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News Article | August 31, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Depending on the season, the journey to Rivercess County requires either bumping along dirt paths or navigating endless stretches of mud. In the heart of Liberia the dense tropical forests, some of the last intact in West Africa, are omnipresent. Historically, Liberia's forests have been sought after by foreign investors for valuable natural resources, and illegally cut and sold to fund civil wars. But they still remain the lifeline for local communities who are dependent on them for their sustenance, livelihoods, and traditions. Today the fate of these very forests, and its inhabitants, lies in front of Liberian politicians. The Land Rights Act, a historic and unprecedented law, would recognize the customary land rights of millions of Liberians to own the lands their ancestors have lived and worked upon since before the formation of the Liberian state in 1847. The law would provide land deeds in the name of rural communities and allow for local decision-making over land, forests, and natural resources. With an embattled legislature set to go on recess, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pushed to extend the current legislative session for another month. This could provide an important opportunity for the country’s leaders to finally pass the the act, which has been stalled since 2014. Otherwise there's a risk it will be delayed until after late-2017 elections, leaving the rights of millions in an indefinite limbo. A few years ago, Liberia’s lush landscape was my workplace, and classroom. Partnering with a Liberian civil society organization, my teammates and I wrestled country roads to organize alongside rural communities to protect their ancestral lands. Collaborating with villagers and the Liberian Land Commission, we worked together to harmonize clan boundaries and draft by-laws for the collective management of forests and natural resources. Back in the capital city of Monrovia, we echoed calls from the countryside for land reform. Allowing local communities to manage their land is the most effective way of ensuring environmental sustainability, according to a study by research and advocacy organizations, World Resources Institute and the Rights and Resources Initiative, where I work now. Researchers found that “when Indigenous Peoples and local communities have no or weak legal rights their forests tend to be vulnerable to deforestation and thus become the source of carbon dioxide emissions.” With the world’s leaders signing a landmark climate change agreement in Paris last year, Liberia’s tropical rainforests arguably hold great importance—for millions of Liberians who depend on them, but also for the rest of us. The study concludes, “The failure to establish and protect the rights of these forest communities has been costly not only in human terms but for earth’s climate. Globally, 13 million hectares of forests are cleared every year— the equivalent of 50 soccer fields a minute." Passing the Land Rights Act has implications beyond the forest. Recent reports have suggested that if the 2014 version of Land Rights Act is not passed, the country risks falling back into protracted violence and conflict. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified insecure land tenure, acquisition, and distribution as major causes of the country’s 14-year conflict. Now, nearly 50 percent of Liberia’s land mass is promised to foreign companies and investors for logging, mining, and agriculture. A recent report said that the Government of Liberia has “surrendered 58 percent of its primary forests to timber companies, and granted logging permits, most of them illegal, over nearly a third of the country.” And that hardly tells the full story. Accompanying these agreements are accounts of deforestation, corporate land grabbing and human rights abuses. “It is discouraging to see the lack of political will to pass the Land Rights Act. At the same time, the legislature has the potential to do something transformative to protect the people and the environment,” said Ali Kaba, Program Manager and Senior Researcher at the Sustainable Development Institute, a Liberian non-profit working on land reform advocacy. Since its founding, Liberia has operated on unclear terms of private and community land ownership. The Liberian government has effectively treated all un-deeded lands as government land, even though local communities live on more than two-thirds of Liberia’s land. This system of land ownership has allowed foreign companies to tap Liberia’s rich natural resources for timber, iron ore, rubber, and most recently, oil palm plantation, with critics claiming little benefits reaching the population. In 1926, the government signed a 99-year lease with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company for one million acres of land to create the world’s largest rubber plantation. Since then, Liberia has gone through what scholars describe as chapters of “growth without development”, where capital has been generated but not properly invested back in the country or its people. Rubber, however, pales in comparison to oil palm, a major driver of deforestation and illegal logging. In the late 2000s, Liberia signed a series of agreements with oil palm companies to cultivate vast plantations. The two largest concession areas alone, with companies Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum, total over 1.5 million acres that include extremely dense forests, containing valuable tree species and endangered animals. And the oil palm industry is fraught with tension, with many communities claiming their land has been taken without their free, prior, and informed consent. These ongoing conflicts have only intensified calls for secure land rights. Last month I returned to Liberia amidst many hopes and fears regarding what the future may hold. Reflecting back on our collective efforts, I could still picture logs strewn across a barren field like the bones in an elephant graveyard—the result of illegal logging of virgin rainforests. Liberia’s leaders have an opportunity to make such sights, visions of the past. Their action—or inaction—will have consequences for generations to come.

