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First Global Funding Pact Launched to Secure Indigenous Land Rights

Aboriginal traditional dancers carrying clap sticks and spears and with faces painted white with clay perform in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Nov. 28, 2016.

Indigenous people under threat from companies seeking to develop their land for agriculture, mining and energy projects will be supported with money and practical help through a major global partnership backed by philanthropic and government funding.

The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility is the first initiative to provide grants to advance the rights of indigenous people to help them protect their forest land and resources.

“Creating mechanisms that allow indigenous peoples and local communities to gain tenure over their land or forests is a key way to tackle climate change and inequality,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, a major backer.

Norway pledges $20 million

The facility won a $20 million pledge from Norway on Tuesday when it was launched at a land rights conference in Stockholm.

Indigenous people and rural communities have customary claims to two thirds of the world's land but are legally recognized as holding only 10 percent, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global network.

This has contributed to an increase in conflicts over land in countries rich in tropical forests and natural resources as agribusinesses, mining and energy companies lay claim to indigenous land and forests.

Forests help slow global warming

Forests absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide and when they are degraded or destroyed, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for 10 to 15 percent of carbon emissions worldwide.

If the facility invests at least $10 million a year for its first 10 years, experts project an increase in titled, protected and well-managed community and indigenous tropical forests of more than 40 million hectares (100,000 acres), an area roughly the size of Sweden.

Such efforts would also prevent deforestation of one million hectares and the release of 500 million tons of carbon dioxide and help reduce poverty among indigenous people, the RRI said.

“The Tenure Facility provides a powerful solution to save the world’s forests from the ground up,” said Carin Jämtin, director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, another key funder.

Pilot projects

The facility has already provided grants and guidance for pilot projects in Indonesia, Mali, Peru, Cameroon, Liberia and Panama.

A 2015 peace accord that ended Mali’s civil war failed to address land-based conflicts that contributed to the war, said Boubacar Diarra, the project's coordinator in the West African country.

The facility helped to set up 17 local land commissions to sort through conflicting claims to determine who owns the land, he said.

“These commissions have reduced conflicts by up to a third by working with local villagers and tribal leaders,” Diarra told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.