Revisioning territorial rights in Brazil in the face of resource extraction


Brazil is at the forefront of global struggles to ensure recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to their traditional territories in the face of extractive activities. This initiative aims to strengthen the network established by an earlier SSRP-funded project which brought together representatives of five critical ecosystems in Minas Gerais, Brazil. It builds on previous work related to Rights of Nature legislation to incorporate a focus on land rights and territorial self-determination.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project addresses the following SDGs:

    SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
    SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
    SDG13 – Climate Action
    SDG 15 – Life on Land
    SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

In September 2023 Brazil’s supreme court blocked efforts to dramatically strip back Indigenous land rights in what activists called a historic victory for the South American country’s original inhabitants. Although agribusiness interests in Congress continue to attempt to pass legislation undermining indigenous land rights, while many other communities are still struggling to recure official recognition for their traditional territories, this triumph reflects Brazil's leading role in global struggles to fight for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples' and local communities' rights to their ancestral lands amid the complexities posed by extractive activities. 

This project strategically builds upon the foundation laid by a previous SSRP-funded initiative that united representatives from five vital ecosystems in Brazil's southeastern Minas Gerais state while expanding on these prior efforts of advocating for Rights of Nature legislation and initiating a knowledge-exchange network in response to increasing resource extraction. This current initiative specifically focusses on revisioning land rights, asserting territorial self-determination and establishing an action research network which supports communities affected by mining in Minas Gerais.

A key objective of the project is to further nurture the abovementioned knowledge-exchange network formed by environmental and human rights defenders. This involves connecting them with a broader range of experiences from Latin America and beyond to inform local resistance strategies while generating valuable insights for international comparative research on land rights, mining, and societal transition.

Aligned with SSRP's 'Ecosystems, Rights, and Justice' theme, this research addresses the direct impacts of the global mineral supply chain on ecosystems and rights violations. It also highlights the harmful negative effects of the mineral industry on cultural diversity of communities whose traditional territories include existing or planned extraction sites across Brazil's southeastern state but lack adequate tenure recognition.

These extractive projects in the network's territories either comprise of very water intensive operations or endanger river basins that are crucial for the water security of major urban centres. Strengthening these communities and amplifying their voices directly corresponds to the right to access clean water (SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation), in addition to the direct effect on preserving critical ecosystems (SDG 15 Life on Land).

As the need for critical minerals intensifies to support decarbonisation efforts, often used as a justification to expedite licensing and investment in large-scale mining projects, connecting local struggles to global mobilised networks contributes to responsible Climate Action (SDG 13) and fosters responsible consumption and production patterns (SDG 12).

In the face of conflict between environmental and human rights defenders; and those acting in the interests of extractive industries, opposition to such projects in Brazil has become extremely dangerous, with activists in our network routinely facing death threats. Facilitating access to protection mechanisms and connecting these groups to global networks is pivotal for promoting peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16).

Timeline and funding


November 2023 - July 2024


SSRP funding (£15,500)


The project will centre on a series of participatory online meetings and in-person knowledge-sharing workshops, connecting network members with Sussex researchers and other invited local specialists. Each Sussex input will draw on a combination of the PI and Co-I's prior research and expertise, with additional systematic evidence collected by Sussex research assistants. 

Each event will also produce a report of key inputs and reflections which will provide the basis for the final publication. The overall research outputs will be presented at the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, hosted by the Land Deal Politics Initiative together with several leading research hubs in Bogotá, Colombia, in March 2024.



Invited researchers

Meeting 1 (November)

Comparative analysis of legal frameworks for collective land tenure

Bonnie Holligan (Sussex LPS)

Meeting 2 (December)

Strategies for engaging with mining companies in Latin America

Anabel Marín (Sussex IDS)

Meeting 3 (January)

Power analysis for vertical and horizontal integration of resistance strategies

Alex Shankland (Sussex IDS)


Workshop 1 (February - Serro)

Protocols of Consultation

(tbc) Uli Ide (HEKS)

Meeting 4 (March)

Protecting human rights defenders

(tbc) Jairo Santos (MG State Legislative Assembly)

Meeting 5 (April)

Fundraising strategies for territories in resistance

(tbc) Lúcia Nader (Sussex IDS PhD student)

Workshop 2 (May - Gandarela)

Social and biodiversity mapping to protect territories

Mauro Toledo (Unimontes/IDS); (tbc) Ceylan Hassan (Sussex alumni)

Meeting 6 (June)

Closure of cycle and planning ahead

Holligan; Marín; Shankland

Expected outcomes and impacts

Together with their parners, the project team aims to establish an action research network which supports communities affected by mining in Minas Gerais, which addresses various dimensions.

Culturally, the project will identify entry points for incorporating local epistemologies and ontologies of territory into the legal framing of land tenure. Simultaneously, it will strengthen the capacity of traditional communities to protect their livelihoods and territories from mineral exploration by supporting the development of culturally-appropriate consultation protocols in line with the principles of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989, also known as ILO Convention 169. Social impacts include not only the safeguarding of lands and livelihoods of marginalised and racialised minority communities in Minas Gerais but also improved protection for the network of activists and better resourcing of the activities required for their ongoing struggle. 

Supporting and nurturing resistances is fundamental to enrich the space and enable transformative economic policies. Traditionally, power imbalances have meant that investment policies have favoured companies over communities. Resistance movements in Latin America are starting to challenge these historical power imbalances, which could favour more progressive policies. The project will support efforts in driving impactful resistance movements by fostering horizontal networks within Minas Gerais state and beyond and connecting local struggles with national, regional and global efforts to promote more inclusive and sustainable land tenure regimes and mining regulation systems.

On an academic and educational front, the project seeks to deepen the understanding of local framings of territorial rights in Brazil. Insights generated through the project will be disseminated through a Portuguese-language publication and networks, including the Traditional Peoples’ Colloquium (coordinated by NIISA-UNIMONTES) and MATOPIBA Observatory (a partner of the Institute of Development Studies). A key insights brief will be produced by the research team in English and will be shared via internaitonal networks, such as the Modern Studies in Property Law research network, the Brazil-Africa Traditional Territories Network and the Argentina Mining and Environmental Conflicts Network, contributing to the global understanding of the nexus between traditional territories, mining and sustainable development.

Beyond these dimensions, the project amplifies the voices of groups affected by recent decisions, such as the Minas Gerais state government's attempt to transform a socially and ecologically vulnerable region into a center for lithium extraction. By raising awareness in the Global North about the risks associated with the rush to decarbonise economies, the project highlights the intensifying pressure on traditional territories with unrecognised tenure rights. This may, in turn, drive the creation of 'energy transition sacrifice zones' in the Global South. To address this strategic research agenda, this seed-funded project will enable the Principal Investigator and Co-Investigators to collaborate on developing future proposals on land rights, mining, and societal transition.

Related work

See previous research funded through SSRP on 'Making the case for the ‘Rights of Nature’ in Minas Gerais, Brazil'

The team

Where we worked

Minas Gerais, Brazil.