Photo: Jason Taylor

Photo: Jason Taylor



The Community Land Initiative is a co-learning initiative to facilitate the sharing of expert community and protection strategies between civil society organisations (CSOs) over a period of 12 months. It was launched in February 2018as a joint effort between ILC and two of its members, Namati and IIED.

The initiative brought together members from Peru, Ecuador, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Indonesia for an intensive week-long “action workshop” in Nairobi in early 2018, co-designed and co-facilitated by Namati and IIED and led by co-organiser Rachael Knight of Namati.

The initiative “grew out of an idea to bring together the best community land protectors in the world to train each other on their approaches, with a focus on ‘what works’,” Knight explained. “ILC members are experts in their own right, so we knew that any kind of one-sided training wasn’t a good use of the knowledge in the room. We wanted everyone taking part to be a teacher as well as a student. We brought together people who are innovators, and they took turns teaching each other practical, concrete – and successful – strategies for protecting community land rights.”

Learning sessions at the workshop included supporting communities to understand the value of their lands and natural resources, as well as supporting them to make a vision for their future, draft and adopt by-laws to ensure good governance, and make “life plans” that put into action the communities’ goals. There were also sessions on dealing with corrupt leaders, and in-depth discussions on the practicalities of negotiating with governments and corporations. Knight explained: “The initiative was designed to get into the nitty-gritty of how to protect community lands: how many meetings does it take? What exactly do you say to frame each meeting? What questions do you ask to prompt community reflection and action? How do you handle this kind of conflict, or that specific obstacle when it arises?”

Jitar Christain Taku of Community Assistance In Development (COMAID) from Cameroon was one of the participants. COMAID has developed a participatory land use plan to protect the land rights of local communities on the Mbaw plain, an area seriously affected by violent secessionist movements and a military crackdown. “The workshop exposed us to rich strategies of community land protection actors working with Indigenous People in the Amazon,” Taku explained. “Namati taught us how to implant strategies to encourage accountability through by-laws and land and natural resources management.”

Taku also noted other important lessons from South America: “Corporacion de Gestion y Derecho Ambiental (ECOLEX) from Ecuador and Instituto del Bien Común (IBC) from Peru showcased their work with paralegals and village life plans to protect community land rights in the Amazon.”

The workshop delivered important lessons to test out at home: “Back in Cameroon, we plan to use the knowledge in a pilot community land protection project in Ngom and Ngomkwo villages in the Mbaw plain. The knowledge we received to develop by-laws and community life plans will certainly help us reshape our intervention approaches,“ Taku said.

“We see ourselves empowering weak communities in the northwest region of Cameroon to protect their rights in the coming months. NES Cameroon is already working with several communities in the country. The platform will serve as a yardstick to reach more communities. The Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) and other ILC members in Cameroon do a lot on community land rights, and transferring this knowledge to their target communities would be another way to make it more actionable.”

Dewi Sutejo of Jaringan Kerja Pemetaan Partisipatif (JKPP) from Indonesia also gave a glowing report: “The workshop was the most effective I have ever participated inIt focuse on ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t work’. Experiences were shared through a skills-based tutorial, and each organisation shared its best practices and lessons learned [for a particular] issue. We learned many innovative strategies: for example, how COMAID targeted a corrupt leader, encouraging him to become a campaigner against corruption, and how IBC Peru used participatory mapping and life plans and initiated good community land governance and natural resource management by creating better by-laws.”

At the end of the workshop, each participant committed to a work plan that integrated at least two new strategies, which to try out over the course of the year. Participants will stay in touch via monthly conference calls, in which they give updates on progress and share advice. Each participating organisation received a grant to help further its work, implement new practices, and run a one-day meeting of ILC members in its own country to share what it has learned.

New and larger cohorts are planned for 2019 and 2020. According to Knight: “The idea really is to build a movement. Community land protection is something that we are all working on, but we are working in our own silos, reinventing the wheel each time. People don’t often get a chance to talk with peers outside of their regions about how they are protecting community lands and achieving successful outcomes, even though the threats – and sometimes even the specific corporations – that we are facing are often the same.”

According to Knight: “The ILC is a phenomenal convening mechanism. To me, this initiative helps fulfil the promise of what the ILC can offer its members.”