Natural resources are essential for people's livelihoods. With increasing competition over land, water and other resources, we're working with marginalised communities so that governments and businesses respect these people's rights and share their benefit fairly.
india - No longer trespassers of their own land
Caption: ‘If we protect the forest, the forest will provide all we need to secure our livelihood’, said Charan Singh Sori, a youth undergoing GPS training, presenting how the village manages the community forest in front of the village resource map. (Photo: Yvonne Chan / Oxfam)
What comes to mind when you think of poverty alleviation initiatives? Soup kitchens? Agricultural projects? While these initiatives may seem run-of-the-mill to some, there’s been no lack in creativity since the fight against poverty began. Oxfam’s GPS project in Chhattisgarh, India, is a case in point.
Like most forest dwellers, residents of Jarandih, a small village near the forests in the State, are tribal people – a people more marginalised than the lowest caste. Prior to the enactment of India’s Forest Rights Act – which acknowledges tribal communities’ rights to forests – they lived as trespassers on their own land even though they’ve lived there for hundreds of years and are dependent on its resources.
Despite legislation, however, the recognition process of their entitlement to forest land has been sluggish because of the different priorities of the State’s Forest Department. Lucrative mining and other development projects in these resource-rich forest areas, which contribute to the State’s GDP, have taken precedence over forest dwelling communities’ interests and have led to forest degradation, affecting tribal communities’ livelihoods and leaving them vulnerable to displacement.
Together with our partner Khoj Avam Jan Jagrit (KHOJ) though, we’ve been providing GPS training so local communities can identify and map out their forest boundaries. This is enabling villagers to manage and claim their land, and even settle disputes with their neighbouring villages. Claiming this land has also secured their livelihoods as they now have the right to collect dry fallen wood from their forest too.
With this training and KHOJ’s support, the community started collecting data about their community forest area and planned how to better govern their resources. The data and local government’s recognition of villagers’ capacity to manage the forest enabled villagers to not only gain their community forest right, but also protect it through regular patrols; they’ve even stopped a company from illegally mining sand from their forest.
This GPS project has shown that finding innovative solutions to problems can not only improve the lives of those in poor communities, but also empower them. One villager in Jarandih summed this up when she said, ‘We used to think the Forest Department was the owner of the forest, but now it is not – we are the ones protecting the forest and own the forest.’
Myanmar - Our forest, our land
Caption: When most of your family’s income goes towards basic living expenses like rent, food and transportation, what do you do with the little you have left? Spend it on daily necessities? Your family members’ doctor’s visits? Your children’s education? These are questions many smallholder farmers who live in developing countries ask themselves every day. (Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Oxfam)
Since leaving her husband, Daw Khin Win Kyi has been heading her household of three. She relies on processing rice, picking fruit, mushrooms and nuts in the customary land she inherited from her parents to support her two daughters. Like many others though, her land has come under threat.
In recent years, thousands of acres of community forestland in Kachin and Shan States, and Palaung self-administered areas have been used by private companies, often foreign investors, to grow commercial crops like bananas, and rubber and oil palm trees. Villagers who are working on customary land, though, often aren’t aware of their land rights and how they can hold their government to account. Women have it worse as they’re rarely viewed as heads of households, which means it’s even more difficult for them to own land.
Since joining our Community Forest User Groups (CFUG) though, which we support through our partner Kachin Conservation Working Group, villagers like Daw Khin Win Kyi have seen their lives change.
Through the project, villagers learnt about sharing natural resources fairly and received the support they needed on the legal procedures required to secure their legal land rights. They now also collectively urge the local government to implement policies on sustainable community forestry. At the national level, we at Oxfam and our partners also lobby the government and private sector to change policies in areas like land and private investment.
Through this project, we especially provide women and women-headed households with low-interest loans, which Daw Khin Win Kyi says has been very helpful for her family’s survival. She used to take out high-interest loans to buy paddy for rice processing, but with these low-interest loans, she said, ‘I am raising pigs and saving money for my daughter to go to university and in the process of applying to get my customary land legally recognised through CF application. For the future of my two daughters, this is very helpful to get a better income and to improve the sustainability of our livelihoods through community forestry.’