Welcome to the Community Land Rights Blog!

The Community Land Rights (CLR) Blog was launched in the wake of the International Conference on Scaling-Up Strategies to Secure Community Land and Resource Rights, held on September 19-20 in Interlaken, Switzerland. Since then, we have featured notes and insights about the conference, as well as posts from a variety of organizations working on community land rights across the world.  

The CLR Blog will continue to keep the conversation and momentum, strengthened by the conference, going by sharing critical insights into threats faced by community land rights in regions across the world, and highlight ongoing efforts to tackle those threats by organizations and individuals engaged in the struggle.  If you are a part of such efforts and would like to contribute a post, please read the submission guidelines.

You can also join or follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #landrightsnow.

COP20 President, Private Sector Rep React to Release of Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change

In response to the release of “Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change,” private sector representatives and government officials released the following statements:

Peru’s environment minister and COP20 president Manuel Pulgar Vidal:

“The climate negotiations in Lima later this year offer a key opportunity to make progress on real solutions for curbing carbon emissions from deforestation. The report ‘Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change’ highlights that an important element to support our objective to reduce deforestation, is to strengthen governance issues, including strengthening community forest rights, so that forest communities can withstand diverse pressures. The Peruvian Ministry of Environment as part of its objectives to support forest conservation, instituted a program that aims to strengthen the rights of forest communities and grant benefits for sustainably managing their forests. While there are many factors involved in deforestation, strengthening the rights of forest communities is simply the smart choice for the future of our people, our forests and our climate.”

Robert ter Kuile, Senior Director Sustainability, PepsiCo, Inc:

Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change demonstrates that PepsiCo’s commitment to respect the legitimate land tenure rights of indigenous peoples and other community members directly affected by forestry operations is not only good for businesses and communities; it is also good for combating climate change and reducing deforestation.”


Technical Brief: Land rights in the Post-2015 Agenda

In this technical brief, the Open Working Group’s Zero Draft is urged to include targets on secure rights to land and natural resources, particularly for women and men most in need, in recognition that they are fundamental to poverty eradication, food security, women’s empowerment, gender equality, environmental stewardship, human rights, and more inclusive and peaceful societies.

Download a PDF of the brief here.

Prepared by LandesaHuairou CommissionGlobal Witness, Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), Oxfam Internationalthe Forest Peoples Programme, and the Secretariat of the International Land Co

Policy brief: Community land rights in the “Zero Draft” of the Post-2015 Agenda

The United Nation’s  post-2015 development agenda’s transformative potential depends on the extent to which it can address the structural factors that entrench global inequalities ranging from poverty to food insecurity. Many organizations consider secure and equitable rights to land and natural resources to be fundamental to achieving the agenda’s goals.

However, the zero draft fails to recognize that land tenure governance is often community-based, and is organized according to local, customary laws. It is imperative that these tenure systems are strengthened rather than fragmented, and that collective rights are recognized alongside purely individual ones.

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), Oxfam, and the Secretariat of the International Land Coalition (ILC) have proposed a revision of six of the agenda’s goals to better ensure that positive change reaches those most reliant on land-based resources, particularly women and Indigenous Peoples.

The full policy brief can be accessed here.

Times of India: Tribals use GPS to claim forest land rights

As seen on the Times of India

VADODARA: Amid their struggle to get forest land rights in Gujarat, tribals have found a friend in a gadget that gives convincing evidence about their claims over land under the Forest Rights Act. The tribals have started using Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to mark and measure the lands they till in the forest areas.

The process of such mapping had begun a couple of years ago, but today it has become a regular exercise in several pockets in south and central Gujarat to map plots cultivated by tribals. Such has been the success and word of mouth publicity of the experiment that activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Bihar asked those involved in the process to demonstrate it. Madhya Pradesh went a step further and its officials even sought a formal presentation on it to implement the process in its six tribal districts.

