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.  (See full coverage of the conference).

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.

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.”

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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

The Guardian: Coca-Cola vows to axe suppliers guilty of land grabbing

1383141_655392877811792_488599885_nAs seen on The Guardian

Drinks firm announces zero-tolerance policy and encourages other companies to follow UN’s responsible governance rules

By Mark Tran | theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 00.00 EST

Coca-Cola has said it will cut off suppliers that do not follow guidelines to protect the land rights of local communities in developing countries.

The soft drinks company also pledged to use its clout to encourage other food and beverage firms, traders – especially of soy, sugar and palm oil – as well as governments to endorse and implement voluntary UN guidelines on responsible governance of tenure on land, fisheries and forests.”The Coca-Cola company believes that land grabbing is unacceptable,” it said. “Our company does not typically purchase ingredients directly from farms, nor are we owners of sugar farms or plantations, but as a major buyer of sugar, we acknowledge our responsibility to take action and to use our influence to help protect the land rights of local communities.”

Coca-Cola, based in Atlanta, Georgia, said it would conduct third-party social, environmental and human rights assessments beginning in Brazil,Colombia, Guatemala, India, Philippines, Thailand and South Africa, critical sourcing regions for the company.

These countries are among the top 16 from which Coca-Cola sources cane sugar. Six of these countries have been identified with human rights violations by the US department of labour. The assessments will begin this year with Colombia and Guatemala and will cover the other 14 countries by 2020.

Sugar is a key ingredient for food and drinks firms: 51% of sugar produced ends up in processed foods including soft drinks, sweets and ice-cream. It uses the most land for food production – sugar is grown on 31m hectares, an area the size of Italy. There have been 100 recorded large-scale land deals for sugar production occupying at least 4m hectares (11m acres) of land since 2000, according the charity Oxfam.

Coke’s action plan followed an Oxfam report in October, Sugar Rush, which said sugar, along with soy and palm oil, was driving large-scale land acquisitions and land conflicts at the expense of small-scale food producers and their families.

In 2011, the global trade in raw sugar was worth $47bn (£29bn). Of that $33.5bn of exports came from developing countries. Yet in spite of the risks of land conflicts associated with sugar, soy and palm oil production, a lack of transparency by food and beverage giants makes it difficult for the public to hold companies accountable, Oxfam said in its report.

Coca-Cola disclosed that its top cane sugar countries were Brazil,Mexico, India and named its top three company suppliers as Copersucar (Brazil), Mitr Phol (Thailand), and Dangote (Nigeria).

Pledging to crack down on suppliers that do not adhere to relevant supplier guiding principles (SGP), Coca-Cola said: “If a supplier fails to uphold any aspect of the SGP requirements, the Coca-Cola company will work with the supplier on corrective action. If such action is not taken, the supplier relationship will be terminated.”

Coca-Cola plans to implement zero-tolerance strategy for land grabs through adherence the principle of free, prior and informed consent across its operations (including bottling partners) and will require its suppliers to adhere to this principle. The company said it would recognise and safeguard the rights of communities and traditional peoples to maintain access to land and natural resources.

Oxfam, which has urged Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Associated British Foods to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on land grabs, welcomed Coca-Cola’s move as setting a new standard for commitments in the food and beverage industry.

“Coca-Cola’s leadership in declaring zero tolerance for land grabs is a vital first step,” said Penny Fowler, head of private sector advocacy. “We look forward to tracking the actions the company takes to follow through on their promises. In particular we will continue to advocate, along with local partners, for appropriate resolution for the communities in Brazil and Cambodia who continue to struggle to regain the rights to their land. The ball is now in PepsiCo and ABF’s court to follow suit.”

Business and human rights experts said Coke’s commitment on land grabs represented a significant step towards respecting human rights.

“While Coca-Cola does not own or control sugar farms, it is a major buyer of sugar around the world,” said Salil Tripathi, director at the Institute for Human Rights and Business in London. “If sugar comes from a farm where land has been acquired with force, or after paying insufficient compensation to customary owners, then the farm becomes tainted, and the sugar turns bitter. Companies like Coca-Cola are in a position to influence better human rights outcomes because of their sheer size. Other companies – large and small – should continue on this path.”

Coca-Cola has been accused in the past of drying up farmers’ wells and destroying local agriculture in pursuit of water resources to feed its plants. There have been particularly bitter disputes in India. Coca-Cola’s operations rely on access to vast supplies of water, as it takes almost three litres to make one litre of Coca-Cola.