Alcorn J.B.,Rights and Resources Initiative | Alcorn J.B.,University of Manitoba | Zarzycki A.,Fundacion Yangareko | De La Cruz L.M.,Fundacion Para la Gestion e Investigacion Regional FUNGIR
Biodiversity | Year: 2010

The Gran Chaco is the second largest ecosystem in the Plata basin of South America, after the Amazon rainforest. The high biological and cultural diversity offer diverse opportunities for conservation, despite development threatening both of them. The greatest concentration of biodiversity remain in areas of northern Argentina and southern Bolivia where levels of poverty are very high, and indigenous peoples and poor criollo cattle raisers coexist. By improving informed governance, it is possible to stabilize biodiversity levels and provide a basis for poor local people to collaborate, and to improve their situation in the face of threats from development. In this study we analyze the ongoing processes being applied in two Gran Chaco cases - from the Upper Parapeti Basin (upriver from Kaa Iya National Park) in Bolivia, and the Lower Pilcomayo in northern Argentina (a dynamic internal delta ecosystem where a tri-national biosphere reserve is being considered). Watershed management, when adapted to local ecological, cultural, social and political contexts, is shown to be an effective tactical strategy to activate moribund governmental institutions in response to local constituencies. In the two cases presented, NGO-facilitated processes enriched local people's ability to take their own actions and to assess and frame their problems and goals for dialogue with their governments. The NGOs also offered technical assistance with land-use zoning, reforestation and alternative income-generation activities in collaborations that shifted government engagement. The methods used differ from the standard conservation and development projects, and their success offers lessons in building social network systems and civic science that improve conservation and reduce poverty. We close with a reflection on the framing of poverty alleviation and sustainability in conservation discourse.

News Article | September 7, 2016
Site: news.yahoo.com

Traditional indigenous lands tend to be particularly precious because they make up less than one quarter of the Earth's land surface but contain 80 percent of the planet's biodiversity (AFP Photo/Raphael Alves) Honolulu (AFP) - Some of the world's leading conservation groups are violating the rights of indigenous people by backing projects that oust them from their ancestral homes in the name of environmental preservation, a top UN expert said this week. UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz's latest report documents killings, evictions and lands being used for resource extraction without native consent -- practices that affect millions of indigenous people across Asia, Africa and Latin America. "Projects supported by major conservation organizations continue to displace local peoples from their ancestral homes," said Tauli-Corpuz, who gave a series of talks on her findings at the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, the globe's largest gathering of conservation leaders. While she refrained from naming names in her report, she told AFP the groups include the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society. "They know who they are," she said in an interview on the sidelines of the IUCN meeting, which has drawn 9,000 heads of states and environmentalists to Hawaii for a 10-day meeting. "From the reports I have received, these big conservation groups are some of the main groups that should account for what has happened." In the past year, Tauli-Corpuz traveled to Honduras, Brazil, and to the Sami people in the Arctic regions of Finland, Norway and Sweden. In Honduras, she met with an indigenous Lenca activist, Berta Caceres, four months before she was killed in March 2016 "because of her protests against the Agua Zarca dam project, even though she had been awarded precautionary protection measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights," said the report. In Brazil, Tauli-Corpuz expressed deep concerns about "killings and violent evictions of the Kaiowa Guarani peoples in Mato Grosso (that) continue to take place." One of the main threats to the rights of the Sami people is the "increased drive to mineral extraction and the development of renewable energy projects," added the report. According to the Rights and Resources Initiative, a non-governmental organization that backs indigenous rights, other rights violations remain unresolved too, include the eviction of local people in India's Kanha tiger reserve, even though evidence suggests people and tigers can co-inhabit the same area. Nepal's Chure region was declared a conservation area in 2014 without consulting the leaders of the indigenous communities, who represent a population of five million people. Local people have also been forced from their homes in Cameroon and Kenya. Native people "are best equipped to protect the world's most threatened forests, and have been doing so for decades," said RRI Coordinator Andy White. "Yet many conservation organizations and governments still treat them as obstacles to conservation rather than partners." Indigenous territory is increasingly being included in "protected areas," which have nearly doubled over the past two decades, from nearly 3.5 million square miles (nine million square kilometers) in 1980 to six million square kilometers in 2000, said the report. Traditional indigenous lands tend to be particularly precious because they make up less than one quarter of the Earth's land surface but contain 80 percent of the planet's biodiversity, it said. Certainly, the areas in question are ultimately managed by governments. But conservation groups "are the ones that facilitate the money," Tauli-Corpuz said. "They can do much more in terms of putting more pressure on the governments." Conservation's negative impact on indigenous people is "a constant and recurring theme since the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in 2001," said the report. Indeed, the issue dates even further back, to when the United States violently expelled Native Americans from lands that were designated as Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and Yosemite National Park in 1890. "That is an old story, and that is not the story that we as conservationists are trying to make happen today," said John Robinson, executive vice president for conservation and science at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

