While official conservation is dominated by formal state protected areas, thousands of African ICCAs struggle to exist and conserve biocultural diversity in the broader landscape and seascape.  Clearly, African ICCAs are threatened.

The issues

Across Africa, threats to ICCAs include both physical action (e.g. the imposition of extractive, invasive and polluting uses of land, water and coastal environments) as well as cultural action (e.g., the imposition of new values, foreign to the complexities and sophistication of the original local cultures). In Guinea as in Zambia and South Africa, mining is displacing communities, polluting water sources and eroding the land. In Senegal and Tanzania, dams and water diversion schemes have violently disrupted the complex socio-ecological systems that had evolved through centuries of knowledge development and exchanges in river ecosystems. In Kenya and Nigeria, electric transmission lines, oil pipelines and port developments are encroaching forests, polluting wetlands and displacing peasant agriculture. In Sierra Leone and Madagascar, fisheries are being devastated by trawlers, as forests are by illegal loggers. Throughout the continent, pastoralists are being squeezed out of their traditional migratory routes because of land grabbing– from large scale mono-cropping to uranium mining…

Meanwhile, fundamentalist beliefs are being forced into peoples’ mind by violence, terrorism and money, and a colossal cultural flattening is on the way through evangelization, poor-quality formal education and advertisements. The results include lack of respect for traditional indigenous knowledge and institutions, and even the loss of that knowledge and those institutions within communities, as the youth looks at urban areas and migration as the only options to secure their future. Other threats include climate change (e.g. severe coastal erosion) and poaching of wildlife at an industrial scale. Recognition of collective customary rights and responsibilities to land, waters and natural resources is rarely found at the scale at which it could put a stop to these disruptive phenomena. On the contrary, abuses and interferences on customary rights and institutions remain common.

Strategies and responses

Despite the breadth of these threats, the responses of the communities governing ICCAs are many. Even though they are varied, they all converge towards the activation of new awareness and capacities to conserve nature while asserting the community collective rights and responsibilities for specific territories and resources. For that, it appears crucial to claim legal and social recognition for the ICCAs that still exist or can be effectively restored; to obtain economic security for the local livelihoods the ICCAs can support; and to command respect for the local customary institutions that can still govern effectively the communities’ interaction with their natural resources. The Consortium and its African members strive to identify and communicate the value of ICCAs, to strengthen their governing institutions, and to support them to document and enforce their own community protocols for biodiversity. They also support the ICCA communities to gain visibility and “critical mass” for advocacy at national level. Some progress can be cited, but the size of the need is immense.  The Consortium has initially focused its work in Senegal, Madagascar, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo.  More recently it has been promoting recognition and support of ICCAs also in Guinea, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Benin, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Guinea Bissau. Consortium Members are also active in Ethiopia, where there exist some of the most remarkable ICCA examples in the continent.

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The natural and cultural heritage of the High Atlas on display at the 2022 edition of the Biocultural Festival in Morocco

In July 2022, the Biocultural Festival of Morocco, organized by the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA, ICCA Consortium Member), focused on sustaining territories of life and preserving farmers’ seeds and traditional culinary knowledge. It also emphasized semi-nomadic pastoralists and the Agdals’ contributions to biodiversity conservation. Read more ▸

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