Yale Environment 360: People or Parks: The Human Factor in Protecting Wildlife

As seen on Yale Environment 360

Recent studies in Asia and Australia found that community-managed areas can sometimes do better than traditional parks at preserving habitat and biodiversity. When it comes to conservation, maybe local people are not the problem, but the solution.

When the United Nations put out its Protected Planet Report in 2012, it touted the news that national governments have designated more than 177,000 protected areas around the world for the long-term conservation of nature, covering an impressive 12.7 percent of the earth’s land surface. Just since 1990, the acreage under protection has increased by 48 percent.

But this encouraging news also masks a significant defect. Setting aside the question of how well officially protected areas actually protect anything, poor planning means these areas often completely omit critical habitats and key species. When a 2004 study in BioSciences looked at a representative sampling of wildlife from around the world, it found that protected areas included little or no habitat for about 90 percent of the threatened or endangered species in the sample. The list of outcasts included 276 mammal species, 940 amphibians, 23 turtles, and 244 birds. Even in parks specifically designed to accommodate certain species, moreover, climate change could make conditions far less accommodating in 50 or 100 years.

Hence the increasing recognition that what happens outside protected areas matters at least as much as what happens within. And that has led to a worldwide upsurge in management of critical habitats by the people who live in them. This movement does not come easy to either side. Park managers have typically regarded nearby communities as a source of illegal logging, poaching, and other problems, not as part of the solution. Local people in turn have often seen the parks as a threat to their crops and livestock, as well as a usurpation of their traditional land rights.

But two studies published in recent weeks suggest that community-managed areas, or areas managed by communities in collaboration with parks, can sometimes do better than traditional parks alone at protecting habitats and species.

The first study, in the journal Ecosphere, looked at the status of tigers in and around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park in the Himalayan foothills. That country has brought off one of the few tiger success stories, with a robust and increasing population, even as poaching eliminates tigers from traditional habitats in neighboring India. Nepal’s Chitwan district in particular has seen its population of adult tigers increase from 91 just four years ago to 125 today, says the study’s lead author Neil H. Carter, a conservation biologist at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.

The human population in the buffer zone around the park has, however, also tripled over the past 40 years, and tigers now kill seven or eight people a year there. It sounds like the classic recipe for conflict.

Under the 1996 management plan developed by the community and approved by the park, says Carter, livestock grazing in the buffer zone has ended. But the community now determines how to allocate other forest resources there, for fodder and firewood. To understand the effects of that shift, he and his co-authors set out camera traps at 76 locations both inside the park and in a 25-square-mile community-managed forest in the buffer zone. They also used satellite imagery to measure changes in different habitat types.

To their surprise, they found fewer tigers and a decline in habitat quality inside the park. But habitat actually improved, particularly after 1999, on land where local communities had a say in the management. The camera traps revealed more tigers there, too. Top-down, exclusionary policies had failed to discourage local people from gathering fuelwood and fodder in the park, the co-authors concluded. But bottom-up involvement of local people had given them a sense of ownership in the community land. People were also “surprisingly tolerant” of tigers there, says Carter, though continuing growth in the tiger population might change that. The hope, he says, is that a corridor of community-managed lands might ultimately allow the tiger population to re-connect with populations in other parks.

The second study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, looked at aboriginal hunting practices in Australia’s Western Desert. After the last nomadic hunters left the area in the mid-20th century, 10 to 20 species went extinct, and many more experienced sharp declines, according to Stanford University anthropologist Rebecca Bird and her co-authors. One possible factor was that the fires set by aboriginal hunters had averaged just 64 hectares in area, producing a mosaic of habitats. But with the hunters gone, the average size of lightning-caused fires leaped to 52,000 hectares by 1984.

That year, a group of Martu desert-dwellers returned to their traditional lands and resumed hunting. Bird and her co-authors set out with them to test the hypothesis that traditional hunting practices fostered diversity. They focused on the sand monitor lizard (Varanus gouldii), which is the chief object of the Martu hunt. The Martu hunters typically burn a small area of older-growth spinifex grassland, according to the co-authors, then search the area for fresh lizard burrows. Burning dramatically increases their catch — and the resulting patchwork landscape also provides better habitat for the lizards and other species.

“Paradoxically, V. gouldii populations are higher where Aboriginal hunting is most intense,” the co-authors write. It wasn’t human hunting that caused the extinction of small mammal species, they conclude, “but the loss of human hunting.”

