The South and Southeast Asia region is home to the largest number of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the world. It also has some of the world’s highest rates of deforestation and poverty. Significant windows of opportunity exist for advancing both rights and climate outcomes, with political and corporate leadership in the region increasingly amenable to land rights recognition. Capitalizing on these opportunities is crucial in the face of closing democratic spaces, possible rollback of rights, expansion of concessions and conservation areas, and increased violence against Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) supports Indigenous and community actors in three priority countries—Indonesia, India, and Nepal—and responds to regional opportunities to drive rights recognition. It works to create an enabling environment for land rights recognition. Where laws or policies for recognition of community rights already exist, the Coalition works on the ground to shift toward implementation and ensure gender-equitable land rights reforms in electoral platforms.


Although the Indonesian government has committed to recognizing 12.7 million hectares of community forestland and allocate 9 million hectares for a planned agrarian reform, the government has had limited success delivering on these targets. Lack of capacity and coordination among different parts of government, corruption, and overlapping and often contradictory legal and regulatory frameworks constrains the process. The recent establishment of the “Working Group to Accelerate the Establishment of Customary Forests,” the moratorium on the expansion of palm oil concessions, and the state commitment to accelerate land redistribution reforms present opportunities to build collective momentum around the tenure agenda. Based on these recent developments, RRI focuses on protecting land rights defenders; support legal strategies for protecting and asserting land rights; and engaging with private sector and various levels of government on the tenure rights agenda.


In India, the legal framework provided by the Forest Rights Act (FRA) is an immense opportunity for scaling up community rights, but to date barely 5 percent of the potential for collective rights over 40 million hectares of forestland has been achieved. This is in part because the FRA faces strong opposition from conservationists, the forest bureaucracy, and political elements working with industrialists and conservation groups to file suits challenging the FRA before India’s Supreme Court. In 2019, the court ruled to evict millions of tribal peoples whose rights had not been upheld under the FRA. Although the court has put a stay on the evictions—in part as a response to the RRI Coalition’s advocacy—the threat remains. This also discourages others from applying for their rights under the FRA.

The key elements of the RRI Coalition’s strategy in India include countering this Supreme Court decision, leveraging data and analysis to convince political parties and policymakers of the benefits of implementing the FRA and protecting land rights, building the capacity of a network of lawyers and activists engaged in legal action to assert and protect land rights, analytical work to support advocacy, as well as supporting the Tenure Facility project that takes FRA implementation to scale.


While Nepal is famous around the world for community forestry, communities’ rights over their forest are not legally secure and their ability to freely make plans and use resources to benefit the communities are over-regulated. Fortunately, the recently enacted Constitution allows for a three-tiered government, within which local governments have enormous power to formulate laws recognizing the legal rights of communities, remove regulatory barriers, and provide budgetary support to these groups. Because of the long association of FECOFUN and its members with social movements, more than 1,200 of its members—including 700 women—were elected to local office in 2018. This electoral success and the political momentum behind land issues provides an unprecedented opportunity for local communities to have their forest rights recognized under local laws and develop markets for increased economic prosperity. RRI Partners and Collaborators are responding to the demand of these elected representatives to help them develop a model local law; develop smarter, more community-oriented regulations; and develop the markets for their enterprises.

Southeast Asia

In the Southeast Asia region, recent legal changes supporting the land rights of Indigenous and local communities have created windows of opportunity, including in Myanmar, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. However, implementation remains a major challenge and the rapidly increasing promotion of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to encourage foreign investment is not accompanied by effective environmental and social safeguards. High competition for land in the region means that SEZs often target areas under traditional collective management. Unfortunately, Indigenous Peoples and local communities are generally not involved in development planning, and stakeholders have failed to ensure access to information and effective participation at the level of affected peoples and communities. In this context, the RRI Coalition is engaging with the private sector and with community-based forest enterprise and monitoring policy changes and shifts in land reforms in the region.