News Article | November 2, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

The world’s indigenous communities need to be given a bigger role in climate stabilisation, according to a new study that shows at least a quarter of forest carbon is stored on communal land, particularly in Brazil. The research by a group of academic institutions and environmental NGOs is the most comprehensive effort yet to quantify the contribution of traditional forest guardians to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Authors say the expansion of tribal land rights is the most cost-effective way to protect forests and sequester carbon – an issue that they hope will receive more prominence at the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Marrakech. The paper by the Rights and Resources Initiative, Woods Hole Research Centre and World Resources Institute aims to encourage governments to recognise indigenous land rights and include tribal input in national action plans. Currently this is not the case for 167 of 188 nations in the Paris agreement, including Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are home to some of the world’s biggest forests. It is also likely to feed into a growing debate in Brazil, which has won kudos for recognising more indigenous land than any other country in the past decade but is now under a new government that has yet to be tested in international climate talks. Based on satellite surveys of 37 tropical countries, the study estimates community-claimed lands sequester at least 54,546m tonnes of carbon – roughly four times the world’s annual emissions. Ownership of a 10th of that land is public, unrecognised or contested, which raises the risk that it could fall into the hands of developers, farmers, miners or others who want to clear the forest for short-term financial gain at the expense of long-term environmental costs. The authors argue there is a greater economic benefit from leaving the property in the hands of traditional residents and strengthening their ownership rights so they can protect the land. Alain Frechette of Rights and Resources, one of the report’s authors, urged national governments and negotiators to make indigenous communities a more central part of climate policies. “When communities have secure forest rights, not only are forests better protected, but communities fare better. It’s what economists call an optimal solution. Everyone wins,” he said. “By contrast, large-scale development initiatives produce quick wins, but the long-term environmental, economic and political costs are not taken into account. They are just pushed on to future generations.” “As well as reducing 20-30% of carbon dioxide emissions, the forests provide benefits of clean water, pollination, biodiversity, flood control and tourist attractions that are said to be worth $523bn to $1.165tn in Brazil, $54-119 bn in Bolivia, and $123–277bn in Colombia over the next 20 years. The data shows the most important region is Latin America, where 58% of emissions come from deforestation, more than double the global rate of 24%. Without protection, much more could yet be released. Five of the top 10 countries for forest carbon are in the continent. Brazil with 14,692 megatonnes has twice the amount of the next biggest country, Indonesia. Having expanded indigenous land considerably since 2003, Brazil – and later Bolivia and Colombia – initially slowed deforestation. The World Research Institute estimates that tropical forests without such protection were two to three times more likely to be cleared. But in recent years, forest destruction in Brazil has started to creep up again and many environmentalists are worried that the new centre-right government of Michel Temer could accelerate this trend. Since the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff in September, the new government has cut the budget for the National Indian Agency (better known by its acronym Funai), and removed many of its key personnel. “There are causes for concern,“ said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. She urged Brazil not to backtrack. “As this report shows, if Brazil enhances its respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, they will be able to contribute more to the Paris agreement. It will be to their benefit. They can measure that in terms of the amount of tonnes of carbon that are being conserved.” Paulo Moutinho, director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, called on the new government to declare the 71m hectares of currently undesignated public forest – equivalent to all the land cleared in the past 40 years – protected or indigenous land. Although he acknowledged that this would be difficult to push past the strong agribusiness lobby in congress, he said farmers would eventually realise that strong forests were necessary not just for the global climate but for local rainfall patterns and irrigation. “There is still time to do something impressive,” he said. “The world expects strong action from Brazil. It would be nice to consolidate and expand protected areas. Otherwise, it will be impossible to achieve what we have promised to the world.”

