Participation, consent, traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use in protected areas: the World Conservation Congress

Participation, consent, traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use in protected areas: the World Conservation Congress

Best practices around indigenous peoples and the establishment, expansion, governance and management of protected areas was the focus of a discussion at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress.

The event, organised by Forest Peoples Programme, brought together 14 people at a knowledge café to discuss implementation of elements of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Plan of Action on Customary Sustainable Use.

The Plan of Action supports of the Convention’s mandate to conserve biological diversity, sustainable use, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from resources. There are three tasks as part of the plan, and Task 3 – on the theme of protected areas – was the focus of Forest Peoples Programme’s event at the World Conservation Congress.

Around the table was Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), who said: “In many countries, we’re still stuck in the old economic politics of development, where people think that to develop they need to clear the forests, and remove the people who live there. We have to come up with a new innovative model of development.”

The experts, among whom were indigenous people from Fiji, Chad, Iran, Peru and Panama, broke into three working groups to discuss three main elements of Task 3. 

These were:

  • to promote indigenous peoples and local communities’ full and effective participation and prior informed consent in the expansion, governance and management of protected areas;
  • to encourage the application of traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use of biological diversity in protected areas; and 
  • to promote the use of community protocols in assisting indigenous peoples and local communities to affirm customary sustainable use of biological diversity in protected areas, in accordance with traditional cultural practices and national legislation.

Feeding back after discussion, Sarah Wyatt, from the international financial organisation Global Environment Facility, said her group had concentrated on participation and consent, and had talked about the need to bring people together at the local and national level so they could understand each others’ positions, their differences, but also their commonalities. This could then feed into a national strategy, rather than a government strategy, meaning more people – including civil society, indigenous peoples and local communities – could feed into it and work towards its success. One positive example was that of Iran, where during the past few months, civil society organisations and indigenous peoples initiated a participatory process, joined by government, to review and update the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which includes provisions on customary sustainable use and protected areas. 

Alisi Rabukawaqa added that good cases on participation and free, prior informed consent were available in relation to Locally Managed Marine Areas in Fiji and those concepts were now being used to address threats to biodiversity and indigenous peoples, particularly mining. 

Others spoke about best practices around traditional knowledge, and how there was a richness to it that was often underappreciated. Speaking on behalf of her group, Judy Fisher, Chair of IUCN’s task force on Ecosystems and Invasive Species, said traditional knowledge extended in many areas, including weather prediction, falconry and fishing. “The people with the traditional knowledge should have the governance of the place and actions that occur around traditional knowledge and natural resources,” she added.

The group spoke of the importance of both sharing indigenous knowledge and protecting it, including, for example, the teaching and transmission of traditional knowledge and language to youths.

The last group focused on the use of community protocols to assert customary sustainable use in accordance with cultural practices. Sharing a case study of the Potato Park, Alejandro Argumedo, from Asociación ANDES in Peru, explained the successful development over several years of the biocultural heritage protocols used by the indigenous communities in the park. 

"While this is not a protected area as such, this experience could be very usefully applied in protected areas situations" he explained. 

Building on the experience of the Potato Park, Krystyna Swiderska of  the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), presented an emerging labelling scheme proposed by members of the SIFOR project, a global research undertaking focussing on biocultural innovations. She said: “Labelling of products can help indigenous peoples market products and services derived from customary sustainable use.”

Maurizio Farhan Ferrari, from Forest Peoples Programme, said: “The examples shared at the event represent a promising start to catalyse action for the effective implementation of the Plan of Action on Customary Sustainable Use. We hope that this will generate interest by all relevant organisations, especially governments, to identify and operationalize best practices, in close collaboration with indigenous peoples and local communities, at the national and local level across the world.”

The best practice examples and key messages from the event will be documented and presented at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Conference of the Parties, from December 4-17 in Mexico, where next steps will be discussed and agreed on.