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By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, July 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rural and indigenous communities worldwide must wade through decades of red tape to secure property rights while companies can win those rights within weeks, putting local people at grave risk of losing their homelands, researchers said on Wednesday.
Lacking legal claim to their property leaves communities vulnerable to being pushed out by companies or large-scale corporate interests seeking to develop or expand, said a report by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute.
Indigenous and farming communities occupy more than half of the world’s land but legally own just 10 percent of that property, the WRI said. Even less is properly registered and titled, it said.
“Without formal legal recognition of their land rights, communities struggle to protect their land from being allocated to outside investors,” the WRI report said.
“Indigenous peoples and rural communities are now racing to secure their land rights before companies come knocking.”
The WRI looked at 15 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia and found rural communities need 30 years or more to secure formal land titles and rights.
Businesses such as agricultural and mining firms meanwhile can typically secure rights to land or begin operations in as little as 30 days and up to five years, the WRI found.
In Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, indigenous communities might wait more than 15 years to get land titles but palm oil companies can secure commercial land rights in three years, it said.
The difference has consequences for the environment, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Governments must take a hard look at how their land rights policies favor companies, especially those that clear forests ... or otherwise exhaust natural resources over indigenous communities who have long protected the world’s forests,” she said in a statement.
“This unfair playing field not only poses grave environmental risks but it also threatens the livelihoods of more than 2.5 billion people who depend on collectively held land.”
To gain title to ancestral lands, indigenous communities often face cumbersome bureaucracies.
In Indonesia, more than 20 different government entities are involved, while in Peru the process involves up to 33 steps and in the Philippines 56 steps, the report said.
Yet in most countries, companies can secure land rights without any screening to find existing community claims to the same property, the WRI report said.
In some places, businesses might be required by law to consult with local communities but make only token gestures.
“When companies acquire land, those acting in bad faith can often find legal, extralegal or illegal shortcuts,” said lawyer Laura Notess, the report’s lead author.
"This not only increases the risk of land conflicts but also puts more ethical companies at a competitive disadvantage." (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)