How can we say we own the land? How can we own something that will outlive us?Truly, it is not we who own land, rather it is the land which owns us.

 Paraphrasing Macli-ing Dulag, Tribal Chieftain of theKalinga, the Cordillera Mountains, Philippines

Land rights, particularly in the context of developing countries, are inextricably linked with the right to food, the right to work and a host of other human rights. In many instances, the right to land is bound up with a community’s identity, its livelihood and thus its very survival.

For farmers, peasants and fisherfolk, land is a vital component of a particular way of life.For this reason, peasants and poor farmers are generally opposed to the conversion of vast tracts of land for commercial monocropping, such as for sugar, tobacco, rubber, palm oil, etc.[1] Fisherfolk are usually opposed to large infrastructure and commercial projects along rivers, lakes and coasts because of pollution, dispossession of land, limitations on access to traditional livelihood and other disruptive changes that threaten their survival. [2]

In India recently thousands of subsistence farmers, traditional fisherfolk, workers, women’s groups and villagers protested en masse against the World Trade Organization’s policies. The protests were partly sparked off by the suicides of 450 peasant farmers in the states of Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. In India, more than 600 million people-70% of the population-are desperately poor and depend directly on the land and environment for survival. “It is the life resource of the majority of our people whose subsistence directly depends on the water, forests and the land. It is about justice.” 3

A Way of Life in the Philippines

“Many years ago, the government made a study and decided that four dams should be built in the Chico River and Pasiw River in Kalinga and in Bontoc province. There is one dam that is to be built at Bontoc, Bontoc, and they call it Chico I; another dam at Sandanga, Bontoc, Chico II; another dam at Basao, Kalinga, that is Chico III; and the biggest at Lubuangan, Kalinga, Chico IV. These dams are supposed to develop 70,000 kilowatts of electric power. They are also supposed to irrigate the entire Cagayan Valley area. And so from the purely economic point of view, these projects sound as if they were economic development. That is one side of the matter.

“But now, let us look at the other side. To go through with these four dams will mean that you will take out 5,000 Bontoc and Kalinga families from their homes; you will take them out from where they have lived from time immemorial and put them in the lowlands where they will die a slow death. It means that we will destroy 1,500 of our rice terraces.

“But more important than the destruction of homes, more important than the displacement of people, is the fact that we are being forced to change the way of life of people who are genuinely Filipinos. We Christians of the lowlands proudly call ourselves Filipino. But the truth of the matter is: The true Filipinos are our brothers in Kalinga and Bontoc. They have maintained their culture, their way of life, their beliefs, their religion, for more than one thousand years. They were already here long before the Spaniards arrived. And now because of progress, they are to be uprooted and brought to the lowlands. One of the most important scenic wonders of the world-our rice terraces-are going to be in part destroyed. But more valuable than these are the religious beliefs of the people of Bontoc and Kalinga.

“For them the big trees and forests in their environment are their churches. They pray there, beseeching help from their God. The spirits of their ancestors are alive, buried in their ancestral grounds. The entire history of their race is written in their rice terraces. And so these people are prepared to fight to the death rather than give up their land.” 4

For the urban poor on the other hand, land is more than simply living space. In most instances, the urban poor live in communities that have been settled for a substantial period of time. Development of the community includes access to a means of livelihood, to education, to health care, all of which stand to be disrupted in cases of eviction.