Community rights do help conservation
An investigation by Prisma (Regional Research Program on Development and Environment) has shown indigenous peoples and local communities have a key role in protecting the environment. Conservation and Community Rights: Lessons from Mesoamerica shows that the protection of indigenous rights can effectively reduce deforestation rates and enhances biodiversity’s protection.
“The world ́s richest biodiversity can be found in the forests, waters and farms of indigenous peoples and local communities across the world. Stewardship by these communities underpins a remarkable spatial convergence between cultural and biological diversity: where indigenous peoples remain, so do many of the plants, animals and resources critical for life on earth,” reads their report.
According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, indigenous peoples inhabit 95% of the 238 global eco-regions considered critical for global conservation. Nonetheless, historically local communities have been treated like adversaries for conservation in protected areas. These cultural misunderstandings have resulted in counterproductive strategies like expelling indigenous peoples from their lands or imposing rule systems that transform their livelihoods.
The report examines different success stories in Central America like community’s management of forest conservation in northern Guatemala where particular heritage of Mayan people is used. A large share of the community plan harvest rates and regeneration activities based on ecological concerns to ensure both the health of the local ecosystem and the mahogany species.
From Mexico to Panama, indigenous peoples and local communities have legally recognized rights to approximately 65% of the forests in Mesoamerica, far exceeding any other region in the world. The report’s authors agree the region has a privileged position to show the world how to succeed in conservation through a community based approach.
This type of conservation dates to the 1800’s when the US federal government established some of the first national parks. “Yellowstone, declared in 1872, and Yosemite, declared in 1890 protect lands that had become famous for their majestic beauty. These areas were considered pristine, untouched wildernesses that needed to be preserved from human incursion.”
Nonetheless, in an interview with Mongabay Latam, Andrew Davis, chief researcher from Prisma and one of the report’s authors says there is still a huge gap between all the commitments made by governments and the reality. He says indigenous rights continue to be violated and these regions lose the opportunity of being saved by community based approaches.
“I believe we must invest in local communities, indigenous organizations and companies which have sustainable methods. In our experiences in Mexico and Guatemala we’ve seen that when indigenous people’s rights are recognized and respected they can work along with companies that conserve biodiversity and contribute to a sustainable development.”
More so, this approach can be useful and cheap in tackling climate change.
“Considering the state of global biodiversity we believe this approach is an immediate solution that is at NGO’s and government’s reach,” concluded Davis.