Legal empowerment and the land rush: new resources from the field

Dear Friends,

Around the globe a massive land grab is taking place. Big-money interests are approaching rural communities, eager to strike deals for forests, farmland, pastures and coasts. But the playing field is far from even. Millions of people, misled about their rights and the nature of these offers, are being exploited.

Namati’s solution: help communities to use the power of the law to protect their lands and livelihoods.

We’re writing now to share new resources and some notes from the field. We hope you find these useful. To share more, and to continue a dialogue with network members around the world on protecting natural resource rights, please log in to the Legal Empowerment Network.

Community Land Protection Made Simple

In Liberia, we worked with the Sustainable Development Institute to produce two simple guides:

The “Guide to Protecting Land and Resources” walks communities through the process of documenting their customary land claims and strengthening community governance over lands and forests. The guide explains how to map community land, settle boundary disputes, create by-laws to ensure equitable, sustainable land use, and set up a governance structure.

Getting a Fair Deal from Companies and Investors,” shows communities how to prepare for negotiations when investors come calling. These guides can be adapted for use in any country where there is a threat of dispossession.
Improving Investment Practices

In Sierra Leone, Namati’s input was incorporated into the government’s Guidelines for Sustainable Agricultural and Bioenergy Investment. The guidelines ask firms to sign binding impact and benefits agreements with host communities, and to contribute to a legal aid fund which would in turn provide communities with independent legal representation.

Communities Seeking Environmental Justice

Namati is working with fisher people and farmers in Gujarat, India, to monitor the extent to which firms are complying with environmental regulations. In Mundra, the site of a massive waterfront development project, community members have documented widespread violations of conditions meant to protect fragile ecosystems and the livelihoods of local people. A report on these findings, Closing the Enforcement Gap, was submitted to regulatory authorities and was responsible in part for the project developer’s first admission of wrongdoing.

Namati has also produced and disseminated the first user-friendly versions of India’s coastal zone regulations. Booklets and pocket reference cards in local languages cover all the information available in government regulations, but in a way that ordinary people can understand and use to identify violations and demand compliance.

Building the Movement

In late 2013, Namati’s Community Land Protection Program co-hosted a Regional Symposium on Community Land and Natural Resources Protection in South Africa. Over 20 organizations worked together to identify practical solutions to common challenges.

We hope you find these guides useful. Please do share them widely. For more tools and information relating to community rights to natural resources, please visit our website.

Vivek, Rachael, Sonkita, Manju, and the whole Namati team

P.S. If you haven’t already, read and endorse our open letter to the United Nations, which includes targets on rights to land and property.

More Notes from the Frontline

How to write equitable large-scale land leases: advice to lawyers – Namati’s Sonkita Conteh offers helpful advice to lawyers involved in land investments. As it turns out, it’s not so hard to draft fair land lease agreements.

Two Coal Blocks and a Political Story – Recent developments in India suggest the government is willing to bypass their own environmental protection laws in order to fast-track economic ‘development’ projects. By Kanchi Kohli.

In Burma, the government has set an unreasonable 1-year deadline to register all rural lands—creating a dangerous opportunity for grabbing and exploitation. Namati is working with CPRCG to deploy community paralegals in 150 village tracts across 5 states to help people understand the policy, register their lands, and object if others try to register false claims.

March 13, 2014 | Namati