Community Land

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Liz Alden Wiley:

"How is it that so many people in the agrarian world still don’t own the land they live and depend upon? The answer is that they do own their lands - but not in ways which national laws recognize. They acquire rights as members of communities, in accordance with norms the community itself defines and upholds. Rules may be traditional (‘customs’) or new, adopted to meet new challenges and aspirations. The immediately localised and integrated socio-spatial nature of community makes this possible, producing practical, pertinent, and accessible land ‘governance’, not so available to remote institutions of state. Individuals, but mainly families, and the community in general, own rights to different parcels within the domain, depending upon their nature and use. The extent of common lands varies widely, from covering the entire domain to residual shared lands used for public services, and in which case community norms apply most actively to how family lands are used and transferred. All lands subject to community based jurisdiction and rights allocation may be loosely referred to as ‘community lands’. These are the messages I want to convey: ‘community land’ is not just a construct for the past but for the future. Despite the odds it survives and evolves with the times as a vibrant framework for landholding for rural majorities in most agrarian states. With legal support it offers a barely tapped future upon which land-based society can be more fairly and durably built. More than human rights and remedy of past injustices are at stake. Securing community lands to secure the livelihood of millions is also only part of the equation. For recognition that communities own their expansive lands including millions of hectares of forests and rangelands offers enormous potentials for cheap and sustainable resource conservation and climate mitigation measures at scale. Moving millions out of conditions of tenure security will also contribute to the peace and stability that eludes so many agrarian states. Their operating systems provide ready-made platforms upon which more devolved, inclusive and accountable formal governance can be built, the absence of which is also a familiar thorn in the side of struggling states. Some governments have begun to look to community lands and community based land governance in this way and to reconstruct their tenure regimes accordingly. Most have not. Why should this matter? One good reason is this: despite 300 years of industrialisation 156 of 196 modern states are agrarian; that is, their economies remain land based. Their assets cover two thirds of the world’s land area and cater to 87% of its population. Directly dependent rural dwellers number three billion or 42% of the world’s population. Most (at least two billion and possibly three) acquire land through community membership as above and depend upon this for protection of their land and resource interests. " (