Rainforest Concern Chocó-Andean Corridor Project
This depends on each situation. In Ecuador we have mainly been buying from local farmers who have been clearing land for cattle or sugar cane. Often the people who sell are growing elderly and want to move out of the countryside, or they need to sell it for some family emergency, or they haven't lived in the area for some time.
Much of the land bought for the Awacachi Corridor (the northern phase of the Choco-Andean Corridor in Ecuador) was bought in competition with African palm oil plantations. We always pay market rates or better and never put pressure on owners to sell - in fact it is often the owners who place pressure on us to buy.
We occasionally buy land owned by large companies. We try to buy large blocks at the same time to avoid price escalation/expectations. Increasingly we often buy land FOR rather than from local communities when they can be persuaded to protect the forest surrounding their farms. This is the case with our Watershed Reserve Project in the Choco-Andean Corridor in Ecuador, where we purchase land in the name of the community, who then in return have to protect it and conserve the rivers. We NEVER buy land from indigenous people but have helped to extend territory, as with the Yawanawa in western Brazil, or map territory as with the Wayana in Suriname.
Generally local communities or it will be put in the name of Rainforest Concern (UK) and a local NGO. When land is not bought for local communities, it is either bought solely in the name of our partner NGO or jointly in the name of Rainforest Concern and a local NGO In a very few instances when land needs to be bought and protected urgently but there is no obvious NGO to buy it through, then we have bought it in Rainforest Concern's name alone. It is important to note that we generally only purchase land when we can be very confident that the local NGO has the necessary experience/track record to protect and manage land in the long term. This is our paramount concern and we choose our partners very carefully indeed.
Our local partner organization generally employs rangers to patrol the land purchased and maintain trails. Clearly there is a big difference in the level of protection required for a reserve close to a city and near a main road to that of a very remote and mountainous reserve. The former may require guard posts and regular, perhaps weekly, inspections whilst the latter may require much less frequent inspections and the most effective method of protection may be a six monthly fly over to see if incursions have been made. Well maintained signs and trails are extremely important as is the need to demonstrate that the reserve is being used and looked after. When problems have been encountered (hunting, squatting, farming/settling) then this has usually been as a result of lack of activity and people assuming the land is "up for grabs".
There is always a written 'inter-institutional" agreement between Rainforest Concern and our partners setting out the responsibilities of each organisation independently and to each other. Land purchase is just one element of our work and these agreements cover not only protection for the land purchased /managed but also alternative income projects, education, eco-tourism, communication with local/national government and scientific research. Most importantly the agreement sets down the reporting procedure, frequency of reports and who should write them. It will define how much control is required on the project funding, accounting and receipts required for services/items. Funding for projects is done in phases and we rarely release funds for a new phase before we have approved the report for the previous phase. Our partner organisations are sometimes also required to sign a written undertaking for the management of a particular block of land purchased for conservation. This may include the frequency of patrolling, construction of buildings (e.g. lodge); density of trails, eco-tourism use, if a former owner/occupier may continue living on the land and so on.
Land owners/ownership is one of the cornerstones of support for Latin American governments. By virtue of the fact that most of the worlds remaining forests exist in politically unstable countries there is always a risk that this could adversely affect our work. However in practice this has seldom been a problem. The most worrying scenario would be the expropriation and nationalization of land but as most countries seem to go from one right wing administration to another, this is highly unlikely. The only country in Latin America where there is considered a real risk in this respect is Venezuela, but certainly not the countries where we have projects at present.
In numerous ways and at every level! Local people are involved in planning processes, land ownership, ecotourism initiatives, mapping, security and ranger patrol, sustainable agriculture, tree nurseries, field work and much more.