By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO, APRIL 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Providing formal land ownership titles to indigenous communities is one of the most effective ways to preserve endangered rainforest in Peru's Amazon, said a study published on Monday.
Forest destruction dropped 75 percent on land once it was formally granted to indigenous communities, said the study by American researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Analysing satellite data and land ownership certificates, the researchers compared forest cover on territory before and in the two years after it was formally titled to indigenous communities.
They make the case that granting land titles to indigenous communities who currently control about 10 million hectares of forests in Peru has direct, measurable benefits for Amazon preservation.
"Titling reduces forest clearing by three-quarters," said Allen Blackman, a senior official with the Inter-American Development Bank and a co-author of the study.
The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest, teeming with biodiversity and spanning nine countries in South America - the bulk of it in Brazil. More than half of Peru's territory is Amazon rainforest.
Protecting the Amazon, which has been shrinking in Peru due to illegal logging and other activities, is crucial for combating climate change because forests suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and regulate the planet's climate.
"Communities without titles don't have the legal standing to complain to regulators when their lands have been encroached on," Blackman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Once land has been formally titled, indigenous communities can get advice from government regulators on the best tactics for forest preservation and other official services, Blackman said.
With a fast-growing economy based on mining and its natural resources, the Andean nation of Peru has about 1,200 indigenous communities inhabited by 330,000 people, researchers said.
Indigenous activists hailed the study.
"Giving indigenous communities formal legal title to our lands protects tropical forest from illegal logging," said Edwin Vazquez, a land rights campaigner with the Peru-based Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin.
"Without us, the mission to slow the emissions that threaten the ... health of our entire planet is doomed to failure," Vazquez said in a statement.
Indigenous communities and local residents manage about a third of all forests in developing countries - more than twice the share in government-protected areas, Blackman said.
The study implies that titling land for indigenous people could be effective for forest conservation in other countries, Blackman said, but more research is needed to test that hypothesis.