Rangelands: Conservation and “Land Grabbing” in Rangelands: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution? | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
December 2014
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Large-scale land acquisitions have increased in scale and pace due to changes in commodity markets, agricultural investment strategies, land prices, and a range of other policy and market forces. The areas most affected are the global “commons” – lands that local people traditionally use collectively — including much of the world’s forests, wetlands, and rangelands. In some cases land acquisition occurs with environmental objectives in sight – including the setting aside of land as protected areas for biodiversity conservation. On the other hand, current trends and patterns of commercial land acquisition present a major and growing threat not just to local livelihoods and human rights, but also to conservation objectives. There is a potential opportunity here for greater collaboration between conservation interests, and local communities’ land rights interests with their supporters amongst human rights and social justice movements. This Issue Paper documents experiences from the rangelands of Mongolia, Kenya, India, Ethiopia, and other countries, which were presented at a Conference on Conservation and Land Grabbing held in London in 2013.

Rangelands are a target for investment, including for mining and large-scale crop production, across the world. The land allocated to commercial investors is usually considered empty or under-used. In Mongolia between 2000 and 2010, 0.3 million hectares of pastureland were provided to mining companies, and another 10 million hectares were placed under limited access while mining exploration took place. At the end of 2012, almost 3% of the country was under licence for mining exploitation, and another 10.4% was under mining exploration. Land tenure in such areas is usually customary and communal, and often unprotected legally. Many states neither legally recognise unregistered customary land rights nor provide opportunities for land users to obtain legal property rights over group-held land.

The “global land rush” is also challenging biodiversity conservation efforts. There was a wave of downgrading, downsizing, or degazetting of protected areas between 1960 and 2010, and in particular in the past 15 years. In addition, over 2,000 proposals in 24 countries are currently in place, totalling nearly 1 million sq km; the majority of these are in industrialised countries, such as the USA and Australia. Recent examples from Kenya, Ethiopia, Mongolia, and India all highlight areas of high biodiversity lost to commercial agriculture (sugar, biofuels, grain crops) and to mineral extraction. Many of these losses are from within existing state-protected areas. In India from 2002 to 2011 the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) granted permission for the diversion of 400,687 hectares of forest land to other land uses. Diversion to mining and power projects accounted for 38% of this loss. In Ethiopia, more specifically Gambella and South Omo, the national conservation authority managed to negotiate key biodiversity areas back from investment concessions, once their high conservation value was proved.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Flintan, Fiona


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The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD) is a Convention to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.


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