Taylor P.L.,Colorado State University | Cronkleton P.,Center for International Forestry Research | Barry D.,Rights and Resources Initiative
Sustainable Development | Year: 2013

State devolution has combined with social movement pressures to give communities increasing access and rights to southern forests, making development of effective local participation in sustainable resource management crucial. This paper discusses an experience of participatory research in Central America, which sought to help two grassroots forest organizations, the Association of Forest Communities of Petén, Guatemala and the Farmer to Farmer Programme of Siuna, Nicaragua, to respond to new organizational and political challenges by developing their internal capacity for research and analysis. Community-based 'para-professional' social researchers were trained to carry out studies of their communities' experiences with natural resource management, including strengths, problems and possible response strategies. The collaborative research initiative also encountered problems of inequality, uneven education and skills and concerns with validity. The results of this experience indicate that with appropriate support, community-based research and researchers can help engender collective reflection, strengthen local organizational capacity and contribute knowledge and analysis in support of forest community movements' efforts to promote local resource rights and more sustainable development. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. and ERP Environment.

Graziano Ceddia M.,MODUL University Vienna | Gunter U.,MODUL University Vienna | Corriveau-Bourque A.,Rights and Resources Initiative
Global Environmental Change | Year: 2015

Agricultural expansion remains the most important proximate cause of tropical deforestation, while interactions between socio-economic, technological and institutional factors represent the fundamental drivers. Projected population increases could further raise the pressure on the remaining forests, unless agricultural intensification allows raising agricultural output without expanding agricultural areas. The purpose of this article is to understand the role of institutional factors in governing the intensification process towards the goal of preserving forests from agricultural pressures, with a focus on Indigenous Peoples' and local communities' rights to forests (as embedded in the various tenure regimes). In this paper we adopt an international dimension and analyse the process of agricultural expansion across eleven Latin American countries over the period 1990-2010 to assess whether, in a context of agricultural intensification, different land tenure regimes impact differently on the realization of land-sparing or Jevons paradox. The results, based on a number of multivariate statistical models that controls for socio-economic factors, strongly suggest that the formal recognition of Indigenous Peoples and local communities' forest rights has played an important role in promoting land sparing or attenuating Jevons paradox. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.

Paudel N.S.,ForestAction | Monterroso I.,Rights and Resources Initiative | Monterroso I.,Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences | Cronkleton P.,Center for International Forestry Research
Conservation and Society | Year: 2012

This paper examines the emerging role of secondary level organisations in the democratisation of forest governance by analysing two cases of forest-based collective action in Nepal and Guatemala. It explores the conditions surrounding the emergence and growth of these secondary level organisations, and examines the nature of their organisational approaches, strategic actions, and the resulting outcomes in terms of democratising forest governance. The organisations discussed in this paper are products of broader decentralisation processes and represent organised and empowered forest people. They are capable of shifting the balance of power in favour of community level institutions, and can compel state agencies to become more accountable to the needs of forest-dependent citizens. As a result, by leading collective action beyond the community to a secondary level, these organisations have influenced forest governance by making it more democratic, equitable and productive. Copyright © Paudel et al. 2012.