“We started the process after claims were being challenged by officials on flimsy grounds and they were not willing to accept a series of evidences that could have been considered to prove that a tribal was cultivating a plot of land. The matter was even taken up with Gujarat high court that said that satellite imagery other than that by Bhaskaracharya Institute of Space Applications and Geo-Informatics (BISAG) should be considered. BISAG’s images were not to be considered as it had got them done through an agency and the work was not convincing,” said Ambrish Mehta of ARCH Vahini, the NGO that is promoting the cause of land rights for tribals.

The tribals have so far measured 25,000 plots in this manner in over 250 villages. As many as 36 GPS instruments costing about Rs 14,500 each have been put into use for the process. To offset the cost, a claimant of land has to pay a mere Rs 60 to get the land surveyed using GPS.

“A surveyor would charge them much more. And if someone is not in a position to pay, we even let go of the amount,” Mehta said.

To authenticate the entire process, the maps are endorsed by the forest rights committee of the village or the gram sabha and these are then put up before the sub-divisional level committee that looks into the claims.

“Even otherwise, it is not possible to manipulate the images as they can be tallied with a satellite image of the area in any previous year to check if the claim is right,” Mehta said.

But the response of the state machinery has been mixed. In Narmada, Tapi and Surat districts such maps are accepted while in districts like Valsad and Dang, officials are refusing to accept them. “A resolution by the tribal development department that has issued orders to drop these is a major hurdle. This resolution is against the high court order,” Mehta said.

National Geographic: A Bottom-Line Focus For Solving Mining Conflicts

Downstream from the suspended Pascua-Lama mine, in Chile's Atacama Region (Credit:  Alturas Oceanicas)As seen on the National Geographic

The lure of precious metals and other natural resources has long been a source of conflict in Latin America, from the Andes to the Amazon and most everywhere else. But new research has begun to put a price tag on this conflict, and investors have started to respond. When the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples are uprooted by large-scale mining developments, their opposition is driving up the cost of these developments, a point that is finally starting to get noticed in corporate financial statements.

In a class action lawsuit filed last week, investors of the Barrick Gold Corp. argued that the company misstated the financial risk in its $8.5 billion Pascua Lama mining development on the border of Chile and Argentina. The project was originally estimated to cost $3 billion.

Instead of mineral riches, Barrick has unearthed a wealth of criticism for the project’s environmental impacts and how the company has addressed the concerns of local communities. Farmers living downstream of the mega-mine have fought the company for more than a decade, insisting that it would degrade the glaciers above the mine and that chemicals like cyanide and mercury will flow through the watershed of the semi-arid environment.

While the project has been shelved by Chile’s environmental authorities, Barrick has been trying to restart the project, which it once promoted as having the potential to become “one of the world’s largest, lowest cost mines.” All activity at the development—which sought to tap more than 15 million ounces of gold and 675 million ounces of silver—is currently suspended, which will cost the company an estimated US$300 million in 2014.

Argentina’s mining minister has also been outspoken in urging the project forward.

The conflict between Barrick and the local communities was typical of the 50 case studies examined in the first peer-reviewed study on how local conflicts impact the bottom line in international mining, oil and gas developments. The researchers found that delays caused by local conflicts could cost about US$20 million a week for mining projects valued between US$3 billion and US$5 billion.

The lead author for the study, Deputy Directory of University of Queensland Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining Dr. Daniel Franks, said that community opposition had become a major contributor to the cost of projects.

“There is a popular misconception that local communities are powerless in the face of large corporations and governments,” Dr Franks said. “The cost-cutting currently under way in these industries seems to be missing the potential opportunities for cost savings that can come from investing in improved relationships with communities.”

The Pascua-Lama project was featured in a report released recently by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the impact of Canadian mining in Latin America. The IAHCR report notes that 50-70 percent of mining in Latin America is run by Canadian companies like Barrick. In 2012, more than half of all mining companies globally were registered on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and almost three quarters of all shares issued by the mining sector in the world were run by the TSX.

