Indigenous Peoples and local communities protect half the world's land, but formally own just 10 percent, according to a report released today by a global alliance of NGOs.
The report, “Common Ground: Securing Land Rights and Safeguarding the Earth,” is published by the International Land Coalition (ILC), Oxfam, and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). Together with more than 300 organizations and communities from around the world, they have launched the Land Rights Now campaign, calling for the amount of land these communities own to double by 2020.
Mike Taylor, ILC’s Director, said: “Billions of people around the world depend on their land to live; if we do not fight to secure this essential human right, we are turning our backs on them, their cultures, and the environment. The lives of those who depend on community-owned land for their homes and livelihoods are at stake.”
The report and the Land Rights Now campaign highlight the experiences of people who depend on land for their livelihoods as well as their cultural identity.
Mansa Ram, a local leader of a community in India’s Udaipur where lands were under threat, said: “These lands are our livelihoods. From these lands we were able to harvest resources. The land belonged to us, the water belonged to us. From this, we were able to live. When we had common land we felt free.”
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “Oxfam is standing with the 2.5 billion people around the world who rely on community lands - for their livelihoods, security and cultural identity. We are calling for indigenous and community land rights to be secured once and for all: this struggle is as much about fighting poverty as it is about tackling injustice and inequality; and advancing women’s rights.”
The report breaks down the reasons why land rights are needed:
- Fight poverty and hunger: Ninety percent of Africa’s rural land is undocumented, leaving rural communities vulnerable to land-grabbing. The lack of land rights is directly linked to the continent’s high poverty rates, where almost half of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
- Promote gender equality: Tanzanian women with secure land rights earn three times more income than those without; in India, secure land rights have been linked to a decrease in violence generally, including up to eight times less domestic violence.
- Tackle climate change: Collectively-owned forests and pastures are better protected and cared for than government lands. Unrecognized indigenous territories in the Amazon Basin, the Mesoamerican region, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia alone store the carbon equivalent of nearly 1.5 times the world’s 2015 emissions. Without legal protection, they are at risk of being razed. Global warming would likely exceed 2 degrees and bring about catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, storms, and flooding.
- Prevent conflicts with corporations: Businesses that ignore community land rights can face project costs almost 29 times higher, and even risk having their operations suspended or shut down.
Andy White, RRI’s Coordinator, said: “Secure land rights for local peoples are a win for all of humanity. Respect for these rights is crucial for communities whose lives center around their ancestral lands; for governments committed to fighting poverty, limiting carbon emissions, and promoting economic development; for companies seeking to limit their financial risks and ensure stable production; and for people everywhere who want a more stable and secure world.”
The importance of land rights is underscored in two major recent international agreements, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Addressing the unique needs of the world’s 2.5 billion Indigenous Peoples and local communities is crucial to fulfilling the aspiration of the SDGs to “leave no one behind.”
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