Monterroso I.,Rights and Resources Initiative | Monterroso I.,Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences | Barry D.,Rights and Resources Initiative
Conservation and Society | Year: 2012

In recent decades, forests across the world have undergone a significant process of recognition and transference of tenure rights to local communities or individuals, referred to here as forest tenure reforms. Among developing regions, Latin America has seen the most important recognition and transference of these tenure rights to forest dwelling and forest dependent communities. This paper examines the process in Guatemala, where the state has recognised and transferred rights to organised local groups-establishing a community concession system in the multiple use zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. We analyse the evolution of claims over forest uses, and focus on the legitimacy elements underpinning the process of a claim becoming a right. The results indicate that in order to sustain this forest tenure reform process over time, it is important to understand how tenure arrangements are transferred and distributed among rights-receivers, and how this process is influenced by the elements that underpin legitimation as well as those that define authority. Understanding the underpinnings of the legitimacy behind forest tenure reforms is central to identifying ways in which these processes can work, and also becomes important for developing more sound policy frameworks that fill gaps and resolve incongruence in governmental systems for forest management. Copyright © Monterroso and Barry 2012.

Larson A.M.,Center for International Forestry Research | Barry D.,Rights and Resources Initiative | Ram Dahal G.,Rights and Resources Initiative
International Forestry Review | Year: 2010

This article reports on findings from a research project, in more than 30 sites in 10 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, aimed at analyzing cases where changes in formal tenure rights for forest-based communities had recently occurred or were in process. Though by far largest proportion of the world's forests are owned by the state, over a quarter of forests in developing countries are now owned by or assigned to communities. This suggests, at least in some ways, a marked departure from the historic trend towards centralizing. The project, led by the Center for International Forestry Research in coordination with the Rights and Resources Initiative in 20062008, sought to identify issues and concerns from the perspective of socially and economically vulnerable groups that were seeking rights reforms. The objectives were to understand reform processes, particularly the extent to which community rights had improved in practice. This article reports on the analysis of three aspects of the reforms: the broad global trends shaping them, challenges in implementation and outcomes for livelihoods and forests.

Bandiaky-Badji S.,Rights and Resources Initiative
International Forestry Review | Year: 2011

This paper highlights the ways that gender analysis has been ignored in the development of forestry and land policy in Senegal. The development of local governance/ rural councils through history and their increased decision-making power that occurred with the 1996 decentralization/ regionalization did not take into account the ways that women's representation (or lack of) on these councils would affect women's ability to access needed resources. This gender policy analysis paper is guided by two main questions: do the main decentralization reforms, which aim for the principles of equity, accountability, ownership and local participation, promote gender equity and tenure rights in access to land and forest resources? How are the forest and land laws and policies gendered and right-based? I argue that, the lack of adequate gender analysis, consideration of local communities' rights, and of accountability mechanisms in forest and land policy reforms is due to the low participation and representation of women in political institutions such as political parties, in legislature, and in local governments and to the fact that the forest sector is not gender sensitive. These traditionally male dominated national and local government institutions are the main causes of inequity and exclusion of marginalized groups mainly women in land and forest governance both at the policy and practical level. As long as forest and land policies remain ungendered and do not have a rights-based approach, women will always be legally and socially marginalized from decision making and benefits from forest and land resources. Before advocating for gender equity and women's rights and tenure in practice, it is necessary and a pre-requisite to have clearly defined gendered national forest and land laws and policies, effective participation and representation of women in political institutions, and gendered accountability mechanisms to hold political leaders, government and local government officials accountable if they fail in practice to recognize women's ownership rights to land and forest resources.

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