Land Rights in India

Rajesh Prabhakar Patil of the Impatient Optimists agrees with Melinda Gates that data is generally sexist, meaning there is often more research about men than women. He also believes that there is an urban bias — individuals living in rural areas are often excluded from studies.

This means that it can be especially difficult to find information about the plight of rural women. Patil, along with the nonprofit Landesa, seeks to change and gather more information about women’s land rights in India.

The Plight for Women’s Rights

Patil’s passion for women’s land rights in India stems from his personal belief that “land can provide [women] with a powerful tool to fight poverty — [the ability] to create opportunity.”

In rural India, one in 10 families includes a “dispossessed woman” who cannot own property. This could be a woman who is disabled, divorced, widowed or otherwise unable to live independently due to the stipulations regarding land rights for women.

Sometimes, women who are dependent upon their family, but are caught in dysfunctional relationships, cannot escape abuse due to their inability to purchase land and property that could serve as a refuge.

The lack of data regarding rural women in India can have a negative impact on women and their families. The government of the state of Odisha introduced a policy to give government-owned land to rural families in 2005. Unfortunately, due to a lack of documentation, many rural women were not considered as recipients for the program.


Landesa, a nonprofit supported by the Gates Foundation, aims to find and assist women in India and other parts of the world who seek land ownership.

The organization conducts field research and works with local government officials to identify women and families in need of land. In India alone, 1,105,000 families have benefited from Landesa’s work.

According to Landesa’s website, an estimated 18 million families are both poor and landless in India. Their goal is to provide land to these women and lift their families out of poverty. The organization has been working with government leaders from various Indian states since 2000.

“What women do need is to be counted and to have programs responsive to their existence and their needs,” said Patil in a June 2016 post.

Patil appears optimistic about Landesa’s work on increasing women’s land rights in India. Rural women’s quality of life and access to opportunity may see an increase if they’re given the right to own land.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

land rights
One of the world’s largest food companies recently made landmark commitments to ensure that small-scale farmers and their property are protected from land grabs. More specifically, Nestle committed to a specific set of policy provisions to hold its company and its suppliers accountable.

This new effort is designed to ensure that absolutely no land grabs take place in the harvesting of ingredients for Nestle’s products and that the company harvests products only from places where the land has not been illegally or unfairly taken from their owners.

Furthermore, Nestle has said that it will work to identify opportunities for men and women who currently do not own land to gain property and help support their families. The company will also work to ensure that women who own land will remain secure in their rights and that their rights will be equal to those of men.

These commitments allow Nestle to improve the rights of land owners already incorporated into their supply chain, as well as those who have the opportunity to gain access to land. The company will also proactively identify potential risks to each farmer’s land rights and take steps to reduce or avoid these risks completely.

While these new commitments constitute a very worthy action, Nestle has taken it a step further by advocating for each farmer’s land rights. The company has stated its desire to strengthen its efforts in assisting disadvantaged individuals and indigenous people whose rights are not currently respected or recognized.

Nestle has also announced its support for the U.N. Committee on World Food Security Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure and will promote development of public information and warning systems to help ensure that rights are respected and that no land grabs take place.

These actions that Nestle has taken are notable and admirable steps toward respecting and protecting the rights of farmers who own land.

Andre Gobbo

Sources: Oxfam, Nestle, FAO
Photo: Oxfam

Coca-Cola has vowed to crack down on the company’s suppliers who ignore land right-protecting laws of local communities in developing nations, specifically suppliers who engage in land grabbing.

“The Coca-Cola Company believes that land grabbing is unacceptable. Our company does not typically purchase ingredients directly from farms, nor are we owners of sugar farms or plantations, but as a major buyer of sugar, we acknowledge our responsibility to take action and to use our influence to help protect the land rights of local communities,” the company was quoted saying in an article by The Guardian.

The recent statement from the company is the results of signed petitions promoted by Oxfam, committed to bring awareness of community land rights to food and beverage companies. After 225,000 people signed the petitions, Coca-Cola committed itself to taking steps to halt land grabs from occurring in its supply chain.