Yet when asked by The Guardian to respond to the IAHCR report’s main points, a spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) said that “Canada’s mining sector leads the world in responsible mining practices.” The disconnect between what happens on the ground and how it is discussed on the other side of the world goes a long way in explaining how conflicts escalate to the point where the bottom lines of international corporations are imperiled.

It remains to be seen whether the new shareholder lawsuit will motivate corporations to build constructive relationships with local communities affected by large-scale natural resource developments. More often than not, the communities feel bulldozed instead.

“A number of companies have been caught out assuming that seemingly powerless local communities and Indigenous Peoples won’t have a material impact on the success of the development,” added Dr. Franks, who emphasized the need for companies to identify and respond to issues before they escalate into conflict. “Extracting resources is as much a social project as it is a technical one.”

Original Article - A Bottom-Line Focus For Solving Mining Conflicts

Global Call for Inclusion of Community Land Rights in the UN’s Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda

Washington, D.C. (17 April, 2014)—A new policy brief released by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), Oxfam, and the Secretariat of the International Land Coalition (ILC) calls for the inclusion of “community land rights” in the United Nations’ Post-2015 Development Agenda, terming it critical to eradicating poverty and respecting earth’s life support systems.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015, and the development of the goals that should follow them is currently underway by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ownership of over one-half of the developing world’s rural, forest and dryland areas is contested, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of over two billion people. These people often have no formal title to the lands on which they live and depend, and rarely have the means to defend the rights they do possess. This lack of protection becomes especially evident and cause for conflict when private enterprises acquire land and/or resources from governments without addressing who lives there.

“Community land rights are not just a national or a regional problem; they call for global attention,” said Jenny Springer, Director of Global Programs for the Rights and Resources Initiative. “The urgency to address this issue has only increased with the sharply rising demand for resources. Without a dramatic step up in efforts to recognize these rights not only are billions of people’s livelihoods at stake, but so is global progress on addressing poverty, conflict, and climate change.”

The brief—prepared by RRI, Oxfam, and the ILC, the world’s largest networks of organizations active on forest and land rights—follows an earlier call to action by the organizations at an international conference on community land and resource rights held in September, 2013, which called for a doubling of the amount of land recognized as owned or controlled by Indigenous Peoples and local communities by 2018. The conference also emphasized the need to rapidly recognize all land under indigenous or customary management, which has not yet received adequate international attention.

The three organizations have been collaborating since March, 2013 in pursuance of a common goal to bring global attention to the unprecedented threats to the tenure security of the world’s poor, in parallel to the importance of land rights to development, food security, environmental stewardship, cultural survival and dignity, and climate change mitigation. 

The RRI, Oxfam and ILC brief expands on a proposed target and indicators for tenure put forth by the Global Land Indicator Initiative (GLII) and recommends a target to:

 “Increase by XX% the number of women and the number of men, indigenous peoples and local communities, who have secure tenure of land, property and natural resources that support their well‑being and livelihoods.” 

This brief comes at a point when several Member States of the Open Working Group on the SDGs have already identified secure and just access to productive assets as an important area for possible targets and indicators. The report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda also proposed targets on “secure rights to land, property, and other assets” as a building block to end poverty, and on land and property rights for women. Furthermore, many leading advocacy organizations have called for the inclusion of land rights in recognition that they are fundamental to poverty eradication and promoting equality. The inclusion becomes all the more significant because communities’ access to land, property, and natural resources is cross-cutting in most of the proposed goals.

“We predict that this target is capable of capturing a wide array of concerns related to land rights in rural and urban settings,” said Duncan Pruett, Policy Advisor on Land Rights for Oxfam. “It also captures the need to ensure greater gender equality and a transformative agenda reaches those most reliant on land-based resources, as well as the broad consensus reached through the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, and the Framework and Guidelines for Land Policy in Africa.”