The Martu now have a ranger system running in Karlamilyi National Park, in partnership with Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation. But when asked if scientific advisers guide the process, Douglas W. Bird, Rebecca’s co-author and husband, just laughed. The aboriginal system of know-how, called Jukurr, is so ecologically detailed, the co-authors write, that the Martu are aware of “which species of skink returns to the same location to defaecate and which mouse prefers burnt spinifex.” The government, which has no staff on the ground there, has asked the Martu to participate in co-management of the park, but the Martu have insisted instead on full ownership and management rights. Elsewhere in the world, indigenous communities and community conservancies already control 40 percent of the land area in Namibia, 50 percent in Mexico, and 90 percent in Papua New Guinea. And the evidence increasingly suggests that they can succeed at achieving conservation goals. A recent analysis in the journal Forest Ecology and Management found that community managed forests in 15 tropical countries were actually more effective than traditional protected areas at reducing deforestation.

Community conservancies are never, however, an easy fix, says Philip Muruthi, chief scientist for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). The habitat, the idiosyncrasies of the people and wildlife living there, and the political and economic context around them mean that community management structures must be worked out one case at a time.

“Our projects are science-led,” says Muruthi. “Before we go into it, we plan and talk about which are the key areas to connect.” For instance, Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya is too small for its elephant population. But the elephants have nowhere to go because of the growing human population outside the park. AWF believes community conservancies there have the potential to open a migratory corridor south to Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha national parks in Tanzania, with tourism providing both economic benefits to local populations and the budget for increased anti-poaching patrols.

Business considerations also count, says Muruthi. One proposed conservancy may be large enough to make its own contract with a tourism operator, while another may prosper only by forming an alliance with neighboring conservancies. Due diligence is also essential, so a deal with a lodge operator doesn’t belatedly fall through when the conservancy turns out not to own the land under negotiation. (It’s happened, he says.)

Any community management or co-management scheme requires a land-use plan with detailed prescriptions for habitat and species. It’s also essential to lay out a clear system of governance, both to enforce the rules and to share the economic benefits equitably within the community. “Otherwise people become disenfranchised and start disobeying the prescriptions,” says Muruthi. To ensure success, AWF typically remains on a local conservancy board for the first 10 to 15 years, “because the ecological benefits can take that long to appear.”

That careful process is likely to be repeated increasingly around the world, as park staffs and their neighbors learn to talk as collaborators rather than as enemies. The Indigenous Community Conservation Area Consortium, set up in 2008, is encouraging such conversations. So do schemes like the World Bank system of payments for ecosystem services, and the United Nations system of payments for avoided deforestation — that is, REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. (Another study out last month found that trained members of local communities can be as accurate as professional foresters at monitoring REDD compliance — and will likely be less expensive in the long run.)

“The reality,” says Jen Shaffer, a University of Maryland anthropologist who works in Mozambique, “is that we can’t conserve everything inside park boundaries. So how do we work with local people? What do they know that we don’t? And how can habitats benefit from encouraging those practices? What are they doing that harms the habitat? And how do we work with the community to improve or tweak those practices, so the community is benefiting and the biodiversity is benefiting?

“It might mean moving the fences in, in some cases, or moving them out in others,” she says. “But it involves understanding that landscapes have evolved with people, and that what people do is important.”

Original Article

Live Science: Conservation Is About Caring for Nature and People (Op-Ed)

WCS works with locals in Madagascar

Credit: Copyright Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

As seen on Live Science

As conservationists, we are fortunate to work in some of the last wild places on the planet — those few amazing spaces where intact assemblages of native species still fulfill their ecological roles, and for the most part, interact outside the influence of industrial, urban humankind. These places remain the only manuals for how nature works, because everywhere else, humans and their activities dominate landscapes — and nature is subordinated to satisfyinghumanity’s wants and needs.

It is unfortunate, and telling, that many people are surprised — and a little skeptical — to hear that conservation organizations like WCS care deeply about the wellbeing of indigenous and rural peoples that live in the wild places where we work. Yet, more than anyone else, rural people — often the poorest individuals in a community — have an interest in finding alternatives to conventional development approaches, those based on the imposition of individual over collective rights and the reduction of nature to a series of commodity values.

