The Challenge for Community Lands: What are they, why should we care, and what do we need to do?

But what exactly are community land rights and why do they matter?

Here are some summary points from a recent ILC article by Liz Alden Wily and Stefan Verwer - please add your reactions, questions, and additions below!

  • Community lands are the lands that up to three billion people around the world hold and use today under traditional, community-based systems of ownership. These could amount to eight or so billion hectares.

  • By area most land and resources within a community land area are not farmed or developed. Most are kept as common property. ‘Commons’ means the lands which community members own collectively. These are often forests, rangelands, marshlands, or ponds, small lakes, streams and rivers, foreshores, traditional mines, or wilder areas such as deserts and mountainous steep areas.

  • The subdivision of all these types of lands among community members does not make sense. What makes sense to past and modern-day communities is to keep these resources intact, use them collectively under rules, and to avoid the massive loss of values that occurs if these lands are cleared and turned into private farms or housing estates. Keeping such lands intact is also particularly important to community members who are most poor and most dependent upon resource harvesting.

  • Community land systems usually have a long history, going back centuries as the norms and rules by which members of communities obtain, own, use, and transfer lands. The rules change over time. The way in which a community exercises authority over land matters also changes over time.

  • Brazil has already recognised 654 indigenous communities as owners of 115 million hectares of land and 481 African descendant communities as owners of 3.5 million hectares. Up to 70% of Australia’s land has been either already recognised as the property of Aborigine communities or is under claims being considered. Nearly 70% of Tanzania and Botswana and around 38% of Namibia and Kenya are among lands that progressive parliaments in Africa have recognised as the lawful property of communities and their members.

  • But millions of communities still have no recognition that their land rights are more than token rights to occupy and, therefore, use lands belonging to others – usually by governments.

1 Like

I take land ownership means a legal right of occupation of such land with absolute administrator of that parcel of land registered as your personal property.In Zambia more than 80% of land is under customary tenure. Under the current Land Act of 1995,the community have only a user right and no one is this tenure category can claim to own the land she/he is using.Hence most Zambians do not own land there are foreigners in their own country.One owns land when such a parcel of land is registered with Commissioner of Land.The process of having a parcel of land be registered is tendentious and costly which a poor community member would not attempt to start the process. With Namati’s community land protection program we hope to demonstrate that community land protection can be achieved not through registration but through political and community will. AJK

1 Like

Thanks Andrew - can you clarify what you mean by protection “not through registration but through political and community will”? Are you still going to be seeking some form of legal documentation or recognition of community lands?