Two of the indicators proposed address the importance of community tenure in building strong, sustainable and prosperous local societies, recognizing the diversity of tenure systems:

  • Area of land legally recognized under the tenure of indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • Extent to which the national legal framework recognizes and protects land tenure rights and uses derived through a plurality of tenure regimes, in line with international standards

“We believe that highlighting the grave global crisis facing Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the Post-2015 Development Agenda will go a long way in convincing key actors—such as governments and the private sector—to join the fight for community land rights,” said Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative. “The time for action is now—the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of millions of people who are the customary owners of their land and resources cannot and will not be ignored.”

Read in French or Spanish.

New Study: Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities Face Slowdown in Recognition of Rights to Land and Resources despite More Verbal Commitments by Governments, Corporations

More than three out of every five hectares of forestland still claimed by governments of low and middle income countries; progress on the ground remains elusive

LONDON (5 February, 2014)—A recent spate of high-profile pronouncements and court rulings that support the claims of Indigenous Peoples to land and resources in tropical forest nations have yet to be implemented, according to two new reports released today by the Rights and Resources Initiative. Around the world, the pace of legal recognition of land and resource rights has slowed dramatically even as the global hunger for food, fuel, water and mineral wealth continues.

In examining 33 countries (representing 85 percent of forests in low and middle income countries), the new RRI analysis found that the area of forestland secured for community ownership since 2008 is less than 20 percent of the area that was recognized in the previous six years. And despite progress in Latin America in particular, governments still claim 61 percent of the world’s tropical forests, home to tens of millions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

In a further analysis examining the legal frameworks in a subset of these countries, researchers determined that the land tenure laws passed since 2008 are weaker and recognize fewer rights than those passed before.

“We applaud every court ruling, corporate announcement, and government press conference acknowledging the rights of people to the lands on which they live,” said Andy White, Coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative. “But communities have grown tired of waiting for these fine words to become law, and for those laws to be implemented. Progress is measured by actions and accomplishments on the ground, not by words alone.”

The first report, “What Future for Reform? Progress and slowdown in forest tenure reform since 2002,” determined that the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to own and control their forest lands are formally recognized across substantial areas of the world’s forests—at least 513 million hectares, which is more than one and a half times the size of India. However, most of this land is concentrated only in a handful of lower and middle-income countries.

Recognition and enforcement of forest peoples’ rights support their roles as key actors in global forest management, conservation and climate-change mitigation efforts. But government claims to forestlands leave communities vulnerable to allocations of their customary lands to the private sector, for exploitation of the natural resources that the land contains.

“It is no coincidence the global slowdown in reform happened at the exact time that the financial value of land, water, and carbon skyrocketed,” said Raul Silva Telles do Valle, Policy and Rights Program Coordinator for Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) in Brazil. “As a result, ‘land grabbing’ has spiked and impoverished countries desperate for an economic boost see forests as a commodity, not as their citizens’ home. These governments need to see the forest as more than just land for exploitation and a collection of trees.”

The report also highlights a number of stark regional differences:

  • In Latin America, communities own or control more than 39 percent of forests, a direct contrast with sub-Saharan Africa where less than six percent of forests are controlled by communities and no data is available to assess the extent of forest lands that communities own.
  • 89 percent of the recorded progress seen in Africa since 2002 comes from the implementation of Tanzania’s Village Land Act (1999) and Forest Act (2002).
  • Only two African countries in the study—Liberia and Mozambique—have statutory frameworks that recognize community ownership of land. However, there is no data on where these laws would apply; the true extent of community ownership has not been fully assessed in either country.
  • By 2013, all 12 Asian countries surveyed had implemented some form of community tenure regime, but these laws affect less than four percent of forestland in seven of the nations.

Hope for Change Starts in Latin America

According to the new report, reform efforts in Latin America represent nearly two thirds of the global increase in forested area under community ownership or control from 2002-2013. Most of the countries in the region have adopted some form of legislation recognizing communities’ land and resource rights. That said, all countries in the region still face major challenges in implementing this legislation and effectively protecting local rights.

