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The first online platform for mapping indigenous and community-held lands

Landmark is the first online, interactive global platform that provides geographical data and other resources about indigenous and community-held lands. It represents a global response to land tenure pressures, which puts communities’ livelihoods and natural resources at risk.

It is estimated that communities hold approximately 65% of the world’s land area under customary systems (i.e. land administered in accordance with indigenous communities’ customs). Additionally, with 75% of the world’s farms operated by family farmers, small-scale farming provides the majority of the world’s food. While whole communities depend on tenure and cultivation of such lands, they also play an important role in the management of natural resources and as a force for protecting our environment.

But the land they control is shrinking yearly as large farms and plantations squeeze them out, and small-scale landowners are weaker than ever against big corporates. It has therefore become even more important to have official recognition of community-held land, including mapping, demarcating and registering it publicly. Until now, only a fraction of such land has been lawfully recognised or mapped.

Landmark is the first online, interactive global platform providing data and other information on indigenous and community-held lands. By providing different data layers and categories to show the land tenure situation, land assets and potential pressures, users can visualise land officially or informally held by communities, and overlay it with geographical data on mining, oil palm and forest concessions and on dam construction. It also shows changes in land cover over time, including forest density, deforestation and reforestation processes, and outlines communities’ engagement in protecting the environment. Therefore, Landmark has made an essential contribution to the global discussion of communal lands and the implications for environment and society that come with it.

Landmark was founded by 13 partners including renowned international organisations in the fields of resource management and land tenure rights like Liz Alden Wily, the World Resources Institute and the Instituto del Bien Común. The platform is openly accessible and of use particularly for indigenous communities, civil society organisations, researchers, governments, development agencies and investors.

For indigenous peoples and other local communities, the map provides a tool to increase their visibility to governments. As a printed version, it can be relevant in negotiations with authorities to protect their lands. The map also offers a simple way to encourage national governments to better recognise community entitlements, and to compare and adapt to land tenure practices in other countries. For example, in Bolivia deforestation rates are 2.8 times lower in indigenous peoples-held regions which enjoy legal recognition and protection by the government than outside of them. Lower deforestation in Bolivia could avoid 8-12 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions yearly, showing how important it is to secure lands for the climate as well as communities.

Companies and private investors can use the information on Landmark to better understand the land rights situation in countries in which they are seeking to invest. Moreover, the platform can support development agencies for a tailor-made support of communities by identifying lands and rights at risk. Civil society advocating for community land rights are enabled to use the resources on LandMark as an instrument to examine whether or not governments and other actors are respecting the land tenure rights of local populations. Unsurprisingly, Landmark provides a large pool of information relevant also for academia to generate more knowledge on indigenous and community lands in different social, economic and legal contexts.

Currently, Landmark has mapped lands totalling 12% of the habitable land as verified indigenous or communal land, mainly in developing countries. An interesting insight at this point is that many developing countries (e.g. South Sudan, Tanzania or Burkina Faso) have stronger land rights laws than developed ones (e.g. the US or Canada). Thus, the growing attention and pressures on land ownership and use are part of a global dynamic, and links more broadly to land ownership, and ownership models more generally, across the world.

Image: A Kenyan farmer uses a mobile phone in the field | Neil Palmer (CIAT) | CC BY-SA 2.0

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