Corporate encroachment reduces indigenous lands, biodiversity - U.N.

Date of publication: 
13 February 2015

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Aboriginal people around the world faced growing displacement over the last decade as property values rose and large companies pushed onto traditional territories to extract resources, a U.N. specialist on indigenous peoples’ rights said.

“A lot of money is going into (land) speculation; this has worsened the situation,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Huge plantations are encroaching on indigenous land – biodiversity and forests have been hurt,” she said, speaking on the sidelines of a U.N. conference on aboriginal people and agricultural financing on Thursday.

“Displacement has gotten worse in the last 10 years.”

Figures on indigenous displacement in the last decade were not available, but a study by Sweden’s Lund University showed that more than 32.7 million hectares of land – an area roughly the size of Tauli-Corpuz’s native Philippines – changed hands in international deals between 2000 and 2012.

Tauli-Corpuz said that to stem this sort of “land grabbing”, U.N. agencies should form partnerships directly with indigenous communities, rather than rely on national governments to put development plans into action.

Officials from the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), a U.N. agency which loans money to countries for rural investment projects, said her concerns have some merit.

“At the country level (when new projects are being planned with U.N. support), the rights of indigenous peoples aren’t always recognised,” senior IFAD official Antonella Cordone told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Listening to indigenous peoples helps us to better support their traditional food systems.”

Indigenous farming practices are under threat from unclear land ownership structures, climate change and growing mono-crop plantations, and traditional knowledge can help preserve biodiversity, IFAD reported.

An estimated 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries suffer disproportionately from poverty, discrimination and a lack of political representation, the United Nations has reported.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Tim Pearce)