Outside of Latin America, the data tells a different story. For example, the countries of the Congo basin, which collectively contain the world’s second largest rainforest, governments claim legal control of more than 99 percent of their forest land. Similarly, the countries of peninsular Southeast Asia control more than 99 percent of their forestlands.

The Indonesian government controls 96 percent of the country’s forests, but change could be on the horizon after the country’s constitutional court in 2013 ruled that state claims to customary forests were unconstitutional.

“Since the Constitutional Court ruling, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry has issued several regulations that run contrary to the ruling and have led to displacement and abuse of the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Abdon Nababan, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) in Indonesia. “If the government keeps delaying the implementation of the ruling, AMAN expects an escalation of conflicts in the near future. The President of Indonesia should keep his promise made last June at the FTA Conference to protect indigenous rights, and immediately take action for the benefit of the country. The rest of the world is watching.”

Assessing the Impact of REDD+

Since 2008, REDD+ has been the world’s leading initiative to support forest conservation, and has pledged to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The program promises to allow communities, corporations, and others to protect forests and sell the carbon they contain as offsets to polluting entities seeking to meet emissions targets.

“The research findings are doubly disappointing because in this same period a series of international initiatives—including REDD+—committed to supporting land rights,” said Jenny Springer, Director of Global Programs for Rights and Resources Initiative. “In some regards it is too early to assess these initiatives, but while REDD+ has previously focused on preparing carbon markets, it now clearly needs to prioritize real investment and direct support to tenure reforms or it will fail.”

REDD+ has been negotiated at the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and at the last COP (in Warsaw), consensus was reached on a broad array of questions on how the program can move forward, but the future of REDD+ will be turn on the issue of land and resource rights.

The next COP will take place in Lima, Peru, in November 2014. But Peru itself—with a substantial portion of the Amazon in its eastern half—has a spotty land rights record. Indigenous communities own or control almost 23 percent of Peru’s forest land, yet the government has granted more than 60 percent of the Peruvian Amazon to oil and gas concessions. These concessions overlap with four territorial reserves, five communal reserves, and at least 70 percent of the native communities in Peru.

The Private Sector: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

A second Rights and Resources Initiative report, also released today, “Lots of Words, Little Action,” reviewed 2013 accomplishments, challenges and initiatives in the land rights arena. The report found more commitments—many of them quite promising—but few tangible results yet on the ground. Many of these commitments came from the private sector, where major agribusiness purchasers—including Asia Pulp & Paper, Unilever, Coca Cola, Wilmar and Nestlé—pledged to ensure that partners throughout their supply chains respect the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

The implementation of previous commitments has not gone smoothly however. For example, commitments from Rio Tinto in 2012 were not implemented globally in 2013, as the company’s projects in Mongolia and Mozambique pushed aside local communities living on land rich with gold, copper, and coal.

Previous RRI reports underlined the partnership of governments and corporations in disregarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. In an analysis of 12 emerging market countries, researchers found that at least one out of every three hectares licensed by for natural resource development overlaps with land inhabited by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. But the motivation for reform is clear: when these overlaps occur and communities lose their land, the conflicts that result can wreak havoc on the projects and the corporations’ bottom line, increasing operational costs by as much as 2800%.

This report also highlighted how violence against land rights advocates continues unabated, and discussed the continuing problems that Liberia has experienced in light of commitments to respect its citizens’ land rights.

In 2013, a draft audit from a government watchdog found that most of the $8 billion in contracts to tap the country’s wealth in land and natural resources were illegal—including two of the largest concessions, each for 220,000 hectare palm oil plantations that have violated the rights of communities living there. And officials were found to have awarded operators of mines and plantations the carbon rights to the land when those rights—worth a fortune under initiatives such as REDD+—should have been given to the communities that live on the land in question.

Liberia’s proposed land policy would provide landmark protections for its Indigenous Peoples and local communities. It has not, however, been enacted into law yet.

