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INTERVIEW -Justice, not just money, should drive fairer land rights - top US philanthropist

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 7 October 2017 10:23 GMT

A protester holds a portrait of land-right activist Tep Vanny in front of the Supreme Court during a demonstration demanding her release on bail, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

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By Astrid Zweynert

STOCKHOLM, Oct 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A drive for a fairer world has to be at the heart of the fight for indigenous and communal land rights to ensure a long-term solution rather than just throwing money at the problem, the head of one of the largest U.S. philanthropic foundations said.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said while efforts to secure land rights for some of the world's most vulnerable people are commendable, deeper thinking about the roots of inequality is needed to bring about lasting change.

"Of course there are not enough resources going into this issue but in philanthropy we must move from a perspective of generosity to a perspective of justice," Walker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at an international conference on land rights in Stockholm this week.

Much progress has been made on social issues thanks to philanthropic giving, such as alleviating poverty and improving health, but leading donors like Walker argue that society's challenges may have outpaced philanthropy's resources.

"We need to look at the root causes of injustice, of poverty, of climate change if we really want drive change," said Walker, whose foundation focuses on advancing human welfare and is the second-biggest in the United States with an endowment of $12 billion.

The Ford Foundation is a major backer of the Global Tenure Facility, launched this week as the first international funding pact to provide grants to advance indigenous people's rights and help them protect their land and natural resources.

Funders, such as the Ford Foundation and the governments of Sweden and Norway, have committed $25 million over the next four years, and the facility expects to receive a further $50 million from donors.

Securing indigenous and communal land rights has far-reaching benefits. Research has shown indigenous people and local communities are best placed to look after tropical forests that absorb much of the world's planet-warming carbon dioxide.

"The Global Tenure Facility will absolutely contribute to moving us towards less inequality in the world and a better climate," Walker said.

An estimated 2.5 billion people living in traditional rural communities have formal legal ownership over only 10 percent of the world's land.
Such unequal distribution of property rights has contributed to a growing number of conflicts with governments and companies eager to exploit natural resources.

"It is unjust to have people living on land for hundreds of years and for the government and for the private sector to abuse them, ignore their historic connection to their own land," said Walker.

"Their land is their livelihood, so the time has come when ...we must formally recognise their right to their lands."

(Reporting by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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