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IIED: Land grabbing: is conservation part of the problem or the solution?

Untitled-1Excerpts from IIED’s September 2013 Brief

Large-scale land acquisitions are increasing in pace and scale, in particular across parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Weak governance and poor land use planning mean that commercial ‘land grabs’ often damage biodiversity as well as dispossessing people from customary rights and livelihoods. Land can also be ‘grabbed’ for ‘green’ purposes, triggering conflicts that undermine potential synergies. Expanded state protected areas, land for carbon offset markets and REDD, and for private conservation projects all potentially conflict with community rights. Such conflict is counterproductive because secure customary and communal land tenure helps enable sustainable natural resource management by local communities. This briefing presents the experience of international development, wildlife and human rights practitioners, shared at a symposium on land grabbing and conservation in March 2013.

Large-scale land acquisitions have increased in pace and scale due to changes in commodity markets, agricultural investment strategies, land prices, and other policy and market forces. So-called ‘land grabbing’ (see Box 1) has spread in countries with relatively weak governance and poor legal protection for customary land rights.  The areas most affected are the global ‘commons’ — traditionally used collectively by local people — including much of the world’s forests, wetlands and rangelands (Box 2). These landscapes support up to two billion mostly poor and rural people and hold a large proportion of the world’s biodiversity.

In some cases land grabbing occurs with environmental objectives in sight — including setting aside land for biodiversity conservation.  Therefore, conservation can drive land grabbing.  Historically, expropriation of local communities’ land and rights for state conservation areas has caused much conflict. Now, trends and patterns of commercial land acquisition present a major and growing threat to conservation objectives aswell. Yet often the best way to prevent large-scale conversion of forests or rangelands to alternative commercial land uses is by strengthening local communities’ collective land rights — the time is ripe for greater collaboration between conservation and local community land rights interests (and their supporters).

In March 2013, stakeholders from conservation NGOs, development organisations and indigenous/community rights groups met to explore interactions between conservation, land acquisitions and community land rights at a meeting organised by IIED’s Poverty and Conservation Learning Group, in collaboration with the International Land Coalition, Zoological Society of London and Maliasili Initiatives.1 It particularly examined opportunities for greater convergence and synergy between stakeholders’ interests.

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