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LandMark: Protecting Indigenous and Community Lands by Making Them Visible

Up to 65 percent of the world’s land is held by Indigenous Peoples and communities, yet only 10 percent is legally recognized as belonging to them. The rest, held under customary tenure arrangements, is largely unmapped, not formally demarcated, and therefore invisible to the world. Without strong legal protections or concrete maps delineating their territories, communities are vulnerable to losing their land to governments and investors for economic and commercial development.

That’s where LandMark comes in. Launched today, LandMark is the first online, interactive global platform to provide maps and other critical information on lands that are held and used by Indigenous Peoples and communities. The platform aims to raise awareness, engage audiences, and help these people protect their land rights. Shining a light on indigenous and community land reduces the likelihood that irregular acquisitions and expropriations go unnoticed, and helps protect the livelihoods and well-being of billions of rural people.

LandMark provides various information at the community and national levels, allowing users—Indigenous Peoples, communities, governments, businesses, development assistance agencies and other stakeholders—to compare the land tenure situation within and across countries. Three clear messages emerge:

1) Indigenous and Community Land Is Not “Vacant” Land.

Many government agencies consider large portions of indigenous and community land vacant and idle, and therefore available for development. That’s a problem because Indigenous Peoples and communities directly depend on this land for food, medicine, housing and livelihoods.

LandMark includes boundaries of lands that are legally recognized and lands held under customary tenure.

Because much indigenous and community land has yet to be mapped, LandMark also shows the percentages of national land that is communal land. For example, LandMark shows that 78.9 percent of Africa’s land mass is held by Indigenous Peoples and communities under customary tenure. About 21 percent is formally recognized, while the remaining 57.9 percent is not.

LandMark provides Indigenous Peoples, communities and their representatives with the opportunity to be proactive in protecting their lands, not just reactive to threats that can emerge without warning and without time to effectively respond, such as when a mining company arrives unannounced with a government-issued permit authorizing them to operate on community-held lands.

2) Indigenous and Community Lands are Everywhere.

LandMark shows that collectively-held lands are found in all continents except Antarctica. Customary land is truly a global phenomenon. Indigenous and community lands exist in all climates and ecosystems, in developed and developing nations, and under all political and economic systems.

For example, in Australia, LandMark shows that formally recognized aboriginal land rights cover 32.5 percent of the national land mass, while pending land claims cover an additional 41.6 percent.

LandMark allows Indigenous Peoples and communities to view their lands as part of a national and global context, support their engagement with one another, and increase their visibility to governments and other actors.

3) Indigenous Peoples and Communities Are Losing Their Land.

Landmark uses 10 indicators of legal security to highlight how well – or poorly - the national laws of a country recognize and protect indigenous and community land rights. It shows that while many national laws acknowledge indigenous and/or community rights to land, few have established strong legal protections needed to secure tenure over these collectively held lands, and no country with indicator scores on LandMark provides full protection.

LandMark also shows that the tenure laws in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are stronger than those in some developed nations. While strong legislation alone will not secure tenure, weak legal protection is a central reason why Indigenous Peoples and communities are losing their land and sometimes their lives.

A Still-Incomplete Picture

LandMark is a work in progress. To truly create a global picture of the status of indigenous and community land, there are many data gaps that still need to be filled. Moreover, new lands are always being mapped, more lands are being formally registered with governments, and new laws are being passed, underscoring the importance of keeping the platform’s information up to date.

LandMark relies on the contributions of experts—civil society organizations, government agencies, researchers and others who work with Indigenous Peoples and communities—to populate the various community and national-level data layers. Please contact the LandMark Operational Team at info@landmarkmap.org if you have data to add, or to pose comments or questions.


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