Day one of the 5th India Land & Development Conference was commemorated as ‘Asia Day’, a south-south knowledge-sharing and learning event. The fifth India Land and Development Conference (IDLC) is being held from November 21 to 25 this year. Asia Day witnessed seven sessions and a plenary, with representatives of civil society, State administrations, and academia (researchers and students) from South and Southeast Asia joining discussions on tenure security and land and resource governance with cross cutting dimensions around gender, inclusion, technology and sustainability
The plenary was addressed by Dr Mika Pettri-Torhonen, Lead Land Administration Specialist from the World Bank office in Singapore, Professor Philip Hirsch, Professor Emeritus, Australian National University, and a scholar on land and resource governance issues in Southeast Asia, and Professor Nguyen Quang Tuyen, Associate Professor, Law, and Vice Chairman, Hanoi Law University Council, and Dean, Economic Department, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Other parallel sessions examined multiple dimensions of tenure security and land and resource governance in South and Southeast Asia, at country and regional level. The discussions focused on the current status of individual land holdings of smallholder farmers who, along with traditional forest dwellers, are among the poorest in the region. Deliberations referred to emerging opportunities for climate action and strengthening land access and tenure security. While South and Southeast Asia are among the world’s richest regions in terms of land, biodiversity, and natural resources, these are threatened by significant internal and external socio-economic and cultural stresses. Lack of coherent policy and legal frameworks, non-recognition of customary tenure and forest rights, and increased presence of extractive industries were pointed out as reasons for such risks. The participants noted attempts by different governments to modernise property rights, strengthen tenure security of indigenous peoples (IPs), and protect the interests of the poor and vulnerable. The sessions highlighted that despite challenges, all relevant countries showed optimism and desire for positive changes in strengthening land governance.
Key messages of Asia Day
1) A rapidly urbanising South and Southeast Asia face shortage of land for agriculture, housing, and infrastructure. Deliberations highlighted that access to land and resources is a human right and defending access to that socio-economic-cultural right is not easy. A complex and overlapping policy and legal environment does not help. Colonial land legacies, political economy, embedded informalities, and institutional weaknesses are significant, and law enforcement has always been tardy. Despite such challenges, Vietnam’s experience in periodically revising Land Law, based on progress made and changing socio-economic realities, was seen as an example of a step-by-step and adaptive approach to reforms, though also questioned by many on its changing directions. Myanmar’s experience in developing the National Land Use Policy through a consultative process was also cited as an example.
2) The persistent fragility of tenure security has caused land disputes and conflicts which modern laws or simplistic administrative and technical solutions are unable to address or resolve amicably. Poor land rights records and cumbersome court procedures often delay resolution, allowing disputes to fester and fuel socio-political tensions. Discussions on land acquisition also touched on the importance of social and environmental safeguards and issues around cultural identity, Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
3) The United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), a set of guidelines that operationalize the UN Framework and further define the key duties and responsibilities of States and business enterprises with regard to business-related human rights abuses. With increasing pressures on land due to investments, CSOs working on land rights have an important role in mainstreaming and monitoring the implementation of the UNGPs around Business and Human Rights, especially in the context of protecting land rights. Discussion around this with analysis of status from six countries led by Land Watch Asia and ANGOC, indicate while the process of National Action Planning has begun in some countries, there is a long way to go in translating the intent to action.
4) Land conflicts over time have increased in number, coverage, and intensity threatening livelihoods and lives of communities and rights defenders. The session on Land Conflict Monitoring highlighted the background, framework, and methodology of the 2020 Land Conflict Monitoring Initiative. In 2020, 60% of conflicts recorded in Philippines were in the context of private investments in the form of plantations and mining. V entures with long-term contracts that resulted to very low wages and loss of rights to land. There needs to more engagements and evidence building around land conflict monitoring and in this regard capacity, conversation and collaboration are called for.
5) Historical marginalization of land ownership created serious problem in land and agrarian development and in the journey toward peace and prosperity in Nepal, the discussion revolved around land to tiller and it’s been reflected in initiatives of collection and documentation the data/record of landless dalits, squatters, and informal settlers. Transformative policy measures and redefining land to people relations with involvement of the community need to be implemented in the process to builds trust, engenders feeling of ownership and bring true information that ultimately helps for a broader consensus. In this context civil society in Nepal is playing a big role, which need to be understood, analysed and documented to advance cross-learning.
