Property rights, also referred to as land tenure, and the systems for governing them, have a significant impact on the health and well-being of ecosystems, natural resources, and the diversity of plant and animal life on the planet—including humans. Accordingly, land tenure remains a critical topic to consider when developing conservation initiatives, despite ongoing debates about if and how property rights and conservation are related.
So what does it mean to have rights to land? The systems people use to establish and manage property rights can vary greatly, as underscored by Nobel Laureate economist Elinor Ostrom, who described property ownership systems as diverse “bundles of rights,” rules and institutions that define access to land and the use of its resources. With regard to property, such as land and natural resources, rights generally can be divided into two categories: the right to access land and the right to withdraw or remove something, such as timber, water, or fish.
CarbonPlus Program Manager
Challenges emerge when distinct rights and claims are made for the same resource—or to the same land—by different groups of people, often with conflicting or competing interests and generally where only one group can be adequately satisfied, usually at the sacrifice of the other. Even when land rights are enforced, determining which group (or groups) have rights over another group (or groups), and when, how, and why, can be exceedingly difficult. History is full of examples of wars waged over land and resources, and such conflicts happen to this day. Thus, it is critical to understand the circumstances surrounding land ownership, tenure claims, and natural resource rights when trying to protect and restore ecosystems and promote sustainable livelihoods for rural and indigenous peoples.
In Central America and southern Mexico, these issues can be especially complicated, and rights to land, forests, and natural resources are often contested. In many places only limited records and paperwork exist, which can make it difficult for people to legally assert their rights, even though their family or community may have been living on and using the land for generations. In the face of more-powerful interests, rural and indigenous peoples—and other marginalized populations–frequently find their rights to land and natural resources restricted or denied outright. EcoLogic’s local partners and the communities where we work often face significant land tenure and resource rights pressure from governments and industries.
While EcoLogic is not a direct advocacy organization, we do work with our local partners to help them connect to the organizations, resources, and support they need to effectively negotiate these conflicts and claims. We also strive to put in place viable and sustainable economic options so our collaborators do not need to choose between a short-term monetary reward and the long-term well-being of their children and communities. We actively evaluate the issues and challenges our community collaborators face and, whenever possible, we seek to support their efforts to prevent unfair and at times illegal exploitation of their lands.
As EcoLogic moves to a landscape-level approach to our work, we will continue to evaluate how we address conflicts around land tenure and resource rights, and will continue to seek ways to peacefully promote fair and long-term solutions.