Land-grabbing is one of humanity’s most ancient sins. It occurs when land that previously belonged to everyone or no-one is put into private hands, and it’s a recurring them through history. Britain had the worst of it during the run of Enclosure Acts that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, driving people off the land and into the factories. In many developing countries, it’s a present reality, often driven by extractive industries or agri-business.
It’s very much a live issue in Tanzania, which has several minority people groups with no formal land rights. As pastoralists, they roam with their herds across large areas, but over the past few decades have seen access gradually eroded. Securing land rights for pastoralists has been particularly difficult, because they aren’t necessarily settled in one place and because of the wide areas involved. This lifestyle isn’t well catered for by current law, which only grants land rights to individuals.
A Maasai campaigner named Edward Loure has just spearheaded a new approach: land rights for communities. Along with indigenous activists and their legal team, his Ujamaa Community Resource Team has protected hundreds of thousands of hectares in the last few years. This safeguards the land for future generations of herders and hunter-gatherers, and protects the environment at the same time.
This is an important alternative to more traditional forms of conservation, where land is often ‘reserved’ for nature at the expense of people. Loure had personal experience of this, when parts of his village land were fenced off to create Tarangire National Park in 1970.
Formal land rights can also enable development. In this instance, local people have been able to use their new status to sign up with carbon credit schemes, generating income from the lands that they sustainably manage.
Ujamaa CRT is a local Tanzanian NGO, but the ‘Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy’ that they have pioneered are an innovative legal device that could be used in similar situations well beyond East Africa. Having spent 20 years developing the approach, Edward Loure has just been awarded the Goldman Award for the Environment for his efforts.
I spent five years there myself, albeit a few hundred miles across the border to the north, so it’s great to see a good news story out of the Rift Valley. Here’s a profile video from the Goldman Award: