Indigenous Land Rights and Economic Efficiency

Assessing the encroachment of squatters into Arimae's reservation.Assessing the encroachment of squatters into Arimae's reservation.An interesting piece of news recently came out of Indonesia regarding the need for land and carbon rights for Indigenous Peoples if conservation programs (especially REDD) are to work. One of the higher level politicians announced a new focus by the government to deliver and enforce territorial land rights for forest communities.

Often we hear calls for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples land rights, but what is encouraging about this is the government’s recognition that their lack of land rights is economically inefficient. Because the Indigenous Peoples don’t have legal rights to their land, it is partitioned inefficiently and is not generating the potentially significant economic gain and poverty reduction.

The enforcement of territorial land rights is key to the success of conservation programs, which is why we support our Indigenous partner community Arimae in securing government recognition. Lacking official title to its land, Arimae spends more money and time defending the land against encroachment than making improvements in the reserve to generate increased returns.

Through our Equitable Forestry model, we’re demonstrating that agroforestry projects on titled land generate more overall economic benefits than the current model.

Colonizers profit by obtaining squatters recognition through logging, burning and homesteading parts of Arimae’s reservation, and then selling the converted land to Teak plantations. The 3000+ hectares of monoculture Teak plantations surrounding Arimae’s dwindling reserve demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach.

We’re encouraged to see Indonesia’s leadership appreciate the real economic implications of not recognizing Indigenous land rights, and hope the Panamanian government implements the laws on their books, as well. That recognition will stimulate the economic potential not only in Arimae, but also many other indigenous communities in Panama.