6) The development has greatly influenced the dynamic culture, society, and worldview and lives across the globe has been vividly reflected in the discussion held in Bangladesh session. The penetration of neo-liberal ideas of development into the lives across the globe has greatly influenced the dynamic culture, society, and worldview perception of land . Women’s minds and bodies become the battlefield of indigeneity and modernization in the trajectory of development. The interlinked vibrant discourses of gender and identity politics continues to be influenced by the broader forces of modern development paradigms and ideas of national governance.
7) Around 45 percent of the world’s indigenous people or ethnic minorities (about 190 million people) live in the Southeast Asia-Pacific region. Forest dwellers constitute one of the region’s largest impoverished groups. Customary tenure and the influence of culture and heritage on Asian land administration systems remains poorly understood. The interface of formal laws and informal practices has been neglected. On the positive side, several governments in the region are now taking steps to recognise customary rights to bring about meaningful change. Participants highlighted experiences from Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, and India (the last two share not only borders but also socio-cultural practices in community land administration) as well as processes for recording customary lands. Different experiences in community land mapping practices and alternative dispute-resolution methods offer hope for the future. Experiences in the use of FPIC principles and standards on forest rights protection and recognition were also shared.
8) Rapid national and transnational investments in resource extractive industries such as mining and palm oil plantations have generated controversy, as huge areas of rainforest have been cleared for such ventures. These investments negatively impact the land rights of IP and local communities. They also reflect a disregard for FPIC principles and processes. Experiences from Indonesia and Myanmar showed how industrial type oil palm plantations have destroyed both the environment and local livelihoods. Presenters highlighted potential benefits of encouraging community-based, small-holder palm oil plantations as against industrial ones. The consensus was that governments and civil society should learn from the experiences of Southeast Asian countries to avoid similar negative impacts on the economy, ecology, and forest and rural dwellers.
9) Records management must be modernised and States must move towards digital data systems to enhance reliability. Speakers also emphasised the need for a reliable data collection and management system. While modernisation of land records is seen as a good move towards transparency, concerns were raised about earlier land records being unfair and the need for ground verification to address concerns around land ownership. However, it was also noted that poor connectivity in mountainous and remote areas, where IPs and poorer groups tend to live are more likely to be left out of such land ownership verification processes and later unfairly treated. Discussions also addressed the type of data that should be generated to address tenure security issues while supporting policy making by governments and advocacy by civil society groups.
10) Can climate change and related climate action programmes or REDD+ help resolve issues on forestland and customary rights? Several speakers alluded to the recently concluded COP 26 - Climate Summit held in Glasgow and the declaration signed by world leaders. Despite reservations on the outcomes of the Summit, participants referred to the Declaration’s commitment to protecting tenure security of indigenous and local communities as an encouraging sign. Civil society has an important role to play in pushing this agenda forward.
11) Multi-stakeholder dialogue on different issues is critical to building sustainable land administration systems across the region. This then necessitates better communication and exchange of information among all stakeholders. It was pointed out that women seem to have fewer legally recognised rights than men and that land disputes often involve discrimination against women, infringement of their rights, and other gender issues. Deliberations underscored the importance of protecting the rights of women and socially vulnerable groups.
Asia Day provided an opportunity to learn from local, regional, and global best practices from diverse actors working across sectors in the regional geography. Climate change and its effects are not confined to a country or region. The universality of climate change disasters like intense rainfall, flooding, landslides, tsunamis, etc. and their human and economic cost, emphasise the urgency of the situation. Land is increasingly intrinsic to this issue, whether it be the loss of customary methods of land conservation and regeneration or deforestation for industrial plantations. Instances of widespread informal payments and misgovernance further undermine the land administration and management systems. Women’s access to land and property rights is severely restricted both in formal laws and customary practices. Against this backdrop, a discussion among regional stakeholders on best practices, failed experiments and the lessons to be learnt therein, and of successful policy and advocacy initiatives is not only timely, but also necessary. It is hoped that this will help in building fundamental land and geospatial infrastructure and services in a sustainable manner.
As the world is dealing with a pandemic, its repercussions are being reflected in India as well, along with an economic crisis and mass reverse migration which has significantly impacted the lives and livelihoods of people, ILDC2021 invites attention to the relevance of land security, in inclusive and sustainable development with inbuilt resilience to future shocks.