Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP)

Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP) is a rights-based approach ensuring inclusive and gender-responsive land governance, especially for those whose rights to land are not fully acknowledged.

All over the world, indigenous groups, rural communities, small-scale farmers, pastoralists, women and young people experience difficulties in accessing and using land and securing land rights. In many non-Western countries, indigenous, rural, and remote communities recognise and exercise communal land rights that are often poorly defined or ignored by official land administration systems. At the same time, global investment in commercial agriculture and land-based infrastructure is expanding and often involves the use or acquisition of large areas of 'vacant' land.

When the rights of local communities to use, manage and hold their lands are not clearly defined or recognised, or where the formal land planning system does not reflect the reality of indigenous peoples and local communities, these investments carry a risk of limiting, denying or violating local communities' rights and potentially 'grabbing' indigenous, customary or communal lands in contradiction to international human rights law. In addition, sustainable land management practices such as agro-ecological land use, analog forestry or farmer-led re-greening are under pressure from these large-scale developments, while such sustainable land use practices are becoming increasingly important to combat climate change, deforestation and desertification.

Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP)

These developments illustrate the need for alternative, inclusive and participatory approaches to land governance. Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP) is one such approach, which aims to empower communities to assert their rights to use, own and manage their lands (especially customary and communally-managed lands); both in practice and in local and national policy dialogues. It can be used to prevent or resolve land use conflicts, to defend against land grabs, to plan for the sustainable management of natural resources, or to provide a framework for inclusive land-use decision making.

PLUP aims to bring together top-down land use planning and bottom-up community empowerment processes within a rights-based framework that focuses on the recognition, protection and enjoyment of communal land rights.

Securing land rights for local communities

Enhancing the security of land rights and land access for local land users and communities is a key focus in the PLUP approach. Strengthening local people's rights to access and use land provides a foundation for communities to plan and invest in sustainable land-use practices. Recognition of local people's land rights and security of land tenure also provide an institutional shield against unwanted interference from external actors who do not fully respect the rights of local land users. In turn, sustainable land-use practices and collective land-based enterprises also provide an economic and social buffer against land grabs and the acquisition of communal lands by corporate actors.

Local land users and communities are empowered in PLUP processes to identify and enunciate their rights to land in the language of local and international laws, manage and plan the use of their land according to their social, cultural and economic values with a long-term perspective, and to integrate these aspirations in land-use planning and decision-making processes.

Implementing PLUP

How Participatory Land Use Planning is implemented depends on the local context. The process may start with awareness-raising on the importance of PLUP with local land users, communities and authorities, for example through community workshops. Local land users, communities and local authorities might also need to be trained in community mapping techniques, especially in gender-sensitive and gender-responsive mapping and planning processes.

Often an important step is the actual mapping of land rights and land-use zones at the village level, which can include mediation and resolution of conflicts over land rights, boundaries and land-use entitlements with adjacent land users. Once there is consensus on the area where a community's land rights exist - as depicted on a map - and what those rights entail, the community is able to make informed decisions about how their lands should be used.

At the same time, local and regional authorities need to be involved. Where possible, PLUP activities aim to be aligned with spatial planning policies, in order for the village-level land-use map to be integrated into formal land-use plans. This calls for advocacy at all government levels (local, regional, national) to create an enabling environment for official recognition of PLUP processes, community-produced land tenure maps, and - ultimately - the rights and interests in land that communities assert during these processes.

Both ENDS and PLUP: working with community organisations

Both ENDS supports local CSOs to develop the capacity of local communities to defend and assert their land rights through PLUP activities, and to upscale PLUP in regional, national and international policies. For example, together with our partners in Indonesia we conducted a pilot project in West-Kalimantan, aiming to facilitate the integration of community maps into formal district-level spatial planning procedures. Land-use planning in Indonesia is based on formal maps that make no mention of customary and village boundaries. This makes communities vulnerable to land-grabs and displacement, as oil palm companies may expand their plantations onto community land without the consent of the local people who use (and claim) this land. The PLUP project successfully put participatory land-use planning and community mapping on the agenda of the district government. The district government publically announced its commitment to the demarcation of Rural Areas based on locally produced community maps, in order to safeguard the interests of local communities. The impact this had on local communities is shown in the short film Mapping our Future.

In Kenya, the efforts on PLUP in the Tana Delta led to a full fledge land use plan which was established in a joint process with local communities, authorities and NGOs. Furthermore, a few years ago we started a PLUP project in two communities in Monze district, Zambia. After community meetings in 2017, follow-up steps were planned to strengthen the community maps by facilitating the process to clarify the land tenure of families. Also some community members indicated the PLUP process lead to an open conversation within families about the division of land between husbands and wifes, resulting in parts of the land being given to the women.

PLUP: an innovative solution for sustainable land governance

By ensuring that land-use planning processes are people-centered and driven by the goals, values and interests of the community whose land is under threat, the PLUP approach offers an innovative solution to local land governance challenges.

Both ENDS therefore intends to build and share experiences of PLUP, develop an inventory of tools, organise seminars and other fora, assist other community-based organisations in applying these tools and insights to their own situation and build the case for incorporating inclusive, participatory and gender-sensitive land mapping and governance practices into conventional national and international land-use planning processes.

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