“In 2014, everybody—governments, corporations, international organizations—needs to pick up the pace of implementation and move from words to actions,” said Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative. “There is so much more that needs to be done, and it starts with the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and other global efforts to tackle poverty as well as climate change. The key to success lies in the recognition of community land rights. You cannot improve the lives of Indigenous People and local communities if there’s always the threat of their land being sold out from under them.”


The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) is a global coalition of 13 Partners and over 140 international, regional and community organizations advancing forest tenure, policy and market reforms. RRI leverages the strategic collaboration and investment of its Partners and Collaborators around the world by working together on research, advocacy, and convening strategic actors to catalyze change on the ground. RRI is coordinated by the Rights and Resources Group, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. For more information, please visit www.rightsandresources.org.

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IIED: Saving the forests for last – in the hope, at last, of saving the forests

The post-2015 development agenda must recognise that the fates of forests and people are entwined. Credit: Duncan Macqueen

The post-2015 development agenda must recognise that the fates of forests and people are entwined. Credit: Duncan Macqueen

As seen IIED

The Sustainable Development Goals, which nations are set to negotiate soon, must not only mention saving the world’s forests, but also explain how to do this, says Duncan Macqueen.

A cocktail of planetary proportions – and indeed significance – will be on the table next week in New York. Government representatives will meet there to soak up the opinions of selected speakers on equality and equity, gender, conflict, the rule of law, governance – oh, and the future of oceans, forests and biodiversity!

Their mission, as members of the eighth and last meeting of the Open Working Group on the future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is to help shape a report that will feed into intergovernmental negotiations in September – when the SDGs for all nations to adopt will be set in stone (albeit not legally binding stone).

How could anyone take stock of this heady mix of seemingly disparate topics? The answer lies in the fact that these topics are not as unrelated as they seem.

Forests connect

Foresters have long known that equitable and secure property rights (including between men and women) are the basic foundation of good forest governance, the rule of law, and the key to protecting forests and biodiversity.

Halting deforestation and forest degradation requires the mobilisation of hundreds of millions of local people who live in and around forests – giving them the rights, incentives and the knowledge, skills and resources to restore and manage those forests sustainably.

Those who have listened to the view of indigenous, family and community forest peoples – have concluded that the future of forests very much depends oninvesting in locally controlled forestry. Alternative approaches that strip away local control are a recipe for conflict and forest loss.

The SDGs, however they are framed, need to make the links between forests, biodiversity, governance, equity and avoiding conflict. The Open Working Group’s consideration of all these issues together makes good sense.

Getting forests into the goals

But how best to insert such ideas into the SDGs? This is the question assessed in the Technical Support Team’s issues brief on forests, which lays out the ground for the Open Working Group.

For some, such as the civil society organisations that produced the Bonn Declaration in 2011, the best way to do this would be to have a stand-alone goal on healthy forests.

For others, such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High Level Panel of eminent persons, it would make more sense to integrate the sustainable management of ALL natural resources into one goal.

Yet others, such as the Campaign for Peoples Goals for Sustainable Development, air concerns over the resource-centric nature of such goals and are pushing for a much stronger emphasis on justice and the rights of local forest people.

For many, it will be the definition of targets and indicators – rather than the goals they serve – that will be decisive in making the links described above.

For that reason, whatever emerges in the Open Working Group’’ summary report, it will be essential for everyone with an interest in forests – especially those from the global South – to actively engage with and review its contents.

Marrying goals and national priorities

IIED is facilitating a process, designed to enable that kind of active engagement. It will focus on helping to install forest-related targets and indicators that directly contribute towards notional goal areas in the post-2015 development framework, covering the multiple ways in which forests contribute to climate, resilience, job creation, livelihoods and poverty reduction.

Our approach aims to strengthen country capacity to adapt and apply the framework in ways that are driven by national priorities.

