top of page

Community Land Trusts

Traditional conservation efforts focus on protecting pristine areas and removing humans from the landscape while shying away from protecting agricultural land. Yet the untapped conservation potential of transitioning livestock production systems to plant-based agriculture must be accounted for to reduce biodiversity loss. Furthermore, rewilded former agricultural land used for livestock will require active management. Land trusts around the world show how, when done correctly, humans have the capacity to act as regenerative environmental stewards.


Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are non-profit organizations which hold land on behalf of communities in commons. They can serve as long-term stewards for regenerative land practices, affordable housing, community spaces, civic buildings, and any other assets on behalf of the community.

Around the world, there are a diversity of CLTs modeling different ways in which property can be owned, used, and governed. Each model is unique to the cultural and communal context.

Global Roots partners with non-profit organizations and individuals to foster CLTs focused on creating plant-based agricultural food hubs and increasing conservation. We support projects that transition livestock focused operations into efficient plant-based agricultural systems feeding communities while expanding on a global commons to support biodiversity.

Current systems encourage hierarchies in which a minority benefits from absolute access to land and resources while environmental and social costs are externalized in service of the bottom line. The communal land trust model works to reverse this paradigm by instilling a shared sense of benefit and by extension, a shared commitment to stewardship. By fundamentally changing how we view, interact, and relate to land, we envision an agricultural system that fundamentally works to support human and planetary health.

By placing land in communal land trusts, we hope to model how land held in communal systems can encourage environmental regeneration and land stewardship while reversing inequality and creating a culture of abundance.

Problems with Consolidation

Today the largest 1 percent of farms globally which form the core of the corporate food system operate more than 70% of the world’s farmland. The largest 1 percent of farms in 15 Latin American countries own more than half of all agricultural land while the smallest 80% of farms occupy less than 13%. Globally, just four corporations control 65% of agrochemical sales, another four control 50% of seed sales, and finally another four control 45% of farm equipment sales


These trends of consolidation are not stopping, with experts forecasting a reduction of global farms from 616 million in 2020 to 272 million by the end of the 21st century, with average farm size doubling. As the next generation of farmers retire, over 400 million acres of farmland will trade hands over the next decade


Yet not too long ago much of the consolidated farmland was held in commons, belonging to and stewarded by local communities. In these systems, communities organized locally appropriate rules, norms, and punishments dictating how resources were utilized and shared.

Image from page 28 of the RAÍCES Institute Report

Aerial directly overhead view from a plane's height of agricultural farms in american midwest.jpg
Aerial view of a forest with a productive agricultural field to the side.jpg

Commons & Cooperatives in Today’s World

Starting in the United Kingdom in the early 1600s, commons were privatized and land was forcibly transitioned from commonly shared to privately owned. Between 1604 and 1914 over 5,200 enclosure acts were enforced, privatizing 6.8 million acres. The notion of privatized land ownership was exported around the world in often violent and genocidal ways. Traditional commons from around the world succumbed to the spread of capitalism and colonialism leading to the state of consolidation today. Yet even with this expansion, there are still vast swathes of commons and a vibrant movement to expand on these areas today. While private ownership of land may feel ubiquitous and all encompassing, yet there remains a rich undercurrent of commoning and groups working to expand commons around the world.


Dr. Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her exploration of how commons operate in the real world. She showed that communities bound by social bonds and shared interests find ways to deal with conflict and overexploitation based on 

culturally appropriate means of stewardship. The tragedy of the commons – the idea that overexploitation of resources by rational economic citizens seeking self promotion and profit is inevitable – applies less to resources stewarded by communities and more to corporations who have a systemic obligation to shareholders and profit that cannot account for environmental and social externalities. 

Through numerous examples, Ostrom showed that resources held in commons can be managed sustainably based on certain criteria determining how they were cared for. These criteria are summarized broadly into 8 rules:

  1. Commons need clearly defined boundaries

  2. Rules should reflect local circumstances

  3. Participatory decision making determine social adherence

  4. Commons must be monitored to hold accountability

  5. Sanctions should be graduated to prevent resentment and exclusion

  6. Easy and straightforward conflict resolution ensuring

    problems are solved quickly and cheaply

  7. Legitimated commons by a higher authority are taken more seriously

  8. Commons function better when set within larger networks that require broad cooperation

Screen Shot 2024-05-03 at 2.14.10 PM.png

Image and sources from page 32 of the RAÍCES Institute Report

To learn more about the history of the commons and enclosure, we recommend reading The Commons in History: Culture, Conflict, and Ecology by Derek Wall. To learn more about commons in today’s world, we recommend this comprehensive guide – “A Commoner’s Guide for Changemaking” outlining a wide variety of projects and approaches to commoning as well as rich historical and philosophical examinations of commoning practices.

“A new epidemic is spreading among us: more and more people are infected by the recognition of our unity. The fragmentation of human communities, the separation of man and nature, were but an interlude in human history; and that interlude is now coming to a close. We are … moving toward a cooperative world that could be, and should be, initiated by the worldwide consultation of people representing no interest other than that of the species itself.” 
~ Ervin Laszlo

​Join us as we work to re-envision how we relate to land and the environment while embracing our collective potential as regenerative stewards

bottom of page