening the door for legal recognition of vast areas of Indonesia’s forest for Indigenous Peoples and local communities. These actions represent significant progress.

There is an unprecedented opportunity to secure community rights. RRI is focused on ensuring that the government’s targets to redistribute 9 million hectares of land and to put 12.7 million hectares of forest under community management are achieved by 2019. The RRI Coalition is engaging at all levels of government on rights recognition and climate change mitigation, and is actively supporting the draft law on indigenous rights, working closely with the government to create a conflict resolution mechanism, engaging with the private sector on responsible business practices, and advocating for the inclusion of community rights in development funds and REDD+ projects.

The History

Nepal’s new constitution creates an opportunity for land tenure reform. A new constitution adopted in September 2015 provides a space for creating legislation that can strongly recognize community and indigenous rights over land and forests. Existing forest law provides limited jurisdiction and power over forests to community groups and Indigenous Peoples.

The Opportunity & How RRI Is Creating Change

RRI is focused on the need for a new forest law recognizing the rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples. To achieve this end, RRI is supporting a broad coalition of indigenous, community, women’s, and Dalit organizations to create a common political platform for forest rights recognition; and facilitating the drafting of a new forest rights law that meets the diverse demands of these groups. We are also supporting political mobilization and advocacy towards enactment of this new, comprehensive forest rights law. Finally, RRI is working to ensure that the Chure Environmental Conservation Declaration, which was declared in 2015 without consulting the 5 million people who lived in the region, does not displace local peoples.

Asia Partners

Asia Affiliated Networks

Asia Collaborators

  • AKAR Foundation
  • All China Women’s Federation
  • AsM
  • Bogor Agricultural University
  • BRWA
  • Center for Mountain Ecosystem Studies
  • Chinese Academy of Forestry Research
    Institute of Forest Policy and Information
  • COFSUN
  • Community Forestry Communication Forum (FKKM)
  • Epistema Institute
  • Forest Action
  • Foundation for People and Community Development
  • Global Alliance of Community Forestry
  • Hak Foundation
  • Helvetas Bhutan
  • HIMAWANTI
  • HuMa
  • Institut Dayakologi
  • JKPP
  • Kemitraan Partnership
  • Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria
  • Land Issues Working Group
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, LAO
  • Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, LAO
  • National Assembly of LAP PDR
  • National Forestry Council
  • NGO Federation
  • NORMS
  • NRM People’s Parliament, Nepal
  • Peking University
  • PUSAKA
  • Rastriya Dalit Network Nepal
  • Safir
  • Sajogyo Institute
  • SawitWatch
  • SPWD
  • State Forest Administration of China
  • Vasundhara
  • Working Group on Tenure
  • Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
  • Yunnan Agricultural University