WCS work helped communities in Pakistan

Credit: Copyright WCS Pakistan

At WCS, our interest in such communities has both practical and moral dimensions. Poverty forces people to adopt a short-term view in which the future is discounted because any given child, or parent’s, survival is so uncertain. Conservationists need to understand this and look for ways to help families make the present more secure while constructing a pathway to a safer, healthier and more prosperous future. Livelihood security is essential in taking a long view on the environment.

In the Bolivian lowlands, where WCS has been working with indigenous organizations for over 20 years, it had been impossible to discuss land and natural resource management because management rights remained in dispute. To resolve this issue, we supported indigenous organizations to secure legal title to over 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) of legitimately claimed territory and implement sound management practices, which led to significant declines in deforestation rates and equally significant growth in populations of key wildlife species. At the same time, local families’ livelihood options and quality of life have measurably improved

Today, indigenous organizations have become an important constituency for conservation, advocating for the application of internationally accepted best practices in infrastructure construction and oversight of extractive industries, and mobilizing to defend the country’s national park system.

Over time, WCS’s work with local and indigenous peoples around the world has encouraged us to think about people’s wellbeing from three distinct perspectives. First, wellbeing is a means to a conservation end. Providing economic incentives for poor families to engage in conservation practices is a purposeful strategy. When such practices are tied to higher incomes and greater livelihood security, people can think beyond immediate survival and consider longer-term natural resource management issues.

Second, one desired outcome of conservation is the economic security of local families. By managing wildlife and wild places, communities prevent degradation and loss. In turn, the food, firewood, building materials and clean water that derive from these sustainably managed places directly support families in the bottom billion of the planet’s population — those who depend upon nature for their wellbeing and have few, if any, alternatives. In this way, successful conservation leads to better livelihoods, creating a virtuous circle of sustainable management of nature.

Lastly, conservationists share with doctors a Hippocratic obligation to “first do no harm.” The Conservation Initiative on Human Rights, which WCS helped to found, commits its members to do work that respects and protects the rights of local people. A key element of that idea is ensuring that the global community pays for the protection of biodiversity and critical ecosystems — which constitute global public goods — and that the poor do not subsidize the good intentions and associated peaceful sleep of the wealthy.

The great naturalist John Muir once observed of conservation that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Arguing that nature should be conserved because of its intrinsic worth, and not only because of its immediate usefulness to humankind, conservation has always been about how people view, value and use nature. But in the 21st century, as populations expand and people encroach ever further into the last remaining wild places, attention to the wellbeing of local people has become inseparable from the wellbeing of the planet.

Original Article

Land Portal: Making Rangelands Secure – Quarterly Bulletin No.4 2013

bulletinrangelands4_final 1As seen on Land Portal’s Quarterly Bulletin

Over the last four months an external voluntary review of the learning initiative: Making Rangelands Secure has been taking place. The review highlighted many positive achievements of the initiative including improving understanding of rangeland tenure issues, facilitating interactive learning opportunities and the sharing of good practice, engaging with national and local governments, influencing positive thinking and action amongst practitioners and decision makers, and the development of tools that are being piloted or scaled-up.

However concerns were raised about the structure of the initiative, and suggestions given for more egalitarian and country-specific decision making and learning. It was felt that tools such as the Learning Route are most effective when embedded in and designed to support explicit processes such as land tenure policy design in a speci”c country.

As a result the learning initiative will be re-launched as the Rangelands Governance Initiative early next year.

At the centre of the Initiative is a ‘community of practice’ (CoP) made up of key supporting partners (IFAD, ILC, Procasur, IUCN-WISP, RECONCILE, and ILRI), together with organisations and individuals who want to learn from and share information and experiences on, making range lands secure. A coordinator will facilitate the CoP (managed by Procasur) and a regional Technical Advisor will provide support to partners (managed by ILRI).  The RGI has been developed based on a theory of change that identities three main pathways for change - working with different stakeholders, generating innovative solutions through sharing and testing of practice, and targeted advocacy.

The Rangeland Governance Initiative currently focuses on “ve countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan. In each country partners will develop a set of activities that reject a country-specific theory of change to make rangelands more secure. Each country-based programme is expected to access its own funding for activities. Thematic programmes such as women’s land rights, will also be established. Sharing of information and experiences across the countries and beyond, together with the thematic areas, will be facilitated through the CoP, which will also link with networks and forums that focus on related issues. Support to and linkages with regional and continental bodies such as IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development), EAC (East Africa Community), and the African Union will also be developed.