In the past, the company has been accused of causing farmers’ wells to dry up and destroying local farms and agricultural production in order to access water resources to feed its sugar cane plants. The over-extracting of ground water has subsequently also affected local peoples in the surrounding communities, who are not able to have access to vital water supplies. Thus, the growing of vital ingredients for Coca-Cola, such as sugar, soy, and palm oil, have been causing “large-scale land acquisitions and land conflicts at the expense of small scale food producers and their families,” according to a recent article published by The Guardian.

Based in Atlanta, Coca-Cola promised it would assess its critical sourcing regions in a third-party manner to identify social, environmental and human rights issues in which its suppliers engage regarding land rights. These regions include the top 16 nations where Coca-Cola sources cane sugar to make its products and the assessments will begin in Colombia and Guatemala this year. The remaining 14 countries will be covered by 2020, including critical sourcing areas such as Brazil, India, Thailand and South Africa. The company has also pledged to disclose the names of all cane sugar sourcing countries and their respective cane sugar suppliers. Of Coca-Cola’s top 16 sourcing countries, six have already been accused of human rights violations by the US Department of Labour.

The company’s zero-tolerance approach to land grabbing is further highlighted through its incorporation of “community and tradition rights” language to its Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles (SAGP), as well as addition of criteria to its Supplier Code requirement, and stricter enforcement of suppliers’ implementation of these requirements. Coca-Cola has also vowed to act as a voice in the industry-wide commitment to the support of responsible and legitimate land rights practices, including engaging with governments and international organizations on the issue.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: The Guardian, Oxfam, Coca-Cola, The Ecologist
Photo: Carsten Homann

The loss of a spouse can be one of the most difficult events in life. It is only through mourning the loss with loved ones that one can begin to heal. In Cameroon, and many other developing nations, the mourning and healing process is cut out, diminished, ignored.

Many widows living in developing countries, such as Cameroon, find themselves kicked off their family property by their spouse’s male family members. This is a dreadful experience as families are thrown onto the streets right after they have lost a husband and a father. Despite the 1974 ‘Land Tenure Ordinance’, which guarantees equal access to land for all citizens in Cameroon, many women are still not able to retain their land due to cultural customs.

Customary to many developing states’ cultures, male relatives receive property of the deceased leading to fathers and brothers receiving the property and forcing the deceased’s family into poverty unless the husband’s family decides otherwise. Understandably, this leads to a variety of gender-based social issues. While 80 percent of Cameroon’s food sufficiency is grown by women, only 2 percent of women actually own land. This inequality progresses into economic detriments to the country’s development.

Women are further hampered by land grabs perpetrated by Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and the elites of society, according to Fon Nsoh, coordinator of a local NGO, the Cameroon Movement for the Right to Food (CAMORIF).  One of the most contested of these land grab projects in Cameroon, known as Heracles Farms, was ordered to be halted by the High Court in the South West Region where the project is located. However, this hasn’t calmed Nsoh’s concern that the company will continue its production of a palm oil plantation, roughly 282 square miles in size, or over a quarter the land area of Rhode Island. If continued, this plantation would be created under scandalous negotiations with a 99 year lease.  But it would also take a large portion of land from Cameroon land owners and limit male land ownership which in turn will severely limit the access to land ownership for women. While Cameroonian lawmakers passed the Land Tenure Ordinance in 1974, NGOs, such as Nsoh’s CAMORIF, are pushing for more advancements in society with three clear goals.

One of the current ambitions aims to incorporate women into committees dealing with all land issues to provide half of the country a voice in land rights matters. Secondly, “Land certificates for matrimonial property should be instituted in the joint names of the husband and wife so as to do away with the patriarchal system of inheritance practiced in most of Cameroon,” said Nsoh. These groups call for a simplification of the tedious and burdensome procedures and costs in acquiring land titles.

Michael Carney

Sources: USAID, InterPress Service, N Kong Hilltop
Photo: The Guardian

The National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama, or COONAPIP, is rallying for support to protect land rights, claiming the national government has failed to do so. “Our government has committed sins of omission as well as commission, showing great lack of concern about the wellbeing of indigenous peoples,” said Betanio Chiquidama, President of COONAPIP.

