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Indigenous peoples’ and community conserved territories and areas (ICCAs):

A bold frontier for conservation, sustainable livelihoods and the respect of collective rights

A close association is often found between a specific indigenous people or local community and a specific territory, area or body of natural resources. When such an association is combined with effective local governance and conservation of nature, we speak of “ICCAs”. For many people and communities that relationship is much richer than it can be expressed in words. It is a bond of livelihood, energy and health. It is a source of identity and culture, autonomy and freedom. It is the connecting tie among generations,preserving memories from the past, and connecting those to the desired future. It is the ground on which communities learn, identify values and develop self-rules. For many it is also a connection between visible and invisible realities, material and spiritual wealth. With territory and nature goes life, dignity and self-determination as peoples.

Three defining characteristics of ICCAs

3. The community management decisions and efforts lead to the conservation of the territory, area or species and associated cultural values (the conscious objective of management may be different than conservation per se, and be, for instance, related to material livelihood, water security, safeguarding of cultural and spiritual places, etc)

Significance of ICCAs

    • ICCAs¬†help to conserve critical ecosystems and threatened species, to maintain essential ecosystem functions (e.g., water security), and to provide corridors and linkages for animal and gene movement, including between two or more officially protected areas;
    • ICCAs¬†are the basis of cultural and economic livelihoods for millions of people, securing resources (energy, food, water, fodder) and income;
    • ICCAs¬†are part of indigenous peoples and local community resistance to destructive ‚Äėdevelopment‚Äô, e.g. rainforests threatened by mining, dams, and logging industries, ecologically sensitive high-altitude ecosystems threatened by tourism, over-exploitation of marine resources by industrial fishing, etc;
    • ICCAs are¬†based on rules and institutions ‚Äútailored to the context‚ÄĚ, (bio-cultural diversity), skilled at adaptive management and capable of flexible, culture-related responses;
    • ICCAs are¬†built on sophisticated collective ecological knowledge and capacities, including sustainable use of wild resources and maintenance of agrobiodiversity, which have stood the test of time.¬† They are typically designed to maintain crucial livelihood resources for times of stress and need, such as during severe climate events, war & natural disasters;
    • ICCAs¬†play a crucial role in securing the rights of IPs & local communities to their land & natural resources through local governance ‚Äď de jure and/or de facto;
    • ICCAs¬†help synergise the links between agricultural biodiversity and wildlife, providing larger land/waterscape level integration;
    • ICCAs¬†offer crucial lessons for participatory governance of official PAs, useful to resolve conflicts between PAs and local people;
    • ICCAs¬†offer lessons in systems of conservation that integrate customary and statutory laws;¬†
    • ICCAs¬†help prevent excessive urban migration;
    • ICCAs¬†can be the foundation of cultural identity and pride for countless indigenous peoples and local communities throughout the world.

The global coverage of ICCAs has been estimated as being comparable to the one of governments’ protected areas, i.e. about 13% of the terrestrial surface of the planet. Globally, 400-800 million hectares of forest are owned/administered by communities. More land and resources are under community control in other ecosystems. By no means all areas under community control are effectively conserved (i.e. can be considered ICCAs), but a substantial portion is.

Threats and challenges to ICCAs

ICCAs face critical threats and challenges to their continued existence and functioning, such as:

  • Land and water grabbing and, in particular, the expropriation of “the commons” through processes of nationalisation and privatisation of land and natural resources, expropriation for the development of large infrastructure (dams, ports, roads…), and land encroachments by illegal settlers;
  • Inappropriate “development” interventions and the unsustainable¬†use of renewable and non-renewable resources (timber, fauna, minerals, etc.) by powerful outsiders or community members¬†under the influence of market forces and perverse incentives;
  • Undermining of traditional institutions by¬†centralised political systems, whereby governments take over most of the relevant functions and powers;
  • Inappropriate development¬†and¬†educational models, religious intrusions, and¬†externally-driven change¬†of local value systems (acculturation);
  • Lack¬†of¬†appropriate recognition and lack of appropriate political, legal and economic support,¬† hampering community efforts at conserving their territories and natural resources through traditional means (this may include the imposition of rules through payment for economic services schemes);
  • External and internal conflicts,¬†inequities¬†and¬†weak local institutions;
  • Environmental and socio-economic disasters related to global climate and other major socio-economic change outside of local control.

Please download the ICCA Consortium leaflet in your
preferred language.  It is available in English, French and Spanish


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