Conservation by indigenous people and local communities needs scientific and legal support

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


There is a tendency for governments to assume that the onus of nature conservation lies on its bulging shoulders. What most governments tend to ignore is the rich biodiversity in indigenous peoples and local communities conserved areas (ICCAs). A colloquium on Saturday (12 Oct) presented two studies by an ICCA consortium, across Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

Several speakers at the colloquium spoke of inadequate rights to indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) and the major threats they face. One is loss of habitat and over-exploitation of resources; pollution, invasive species and climate change. The second is direct pressures on these communities and resources from industrialisation, development, mining, , infrastructure and dams and similar activities.

Indigenous people’s and local communities customary rights and role in biodiversity conservation need to legal and scientific recognition. Photo credit:Robertobra, Wikipedia

But the most important threat is that, despite increased on-legal recognition of these communities, for example, in national and international projects there is lack of effective legal recognition of these communities’ customary rights over their resources, and they have no rights over sub-soil resources.

For example, governments in Fiji, Philippines and Suriname can issue prospecting licenses over land areas without owner consent if it is considered important for the nation, report of the studies, issued in the colloquium, shows. In Chile, the government can cede mining and geothermal resources, as well as water, to non-indigenous peoples and private firms.

There are similarly lack of land tenures in several African countries, while in India, the government owns much of the lands within IPLC’s conserved territories and areas.

One problem, says the report, is that most countries have “severely inadequate” documentation of and research on ICCAs, and almost none have databases.

“The ICCAs have simply been invisible to the formal sector of scientists and conservationists,” it says.

Another problem is that even in places where ICCA recognition is rising, documentation, research or database development is not by the indigenous peoples, nor is free and prior informed consent taken from them. The information is in a format that the indigenous peoples cannot access or understand.

Countries are also weak in providing fund and technical support for providing legal empowerment, mapping and building capacity for reclaiming rights over land management of their territories and resources.

Conservation is clearly in area that needs a humane face of science and law.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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