The end of the stock taking by the Open Working Group is at hand. But that does not mean that this is the last stand for those championing the importance of forests. The door for engagement will be open a while longer yet – and IIED wants to help interested parties to make sure that the SDGs not only mention saving the forests, but also explain how to do it.

Duncan Macqueen is Principal Researcher in the Forest Team at the International Institute for Environment and Development. (Duncan.macqueen@iied.org)

Original Article - Saving the forests for last – in the hope, at last, of saving the forests

IRIN NEWS: Indonesian indigenous groups fight climate change with GPS mapping

Indonesia, Community Mapping, Indigenous Peoples, FPP, Tebtebba

Photo: AMAN

As seen on IRIN News

BANGKOK, 8 January 2014 (IRIN) – Indigenous communities in Indonesia are using GPS technology to demarcate the boundaries of their ancestral lands, a move many believe could also help mitigate the negative effects of climate change.

“Community mapmaking has been a successful tool to show the government that we are here, and that we want to protect our lands,” said Rukka Sombolinggi, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), a Jakarta-based secretariat representing more than 2,000 indigenous communities.

Indonesia’s dense forests are home to an estimated 50-70 million indigenous people, and 10 percent of all known plant species, according to AMAN and the Rainforest Action Network, a non-profit international environmental advocacy group headquartered in San Francisco.

“Indonesia’s forests are recognized as important, not only at local and national levels but also at the global level, as they include some of the world’s most important forests with the highest values for biodiversity and carbon,” Gustavo Fonseca, the head of the Natural Resources Team for the Global Environment Facility (GEF), told IRIN. GEF is a funding mechanism for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Maps stand up in court

More than 600 cases for land rights have been filed in Indonesian courts by indigenous communities in the past three years, according to the Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education), based in the Philippines. These advocates of sustainability and tribal rights hope the two- and three-dimensional maps will help the thousands of diverse aboriginal groups to guard the health of the environments they depend on for survival.

In 2011, the Indonesian government granted forest concession licenses covering 23.41 million hectares of forest land to extractive industries and agri-business companies, the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), a UK-based charity dedicated to aid for forest dwellers worldwide, noted in a 2013 report.

The FPP says this has led to a growing number of land conflicts, rising to 8,000 disputes in and out of court in 2012, according to Indonesia’s National Land Agency (BPN). “Map-making has helped them to assert their claims to the land by identifying exactly the areas they have lived since time immemorial,” said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the head of the Tebtebba Foundation.

Indonesia has more than one thousand indigenous groups who have been participating in mapping for the past two decades, according to AMAN and the FPP. Marcus Colchester, the senior policy advisor for the FPP, says new technology increases the speed at which it can be done.

The digitized maps – which include spatial elements (physical geography of land formations and resources) and non-spatial information (sacred cultural and ritual sites) – cover more than 2.4 million hectares of indigenous areas, from Sumatra island to Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

How well the maps are used, and how effective they become, depends on the organization within communities, and the balance of power with local authorities in each area, Tauli-Corpuz notes.

On behalf of aboriginal communities, AMAN submitted 256 maps to the national Geospatial Information Agency in mid-November 2012, in accordance with the government’s One Map Initiative (OMI) launched in 2012.

“They have accepted our maps, and are considering and acknowledging them [on a policy level],” said Sombolinggi. “It is critical evidence for our land rights.”

Amendments to the 1999 Forestry Law, based on a court ruling in May 2013, removed the classification of customary forests as ‘state forests’ and this “was helped along by the submission of the maps,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Photo: AMAN

The caretakers of biodiversity

Land rights are intrinsically linked to sustainability, and to mitigating climate change by preserving the earth’s forests, which are seen by many as the “lungs of the planet”, say experts.

“Recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights is an essential plank in this policy reform, which will not only slow deforestation but will also secure community livelihoods, reduce land conflicts and foster local food security,” Colchester told IRIN.

