Forests are critically important for many of the world’s poor who depend on them for food, income, medicine and building materials. As such, forests are a nexus of broadly held policy goals such as poverty reduction, economic growth, conservation and climate change. Most forests in the developing world are governed, in practice, through community-based tenure systems.
Local communities manage a significant portion of the world’s remaining forests, pastures, and fisheries as common property resources, but they are rarely recognized as formal owners. Important progress has occurred during the last twenty years, as growing evidence suggests that devolving rights to communities can provide incentives for new forms of investment that facilitate sustainable outcomes as well as greater equity in the distribution of benefits.
The ‘age of ignorance’
For a long time land governance, land tenure and land rights remained in the ‘age of ignorance’. We have known for some time that land governance is a key ingredient for social, economic and environmental development; what was missing, however, was the data. With the little information available to us at the time, we set priorities and crafted interventions for our course of work. Relying on a few rough figures meant that we were often repeating mantras and slogans based on loose, rather than on hard and reliable facts. Most notable among these was the often repeated and now widely disputed, “women own 2% of the world’s land”.
The data ecosystem is an extremely vast and cluttered space. What data exist? What data is up to date? What data is reliable? Who owns the data? Can I use the data without inflicting harm? Who are the data subjects? Many people across numerous sectors struggle with such questions and more on a daily basis. The land governance sector in India is no different. But somehow, it seems the land data ecosystem in India is more complex and controversial.
Conservation, said Aldo Leopold, is harmony between (wo)men and land. Land should justifiably figure not only into the conservation, but also in development debates, policy and discourses. Missing land rights and land tenure security can be costly for states, communities as well as local and global development.
Of late, land has increasingly been figuring into the development sector, for both positive and negative reasons.
Deciding whether or not to allow an investor to use community lands and natural resources is one of the most important decisions a community can make. Namati and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) have published two new guides to help communities prepare for interactions with investors and, if they so wish, negotiate fair, equitable contracts. These guides are the first of their kind.
Ask a land rights defender if there is a human right to land, and she will likely say “Yes, without a doubt.” For people around the world, land is a source of food, shelter, and livelihoods; it’s an economic asset, a crucial safety net, a link with culture and social identity, even a living relative or ancestor. Given their importance, land rights are surely human rights.
October 2017: In 2012, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, forests, and fisheries (VGGT, or the Voluntary Guidelines) to, inter alia, promote food security and sustainable development by improving secure access to land, fisheries, and forests.