Community land rights unenforced in Third World

May 30th, 2012 - 4:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, May 30 (IANS) Millions of forest people in tropical nations, including India, have won unprecedented legal rights to land but laws ensuring community land rights to them remain unenforced, says a study.

The study by US-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) also finds that more than a third of the rules governing land rights in most forests in the Third World limit a community’s ability to exercise its rights.

RRI is a coalition of international, regional and community organisations advancing forest tenure, policy and market reforms.

The report provides a global analysis of the status of forest tenure rights held by indigenous peoples and other local communities in more than two dozen developing countries including India and China.

The nations covered in the study account for approximately 75 percent of the forests of the developing world, home to some 2.2 billion people.

“All 27 countries we analysed have one or more laws recognizing legal rights of communities, either nationally or regionally. But the laws themselves are not enough. They … have to be implemented,” said Fernanda Almeida, one of the authors and primary researcher of the study.

The report finds that forest people were caught between the forces of environmental sustainability and economic development.

“Despite tremendous progress in establishing legal tenure regimes, a lack of political will and bureaucratic obstacles make it a struggle to implement any real action in most forest-rich developing nations. The exorbitant technical and financial costs of addressing these hurdles are often beyond the means of rural communities,” said Jeffrey Hatcher, director of global programs for RRI.

The RRI report identifies a significant global trend that began in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The area of forest under the control of forest people in developing countries has risen from 21 percent of the total forest area to 31 percent.

Globally, such rights now cover 15 percent of all forests, compared to 10 percent in 1992.

“If these laws ever make it off the books, billions of hectares and millions of people will have access to one of the most effective tools available for eradicating poverty and conserving limited resources,” said Andy White, coordinator of RRI.

But the RRI study shows that national and provincial authorities often fail to enforce laws meant to protect the tenure rights of forest people.

According to White, even the global leaders have so far ignored the importance of recognising land rights in negotiating a plan for developing and implementing sustainable development goals.

“The world’s forests are increasingly valuable and relevant to our efforts to slow global climate change and encourage sustainable development,” he said.

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