Read full bulletin here!

Anne-Sophie Gindroz (French): Ce que cache la disparition d’un militant des droits de l’homme au Laos

Comme on le voit sur Le Temps

En décembre 2012, Sombath Somphone suivait sa femme au volant de sa voiture pour rentrer chez eux à Vientiane, la capitale du Laos. Sur l’avenue de Thadeua, il fut tiré hors de son véhicule par des agents de police. Ni sa femme ni aucun de ses proches ne revit Sombath après cet épisode.

De nombreux gouvernements, des personnalités internationales, des parlementaires et organisations de la société civile ont cherché en vain à savoir où il se trouvait. Et la cause du droit à la terre des populations rurales au Laos, que Sombath s’efforçait de faire reconnaître, reste toujours largement ignorée.

Des compagnies multinationales se ruent sur le Laos et d’autres pays dits «sous-développés» pour y acheter des terres ou les droits sur les ressources que leurs sous-sols recèlent auprès de gouvernements locaux, régionaux et nationaux. Dans de nombreux pays, les terres ont un immense potentiel pour des opérations minières, agricoles et forestières. Du bois d’arbres plusieurs fois centenaires est pratiquement bradé par des gouvernements de pays pauvres au nom du développement économique.

Au Laos, selon les estimations officielles les plus conservatrices, les transactions foncières portaient déjà, fin 2012, sur 1,1 million d’hectares de terres. Une surface supérieure à celle consacrée à la culture du riz, la plus importante denrée alimentaire du pays. D’autres sources non officielles estiment que les concessions foncières au Laos sont en réalité trois fois supérieures à ce chiffre.

Ces transactions nourrissent une croissance macroéconomique impressionnante. Le produit intérieur brut (PIB) du Laos par exemple a augmenté de 8% en moyenne ces dernières années.

Mais ces indicateurs très positifs peuvent cacher bien des choses. Dans le secteur de l’agriculture par exemple, des profits considérables sont générés par ces plantations industrielles étiquetées «projets de développement» et qui s’étendent sur des concessions octroyées par des gouvernements souvent au détriment de communautés locales. Ce genre d’opérations ne tient pas toujours compte des besoins de celles et ceux vivant déjà sur ces terres. En réalité, certains projets non seulement ne bénéficient pas aux plus pauvres, mais créent de la pauvreté, en particulier là où les investissements sont importants et rapides, dans des pays dotés d’un cadre légal insuffisant et qui ne disposent pas des capacités pour négocier et assurer un suivi de ces méga-projets.

Ce modèle d’investissements directs étrangers ne devrait pas être aveuglément adopté lorsqu’il implique l’exploitation de ressources naturelles dont dépendent les communautés locales pour leur subsistance. Car le développement économique doit être centré sur les populations, se traduire par des améliorations de leurs conditions de vie, et non pas les déposséder de ce qu’elles ont.

Cette cause, c’est le travail de Sombath, une des personnalités les plus respectées de la société civile du Laos. Sombath a toujours plaidé pour un développement axé sur le bien-être des populations et pour la protection de l’environnement dont dépendent les Laotiens. Récemment, Sombath a créé le premier espace de dialogue public où les gens peuvent partager leurs expériences. Ils parlent non pas de croissance économique, mais de bonheur et de souffrances.

Globalement, cette compétition croissante pour les forêts et les terres des pays en développement affecte directement la vie de plus de 2 milliards de personnes. On entend souvent dire que ces terres seraient inhabitées si elles n’étaient pas «développées». C’est absurde. Si des communautés nomades occupent même les étendues arides des déserts de Gobi et du Sahara, comment les paysages luxuriants de l’Asie du Sud-Est et ailleurs peuvent-ils être «vides»? En particulier là où les terres arables sont limitées, la sécurité alimentaire menacée, et les systèmes de subsistance vulnérables.

Dans des contextes caractérisés par un déséquilibre des pouvoirs et par l’absence de relais pour faire entendre les voix de ceux qui sont les victimes de l’accaparement de leurs ressources, les gouvernements prennent et imposent des décisions unilatérales, sans participation démocratique, alimentant ainsi un nombre croissant de conflits fonciers. Et pour les communautés qui perdent leur terre, la quête de justice est un chemin très compliqué, incertain et parfois dangereux.

