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Vibrant social movements have been the primary drivers of collective tenure reforms in democracies across Asia. These movements have brought increasing attention to Indigenous and local community rights as a development, climate, and conservation priority. But despite positive developments, the region’s governments continue to promote land-intensive, extractive investment by the private sector. In 2022, we saw environmental safeguards and human rights protections circumvented at the cost of community well-being across all of Asia, coupled with rising authoritarianism in democracies such as Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. But despite these challenges, our coalition members achieved significant breakthroughs by gathering and promoting scientific evidence, generating political will for reforms, monitoring conflicts, preventing criminalization of local peoples, and creating new spaces for advocacy.

Here are some of their achievements.

RRI brought together Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), CIPRED (Nepal), and 18 other rightsholder organizations throughout Asia to produce our first-ever regional analysis of rights-based approaches to conservation in Asia in the context of the global 30×30 target. Available in English, Nepali, and Bahasa Indonesia, the report benefitted from a collaborative approach that prioritized co-ownership of its data and analysis. Its data continue to be used by coalition members in regional, national, and global advocacy for community land rights in protected areas as well as at various international conferences, including the UN’s Biodiversity CoP15.

A view of the Tsum Nubri community land in Gorkha district, Nepal | Credit: CIPRED

Our longstanding investments in evidence-based advocacy on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in India saw some major wins this year. Since 2015, RRI has supported extensive spatial analysis of the 2006 law’s unrealized potential and implementation. The state of Odisha has allocated INR 34 crore (about USD 4.5 million) for the Act’s implementation in 34,000 villages, a first in India for state-level allocation of resources for the law. In Gujarat, new applications of the Act for pastoralist grazing lands expanded the law’s ambit. Data from collaborative analyses of the law continue to open national dialogue on the Act and sets the stage for its further exploration through the lenses of gender, climate, and conservation.

“No forests, no life. When the forests are destroyed, it’s the end of everything.”

– Gam Shimray, Secretary-General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

Our partner in Nepal, the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), secured the national government’s commitment to halt the expansion of national parks in line with the 30×30 target, and to review and amend the National Park Act. FECOFUN further worked to empower communities affected by the expansion of protected areas to exercise their collective agency. Until the government convenes the review of the Act, it is continuing to actively monitor and respond to local-level conflicts while leveraging political opportunities to promote rights-based conservation. For example, when an Indigenous woman from Bardiya National Park was killed in a tiger attack last year, FECOFUN’s local response cells helped affected communities to raise the issue before federal legislative bodies, resulting in a state commitment for installing protective fencing for inhabited areas.

Members of Indonesia’s Talang Mamak community in Riau province collect forest produce. | Credit: Jacob Maentz

In Indonesia, RRI collaborators carried out emergency responses to the criminalization of Indigenous Peoples and local communities arising from the growing number of land conflicts in the country. Their timely advocacy and monitoring led to legal recourse for farmers and fishers from Indigenous and local communities who have been harassed or arrested in conflicts related to palm oil plantations, mining, and defense projects. Over the past few years, RRI has accompanied a highly effective emergency response system by our collaborator, the National Consortium on Agrarian Reform, to prevent, monitor, and address agrarian conflicts.

Throughout 2022, we supported livelihood initiatives for Indigenous women in India and Indonesia. In Indonesia, we supported local women to launch non-timber forest product enterprises in a protected area and organize cooperatives to collectively access livelihood trainings and marketing support from local organizations. Our Our collaborators Walestra and LiVE helped four women’s groups organize into a cooperative in the Kerinci Seblat National Park. A first in Indonesia, the cooperative applied for a permit from the park authorities to pursue a range of forest-based enterprises. They then successfully obtained technical and marketing support from the local university to launch their enterprises. The women’s groups have since also produced a book titled Stories of Change documenting each member’s story and how their enterprises have improved their lives.