We all know that being outside, surrounding ourselves with nature, and taking in fresh air are all good things for our minds and bodies. Access to green, open spaces is important for everyone, and shouldn’t be for a privileged few. However, all over the planet, vast amounts of land are owned and controlled by a very small number of people, which can have harmful effects on nature, climate and communities. This blog will explore a few examples of the inequalities, and identify alternative models of land ownership – many of which go back thousands of years.
In many indigenous cultures, land is not something to be owned by individuals as private property, but is a living, breathing being that we all have a collective right to enjoy and responsibility to nurture. For thousands of years Indigenous Peoples have nurtured and cared for the earth as a source of life, spirituality and joy, yet their voices and knowledge are often left out of the conversation around conservation.
When European countries began to invade and colonise Africa, Asia and the Americas, and the industrial revolution encouraged the privatisation of wealth, Western ideas about private land ownership became popular among the rich and ruling classes.
Indigenous land was stolen from the native citizens of colonised countries, destroying lives and livelihoods, and Europe’s countryside was divided among a very small number of wealthy families in each country:
- Only 8% of the English countryside is open for people to freely roam across
- In Scotland, just 400 people own more than 50% of privately owned land
- In the USA, between 1910 and 1997, African Americans lost about 90% of their farmland, worth $326 billion
- Just 400 people own the right to graze livestock on 25% of Australian land
Credit: Matt Seymour
The land that Indigenous Peoples live on is home to over 80% of our planet’s biodiversity and rich in natural resources, such as oil, gas, timber and minerals. Up to 2.5 billion women and men worldwide depend on indigenous and community lands to survive. These lands, which are held, used or managed collectively, cover more than 50% of the world’s surface. However, Indigenous Peoples and local communities who have protected these lands for centuries, legally own just one-fifth.
In some colonised states, like the USA, inequalities in the actual safety and health of the environment are connected to race. Studies have shown that Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities face higher levels of environmental pollution and toxic waste. Decades of discriminatory policies mean that members of these communities are more likely to live near busy roads and factories, resulting in higher rates of asthma, cancer, and many other illnesses caused and aggravated by pollution.
Credit: Alexander Tsang
LISTENING TO ANCIENT KNOWLEDGE
While Indigenous Peoples have been preserving and protecting the environment for thousands of years, their voices have often been left out of the conversations about climate change, biodiversity and land management. There is a growing effort to elevate Indigenous voices in the fight against climate change, and some governments are starting to heed the community knowledge of those who know the land best.
Collective ownership of lands, in systems that mirror the traditions of Indigenous Peoples, could have many positive impacts on the Global Goals. When communities collectively own and manage land, food production is more sustainable, with higher, more nutritious crop yields (Goal 2). Indigenous lands also store huge amounts of carbon, and protecting their right to the land leads to lower deforestation rates and less carbon released (Goals 13 & 15). Women’s land rights are also very important, because women in many Indigenous communities play crucial roles in ensuring local food security and managing community resources (Goal 5).
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Support Land Rights Now, an organisation which mobilizes and engages active citizens, media, communities and organizations worldwide to promote and secure the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
Join the Global Commons Alliance, a network of citizens, cities, companies and countries working to become collective stewards of our planet.
Author: Lydia Paynter, Communications & Campaigns Manager, Project Everyone
Header Image Credit: Ryano W. Perez