Maintaining biodiversity aids adaptation by “[removing] carbon dioxide from the atmosphere… and reducing emissions from forest degradation”, says the Convention on Biological Diversity, an agreement signed by 150 leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

Indigenous people have high stakes in protecting biodiversity because they depend on its survival for their own, hunting and gathering non-timber forest products for their daily needs, according to Nicole Girard, the Asia Programme Coordinator for Minority Rights Group International, a UK-based charity.

“Once their resources are threatened by either development projects or climate change, the impact is felt more directly and more acutely than by those in cities,” Girard said.

Over the generations they have learned to live sustainably and have a keen understanding of a forest’s limitations, making them the ideal caretakers of forested land. For example, a traditional fire prevention practice preserves eco-system functioning by creating barriers to contain flames, protecting the deepest and most essential parts of the forest, Tauli-Corpuz explained.

Fonseca pointed out that “Indigenous peoples’ rights to forests have long been recognized as a crucial component to maintain the environment and address climate change.”

Norges Bank Investment Management: Letter to the Rainforest Foundation

As seen on Norges Bank Investment Management

Thank you for meeting NBIM on several occasions over the past years to discuss tropical deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia, with particular emphasis on palm oil. At our most recent meeting on the 22nd of November we discussed with The Munden Project and the Rainforest Foundation Norway ways in which your insight on tropical deforestation could be arranged into structured data.

The Government Pension Fund Global (the “Fund”) has through its investments global exposure. NBIM regularly receives information and assessments which highlight environmental, social and governance risks from academic researchers, think-tanks, NGOs or other stakeholders relating to companies in which the Fund invests. This is interesting input in the management of the Fund, however it is often provided in a format which is not sufficient for research purposes or for being integrated in the investment process in a consistent or scalable way.

Objective information related to environmental, social and governance issues should be made available based on a transparent methodology, in a structured manner and be consistent over time. NBIM sees value in external research that investigates any causality between environmental, social and governance risk factors, and economic growth and company profitability. Through structured, scalable and objective information the Rainforest Foundation Norway can contribute to close this evidence-based research gap. We would welcome research on such topics, where both research and information could be integrated in our investment process in a scalable way. We expect other long-term investors to share this perspective.

Progress is dependent on the availability of relevant and reliable data which reflects actual issues and potential risks. The information needs to be supplied by experts such as the Rainforest Foundation Norway, and others. We have discussed tropical deforestation, water related issues, human rights concerns and challenges related to land rights with a number of respected stakeholders including Columbia University, the World Resources Institute and The Munden Project. Those stakeholders have expressed an interest in strengthening environmental, social and governance datasets to support the development and use of structured data. We have also raised the need for such information with service providers to the financial sector, such as FTSE, MSCI and FactSet.

We expect a market for solutions in this area to develop. Such a market should offer revenues to providers and in turn support product development. We believe the Rainforest Foundation Norway could contribute a range of information including:

  • Geographic level – deforestation issues may arise in specific areas. Systematic reporting of relevant metrics at a local level could be overlaid with a company’s operational footprint in the risk monitoring
  • Sector level – sector specific information with clear distinction between issues related to for instance agriculture, mining, pulp and paper and would highlight deforestation trends and the drivers of these trends.
  • Company and mills, plantation level –companies have operations across many locations and sites and may face a range of challenges. To capture this requires a high level of granularity and local issues to be measured in a systematic way.

We recognize that the suggested framework will require a long-term effort. This should include constructive collaboration on methodology and processes with numerous stakeholders with a range of expertise. This should ensure specialization in the collection and providing of data, while others can develop a methodological framework to ensure standardization and comparability. NBIM will work to develop similar solutions for other environmental, social or governance issues.

We look forward to discussing this framework with you further in due course.

Sincerely yours,


Jan Thomsen                                                               William Ambrose

Chief Risk Officer                                                      Global Head of Business Risk

Original Posting – Environmental, social and governance information: A letter to the Rainforest Foundation