Looking to the next 15 years of the Land Portal, a critical global platform on land rights | Land Portal

Dr. Ritu Verma was a Board of Director of the Land Portal Foundation for two consecutive terms

 

It is with great happiness that I extend my warmest congratulations to the Land Portal on its 15th Anniversary!

As the Land Portal celebrates a decade and half of ground-breaking and impactful work in the area of knowledge-sharing on land rights and struggles across the globe, it has a lot to be proud of.

I am genuinely honoured to have been part of its journey – a journey that began in 2017, when I first became a Board of Director. I am proud to have served two consecutive terms, spanning six years. During my tenure and those of my fellow Board of Directors, the Land Portal grew and evolved in leaps and bounds, to become the global platform on land rights that it is today.

At this historic moment, as it celebrates fifteen years of service to the global community, it is useful to reflect on its humble beginnings. The Land Portal began as a project, and from there, evolved into an full-fledged organization in its own right. From its initial start-up phase, to what the Land Portal is today, it includes and maintains some of the same committed team members that took part of its initial journey - this speaks volumes of the dedication and commitment of its team. They, together with its first Board of Directors, built the Foundation from the ground-up. Those early years, including the time I was a Board of Director, were focused on building the Land Portal, on institutional strengthening, developing a strategy and a set of policies, mobilizing funding, ensuring continuity of the extended and growing team, and putting into place the many nuts and bolts that are required for the longevity and success of a robust non-profit organization.

From the time of its inception, the need for open access to knowledge, data and information on land rights has continued to grow over time. The Covid-19 pandemic solidified these needs. While many local people around the world found themselves in lockdown, the forces of disenfranchisement, of dispossession and of dislocation, continued unabated, and in full force. The ultra-rich and super-elites gained incredible and unprecedented amounts of wealth, including resources such as land. This, while the most vulnerable segments of society lost ground, sometimes literally, to the land beneath their feet. The struggles over land rights, did not rest or diminish during the pandemic, but instead intensified. The Land Portal played a vital role in bringing discussions and experiences of those being dispossessed of their land and property together virtually for the world to know and hear, and for vital information to be shared. The webinar series and the country profiles, for instance, were important sources of information, and the number of users expanded by leaps and bounds. In the meantime, we the Board of Directors, met virtually, and held our annual meetings to continue to strategically lead the Foundation.

I am extremely proud of the work we carried out in strengthening the Land Portal, as it grew to a full-fledged international non-profit organization, with team members living and working flexibly and responsively in different parts of the world. It is truly a digital platform that serves the world at large.

As the Land Portal looks to the future, it is important to pause to reflect on its founding vision. A vision of a world with improved, democratic and responsive land governance and policies that supports people with insecure and fragile land rights, to protect those vulnerable to landlessness, dispossession and land grabbing, and to ensure open access to information for all. I would add that in doing this, the mission is not just about ensuring information to all, but by all.

I have no doubt that as the Land Portal continues to expand and grow, its direction, collective leadership and impact will be increasingly shaped by the very people who are living, working and actively engaged in local land and resource struggles, particularly those in the Global South. Most often, differently positioned women, men and children in the Global South, differentiated by gender, class, age, ethnicity, marital status and other domains of difference, are disadvantaged by unequal relations of power. They most acutely face the dispossessing forces of landlessness, land dispossession, exploitation and climate change by unequal and colonial terms of trade – and unjust forms of development. Yet their voices, experiences and stories of struggle remain at the peripheries of mainstream discussion. This needs to change fundamentally. The Land Portal is vital for ensuring this vision.

 

 

What initially drew me to the Land Portal, and to take on a demanding but rewarding role of a Board of Director, and as the Chair of the Board Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, was the critical role it played, and continues to play, on serving the needs of the most vulnerable sectors of society who are suffering because of the violation of their land rights. In doing so, it is also critically important to remember about the critical need to respond, from a position of openness, inclusivity, equality and diversity, of the needs of those women, men and children who are being dispossessed of not only their land, but of their livelihoods, property and ecological environments they depend on to survive. It is also worth remembering that these same environments are being deprived of valuable indigenous knowledge often accumulated by people over generations, that are vital to fight the climate crises and ecological breakdown we see occurring all over the globe.

As the world faces acute and compounded environmental and climate crises, one of the main findings that have emerged recently is the loss of indigenous knowledge about land, agriculture, ecological conservation, and intimate human-environmental relations. As people are driven (or pulled) into urban settings or dispossessed of their land, this important indigenous knowledge is being lost at rapid and unprecedented rates. This then opens the door for external actors who do not have the intimate histories, relationships, inclination or desire to know or learn about the context-specific socio-cultural and human-environmental relationship with the land – relations that are vital for its conservation, protection, regeneration, and ultimately, sustainability. Driven by narrow economic growth formulas, study after study indicates that most often, such external actors are more interested in the proceeds gained by resource extraction, exploitation, economic profit, and a narrow vision of ‘development’ focused only on its technical elements. Often missing from this view of ‘development’ is a sense of justice, of equality, long-term environmental sustainability, or recognition of context-specific socio-cultural relations that sustain such environments.

With this chain reaction – from vulnerability, limited of decision-making and dispossession of land in the face of larger forces of extractive capitalism - it is no wonder we are facing a full-on climate emergency, while land-based natural resources are being polluted, degraded and exploited beyond their carrying capacities. In this push for profits and growth at all costs, we are also seeing those beyond the human – the rich animal life and biodiversity that co-exist with and co-inhabit the land – being rendered extinct, endangered or vulnerable. Entire ecosystems and food systems are in danger of collapsing, while we are quickly breaching critical planetary boundaries. This is a dangerous point of no return.

The link between security of land tenure, natural resources, and the climate emergency is critical. Information-sharing and exchange about the ongoing struggles, needs, experiences, and loss and damage required by indigenous people and communities, especially in the Global South, are critical. At this juncture, serving and responding to these needs of the most vulnerable and historically disenfranchised communities in the Global South, is not only at the heart of the vision and mission of the Land Portal, but integral to its very identity. It encapsulates its essence as a non-profit, in service of humanity, and those beyond the human, all of whom depend on land and its precious resources for their survival. The inclusive and open-sharing of critical knowledge, information and analysis - that could make the difference between a community or a person securing, or losing, their rights to land – is at the heart of what the Land Portal does, and is about. Policy, practice and decision-making that support the most vulnerable communities and people in insecure land rights, is also important.

 

As a former Board of Director of the Land Portal Foundation, I cannot express enough how proud I am of its achievements. I am delighted to have been part of its journey and history, to see it grow, expand and make a difference to the most vulnerable communities across the world. The Land Portal was created with humble beginnings, genuine commitment and hard work, armed with a critical mission of bridging knowledge gaps in order to serve those people landless, vulnerable and threatened of their land rights. Here’s to equal if not greater achievements in next fifteen years, and to achieving even greater impact in and for the Global South. Congratulations to the team!

 

Dr. Ritu Verma

Anthropologist, International Development Scholar, Civil Engineer
Adjunct Professor Carleton University, Research Scholar University of California Los Angeles, Associate Professor College of Language and Culture Studies

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