20 November 2008

Malaysia's indigenous people to get land rights for first time

mongabay.com, November 19, 2008

But proposed legal changes may sound more like a development model for oil palm expansion rather than an affirmation of indigenous rights to some.

Malaysia's government will for the first time grant ownership rights of land farmed by indigenous people, reports the Associated Press.

Jaafar Jantan, a spokesman for the government's Orang Asli Affairs Department, said that some 20,000 Orang Asli families will obtain permanent ownership of 50,000 hectares of rural land currently belonging to state governments. The Orang Asli consist of 140,000 people from 18 ethnic tribes in Malaysia. They are some of the poorest people in the country and are often displaced by logging and development projects.

While indigenous rights groups will likely welcome the change, they may be perturbed by the second part of the proposal. Jaafar said that authorities plan to plant oil palm and rubber on lands granted to the Orang Asli so they will have a source of income. It was not clear whether the Orang Asli would be given the option to determine how their land will be used. Further if the land titles allow re-zoning of forest land for conversion to oil palm (as has been know to occur with protected areas in Malaysia), critics may see these changes as simply a ruse to expand cash crop production in areas where agricultural land — and domestic labor — is scarce. But if the titled land is already under agricultural cultivation and the Orang Asli are given guidance on plantation management, a shift towards oil palm and rubber could boost their income.

Copyright mongabay 2007

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