The UN is also calling on the government to expand and protect land rights. “The development of large investment projects in indigenous territories of Panama has been the subject of numerous allegations of violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, especially in recent years,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya.

Land in Panama has been increasingly used-up by third parties, illegal loggers and miners. The misuse of indigenous land is not only making life difficult for people, but also puts Panama’s rainforests in jeopardy. In the past 5 years, unsustainable harvesting of natural resources has escalated on indigenous territories, which include more than half of Panama’s old-growth forests. The fight for indigenous peoples to hold onto their land has resulted in nine deaths in standoffs with the police in a two year span.

Panama’s indigenous groups comprise 10 percent of the total population, and most remain largely autonomous in the governance of their preserves, called comarcas. However, the strong interest in natural resources on the preserves is weakening the indigenous communities’ ability to protect their land. Some parts of the comarcas are not even on the map, which makes it hard for indigenous peoples to claim the land is theirs. Another problem is that the government has stopped designating comarcas in the 1990s, leaving nearly 20 indigenous communities without rights to their land. They had to lobby hard for the government to recognize just two more preserves, which are smaller than those established two decades ago.

Illegal logging, mining, and dam construction occurs on lands which are not clearly designated. The Program Director of Rainforest Foundation U.S., Christine Halvorson says, “there’s no good state presence, so it’s a little bit of a Wild West.” Indigenous people have even been bribed by companies with gifts of money and food to give their signatures in support of mining operations on land owned by their community, according to a 2011 report on indigenous experiences with mining in Panama.

COONAPIP is fighting for the voices from the comarcas to be heard by the decision makers in government, who continue to sell their land to international investors without including indigenous peoples. “They are making deals for investments on our land and we know nothing about it until the bulldozer arrives,” said Williams Barrigón Dogirama, former president of COONAPIP.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, UN News
Photo: Take Part

Escalating tensions over the issue of land rights gave rise to protests, which turned violent after security forces shot and killed four unarmed peasants on June 22 and 25 in Catatumbo, Colombia, as reported by Amnesty International. They are only the most recent casualties in the ongoing battle over land in Colombia.

Land is becoming ever more scarce for farmers throughout Colombia, as big businesses and mining companies have been consolidating their ownership over land for years. Rural farmers are struggling to earn a living, and growing enough food to feed their families is becoming increasingly difficult as land is disappearing from beneath their feet. Colombia is home to the world’s largest internally displaced population. Farmers are continuously forced to leave their homes and farms as more and more land is granted to wealthy companies. While the government has recently passed the land restitution law, no landholding entity has yet returned land to displaced peasants. Over 16,000 people involved in land disputes have simply “disappeared,” according to Catalina Ballesteros Rodriguez, Program Officer for Christian Aid.

The 14,000 strong protest this past June was organized by the Peasant Farmer Association of Catatumbo, with support from the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers’ Collective. CALCP is an all-female organization of lawyers, who offer legal advice and provide training to support grassroots organizations and displaced communities. Judith Maldonado, director of CALCP and winner of the German ‘Shalom Award’ for her human rights work, says “we seek to bring the rule of law to the communities… so that it can be a tool for the defense, protection and promotion of human rights, and for the transformation of their communal, social, political and cultural realities.” Their operations are based in northeastern Colombia, a place so rich in natural resources that it is a curse rather than a blessing for indigenous and small scale farming communities, who are forced off their land in large scale extractive projects to make way for big money-making business interests. They also advocate on an international level, to raise awareness about the violent removal of peasant farmers and land rights issues. Their work is done at great personal risk, and human rights lawyers have often been threatened, repressed, even “disappeared” or killed. Judith Maldonado has personally faced threats from armed groups, and illegal surveillance by the state. CALCP is supported by Peace Brigades International, a UK based group that provides support and protection to human rights defenders all over the world who are subject to repression.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: The Guardian, Peace Brigades International