LOS ANGELES — Although indigenous groups claim long-stretching, tradition-based ownership of the lands and forests on which they live, the possession is not legally recognized, leading to frequent clashes with governments and businesses. At next week’s United Nations climate summit, Sweden plans to announce funding to the tune of $14 million to help indigenous populations in securing legal rights to their land.
“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” said the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.
A prominent example of the struggle between indigenous communities and businesses is in Peru, where oil and gas enterprises have been granted over 60 percent of the Amazon forest. These distributions include the areas of five conservation reserves, four indigenous territorial reserves and more than 70 percent of all Peruvian native communities.
“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a pre-requisite for much needed sustainable investments,” said Gornitzka.
Awaiting full operational status in 2016, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will support projects recommended by local people and their governments to improve land rights in developing countries. Helping indigenous populations secure their land significantly reduces the risk of deforestation, becoming a vital tool in mitigating climate change.
The Rights and Resources Initiative is developing the facility to fund on-the-ground promotion of land tenure for indigenous communities, allowing them to sustainably manage the land. With an advisory board composed of World Bank officials, indigenous communities’ groups and NGOs, the facility will be registered as a nonprofit, and will formally launch by the end of 2015.
“Our estimates are that there’s at least two or maybe three times more land in forests out there that’s legitimately claimed, customarily managed—but not recognized in maps or in law,” said Rights and Resources Initiative coordinator Andy White. “We have lots of evidence that show that indigenous peoples in poorest communities, once their rights are recognized, they’re more effective at protecting it [from industrial use].”
The Washington, D.C.-based Rights and Resources Initiative is a global coalition that advocates land and forest policy reform in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Now that it has secured its first $14 million donation from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the coalition is looking to other potential donors like Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom.
The initial $14 million backing from the Swedish government will fund three or four test projects, which will likely take place next year in Cameroon, Colombia, Indonesia or Peru. The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will be structured as an independent organization, being governed by indigenous peoples’ representatives, donors, civil society and community groups, and businesses.
– Annie Jung