Protecting Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Conserving Biodiversity

Cacao harvest in the Lecos Larecaja indigeous land. Photo ©WCS Boliva Program.

By Lilian Painter

On August 9 the world will commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year the focus is on health and wellbeing. That topic engages me particularly as a conservationist working in the Amazon. The Bolivia program of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) has shown that the interests of indigenous peoples and conservation are not only compatible but also dependent on each other.

It is not hard to understand why involving indigenous people in conservation is important. Many indigenous peoples are traditionally forest-dwelling cultures and in fact 25 percent of the world’s forests are inhabited by indigenous peoples.

Cacao harvest in the Lecos Larecaja indigeous land. Photo ©WCS Boliva Program.

Due to colonization and other processes of socio-economic development, many indigenous communities occupy remote areas that, due to a lighter human footprint, maintain environmental function and healthier natural resources bases. Demand for those resources by various outside interest groups now threatens local people’s livelihoods and continues a long-standing destructive pattern of encroachment.

Indigenous lands have historically been protected by their isolation and frequently overlap or border protected areas. Strengthening protected area and indigenous land management could lead to the conservation of close to 50 percent of the remaining Amazon forest and its biodiversity. However, conservation programs can also promote the livelihoods of indigenous people by clarifying and consolidating their land rights.

Many conservation programs support sustainable management of natural resources by indigenous communities. In the case of northwestern Bolivia, cacao, forestry, incense, handicrafts, livestock management, wild honey harvesting, timber management, and other productive activities have helped to provide an average annual household income.

Harvesting the incense tree, Clusia pachamae, in the Lecos Apolo indigenous land. Photo ©WCS Boliva Program.

Conservation programs have helped increase family incomes and also enabled greater control of ancestral forests by indigenous peoples. For —> Read More