WASHINGTON, March 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Granting
formal land rights to indigenous people living in the world's
tropical forests is among the most effective, but underused,
ways to stop illegal deforestation that fuels violence, poverty
and global warming, according to new research.
Local communities are best equipped to safeguard valuable
forests, and those with strong land rights are the most
effective, said a raft of studies presented this week at the
World Bank's annual Land and Poverty Conference.
Deforestation is known to be detrimental to the earth's
climate. Clearing woodlands for agriculture and grazing, and
fires that often follow, is responsible for about one-tenth of
carbon emissions that contribute to a dangerous rise in global
temperatures, researchers say.
Shrinking forests can cause poverty and conflicts as well,
as local residents are forced to compete for fewer resources.
A six-nation study for the World Bank's Program on Forests
found deforestation rates are significantly lower where
communities have legal rights to the forests and government
support for management and enforcement, compared with areas
"Critical links" exist among land security, local economic
development, biodiversity conservation and reduced carbon
emissions, it said.
Research from Indonesia showed conflict over land was
minimized and investment was encouraged when local communities
were involved in designing transportation corridors around
proposed mining projects.
Another study from Indonesia showed granting long-term
rights over mangrove swamps to indigenous people has better
protected the critical coastal ecosystems than in areas where
the endangered buffers between land and sea are not locally
Less than a fifth of the world's population has formal land
rights, or tenure.
More than 1,500 land rights specialists converged on the U.S
capital this week to share their findings.
The use of giant swathes of information such as advanced
satellite imagery can identify patterns such as water use in
land rights and land management, said Andrew Steer, head of the
Washington-based World Resources Institute and a former World
Bank Special Envoy for Climate Change.
"We can show water risk, make future projections of
population, use crowd sourcing and cloud computing in a way
that is transforming how water is used by private companies and
indigenous communities," he said.
Many papers highlighted challenges posed to developing
nations by big mining and agricultural industries that are using
technology to gain access to remote regions.
Nevertheless, researchers said indigenous peoples and
campaigners working with them are harnessing technology as well
to expose illegal deforestation or land use and seek remedies
The research is significant to help back up indigenous
communities' claims that they are the best custodians of global
Some critics have claimed remote tropical forests looked
after by indigenous groups are protected due to a lack of
development pressure rather than good management techniques.
An estimated 15 percent of the world's forest cover remains
Brazil, once a leader in slowing deforestation, has recently
been accused of rolling back gains made by providing land rights
to rural people in the face of recession and a political crisis.
The World Bank estimates that forest ecosystems cover a
fifth of the land in Latin America, representing half of the
world's tropical forests.
(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
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