Alors que des appels se font entendre au Laos et ailleurs pour l’ouverture d’un débat public sur les questions de développement, ceux qui tentent de faire entendre et de donner la parole au peuple sont eux-mêmes menacés, et toute voix dissidente est réduite au silence. La disparition de Sombath pourrait en être une preuve tragique de plus.

Il y a un besoin urgent, au Laos comme dans de nombreux pays, d’assurer que le droit à la terre soit le moteur d’un développement équitable, de gestion durable de l’environnement et de souveraineté alimentaire. La communauté internationale se doit d’englober cette réalité au moment où elle redéfinit ses objectifs pour mettre un terme à la pauvreté dans le cadre des discussions sur les Objectifs du millénaire. Le défi sera ensuite de passer des paroles aux actes.

De plus en plus de voix s’élèvent contre le fait que les gouvernements favorisent les compagnies étrangères au détriment des paysans locaux, estimant que la terre doit d’abord nourrir les villages.

En se délaissant de leurs terres, les pays en développement se dépossèdent de leur souveraineté et plus encore. Les habitants du Laos, en particulier ceux pour qui Sombath Somphone s’est engagé, sont les témoins récents du côté sombre de ces transactions.

Anne-Sophie Gindroz, ancienne directrice d’Helvetas au Laos, décrit le climat effrayant qui règne dans ce pays qui brade ses ressources aux compagnies étrangères et fait taire toute contestation.

Voir la source

Mongabay: With training, local communities can accurately and cost-effectively measure forest carbon

Rainforest in Indonesia, REDDAs seen on Mongabay

Provided two to three days of training, forest communities can accurately and cost-effectively measure biomass and other data needed to assess REDD+ projects, finds a new study published in the journal Ecology and Society.

The research was conducted with communities living in lowland rainforest in Indonesia, mountain forest in China and monsoon forest in Laos and Vietnam. It found that local communities using simple tools can gather forest carbon data “on par” with professional foresters using advanced, high-tech gear.

The study also argued that community forest monitoring is cheaper than professional monitoring in the long-term.

“We’re convinced that engaging communities is ultimately the most cost-effective approach,” said Subekti Rahayu, an analyst at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) who was one of 22 researchers involved in the study. “The small extra cost would be largely offset by its benefits to both local people—who would earn wages and gain training from these activities—and larger global efforts to address climate change.”

The research suggests that forest monitoring could be a key way to involve local people in REDD+ projects that aim to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

“Saving the world’s forests requires us to close the massive gulf between international promises and realities on the ground,” said Finn Danielsen, the study’s lead author and senior ecologist at the Nordic Foundation for Environment and Development in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Our research shows that if more REDD+ projects were to include community monitoring, we would see a more just global effort to fight climate change that meaningfully incorporates insight from people who depend on forests for everything from their incomes to their food—and are eager to protect these precious natural resources as a result.”

“The legitimacy of international efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation rests on community involvement,” added Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor at ICRAF. “Yet international promises to engage local people have gone largely unfulfilled.”

The U.N.’s REDD+ program is designed to promote forest conservation by offering financial incentives to tropical countries to preserve carbon-dense ecosystems. First laid out in 2007, the program has been slow to move forward due to concerns about social and environmental safeguards as well as institutional, governance, and financial challenges. Nonetheless REDD+ supporters hope to see progress at next month’s climate talks in Warsaw, Poland.

Still many are skeptical of REDD+ as currently designed. Rosalind Reeve, a senior fellow at the Ateneo School of Government in Manila and a member of the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group, says new the findings confirm some of the U.N. program’s shortcomings.

“The UNFCCC has failed to translate the commitment made in Cancun for full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities into practical recommendations. In the guidance developed so far there’s no mention of involving communities in monitoring either carbon or safeguards, or even recommending a participatory approach to developing systems,” Reeve said in a statement. “Because the UN has failed to give a strong signal to countries that they should engage communities in monitoring and use a participatory approach to develop systems, countries have failed to embed community monitoring in their national REDD+ plans.”

“It’s clear from this study that civil society must actively monitor – and have more say – in these projects. Otherwise, how do you ensure that they are interrogated rigorously?,” added Juan Carlos Carrillo of the Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA). “Local communities – using simple and cost-effective methods — must be involved in the implementation of systems that measure, report and verify both carbon and the safeguards, particularly the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Others have expressed concerns that the REDD+ program doesn’t adequately protect against adverse environmental outcomes, like first-time logging of primary forests, or address underlying drivers of deforestation, like commodity consumption.

Original Article