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Lack of indigenous land rights hampers fight against poverty, new study

ILO Upland farming, Philippines (Photo: ILO/Allan Barredo)

A new study reveals that indigenous peoples and local communities lack legal rights to almost three quarters of their traditional lands, hampering efforts to combat hunger and poverty, sparking social conflict and undermining plans to reduce deforestation and the impacts of climate change. The analysis, conducted by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), shows that only 18% of land worldwide is formally recognised as either owned by or designated for indigenous peoples and local communities. Yet they claim or have customary use of as much as 65% of the world’s land area. “This report spells out the catastrophic failure of governments to respect the basic land rights of more than one billion people,” said Andy White, Coordinator of RRI. “While government leaders are negotiating international agreements to end poverty and stop climate change, they are failing to match these commitments at home. Too many governments are still handing out local peoples’ lands for economic developments that exploit natural resources, accelerate climate change and destroy livelihoods.” The study identified the land area in 64 countries that is formally recognised under national statutes as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities. Special attention was given to 12 countries in the analysis that are included in the World Bank’s list of fragile states, such as Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq. In ten of these countries, most of the territory is owned by the government or the private sector and not by the people who live there. According to the authors, progress in recognising community-based land rights is strikingly weak in these fragile states. Only 2% of the land there is controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities, and a fraction of 1% is owned by them, the report said. Past studies have shown that land ownership by indigenous and local communities has many benefits for rural lands and natural resources because they conserve the nature of their territories best, keep the carbon in the trees and ground, thus slowing climate change. Indigenous and local communities today have legal or official rights to at least 513 million hectares of forests, about one eighth of the world’s total. According to the report, these forests store around 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon, 29 times more than the annual emissions of the world’s cars. (ab)

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