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Indigenous and local communities, key to biodiversity conservation

FOR millennia, indigenous and local communities (ILCs) have played a critical role in biodiversity conservation.

Indigenous peoples depend directly on nature’s bounty, relying heavily on the environment for food, medicine, clothing and shelter. Their very survival depends on the sustainable utilization of resources. Thus, they have evolved traditional practices that nurture the earth and ensure that the environment will continue to support their community.

The role of ILCs in conserving biodiversity in protected areas will be discussed at the fourth Asean Heritage Parks (AHP) Conference to be held from October 1 to 4 in Tagaytay City.

Organized by the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), hosted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and supported by the ACB-GIZ Biodiversity and Climate Change Project and the Department of Tourism, the conference will have some 300 delegates from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Also participating are AHP managers, biodiversity experts, policy-makers and scientists; and representatives from non-governmental organizations, indigenous and local communities, and relevant international and regional organizations.

ACB Executive Director Roberto V. Oliva said the conference will update the participants on recent knowledge and tools in addressing biodiversity loss and ecosystems degradation and the preservation of Asean’s natural heritage; discuss issues on biodiversity, in the context of the outcomes of the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to achieve the Aichi Targets and contribute to the successful implementation of the CBD Strategic Plan 2011 to 2020; and identify cooperation opportunities toward capacity building for effective management of AHPs and other critical ecosystems and biodiversity to contribute to poverty reduction.

Deforestation, land clearing, overharvesting of resources, pollution and other activities have severely depleted the environment that supports indigenous communities.

Upland migration and agricultural expansion have also led to encroachment of their traditional hunting grounds.

These and other factors have eroded the food and water sources, and the environment that is the basis for the life and identity of many indigenous groups. Degradation of traditional sources of food and poverty have also driven many indigenous groups to adopt unsustainable agricultural practices.

The struggle for the rights of indigenous peoples and belated acknowledgement of their role in conservation would turn the tide and renew respect and interest in traditional knowledge systems. There has been increasing efforts to document the knowledge of indigenous peoples, and engage their participation in conservation and management of critical biodiversity areas.

The fact that many protected areas and key biodiversity areas overlap with ancestral domains shows that indigenous peoples and their management of lands, waters and other resources have made a substantial contribution to the conservation of global ecosystems.

Many of the region’s 33 AHPs are homes to indigenous peoples, most of whom are now partners in conservation management.

In the Philippines the Mangyan is the dominant indigenous group on mounts Iglit-Baco AHP. The Mangyan are traditionally nomadic within their territory and settle temporarily where food is found.

Of the eight ethno-linguistic groups of the Mangyan, the Tau-buid or Batangan and the Buhid directly depend on mounts Iglit and Baco for their source of food and livelihood. They grow corn and sweet potato close to their huts; others supplement these with cassava, rice, bananas, papayas, avocados, squash, beans, taro and other vegetables. They gather edible forest products, trap wild pigs and chickens, and raise domestic stock.

The Mangyan consistently stress their desire to maintain their cultural identity and ancestral domain, asserting their right to use resources for sustenance and cultural survival.

Mount Kitanglad Range AHP in Mindanao is considered by local indigenous peoples as the center of their well-being. The main indigenous groups in the park are the Tala-andig, Higa-onon and Bukidnon tribes.

They regard the mountain range as their ancestral domain—their history, myth and tradition revolve around it. They still manifest strong cultural traits in their activities and way of life. They have asserted their rights over the plant and wildlife resources of the Mount Kitanglad Range, and the permission of the three indigenous groups are critical to the conduct of various activities within the park.

In Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park in Brunei, the Dusun tribe works with park management in conserving the park. Ancient artifacts of the Dusun tribe have been found in the park, and are now displaced in the Natural History Exhibition Center. A major feature of the park is the Dusun House, which evokes the traditional lifestyle of the Dusuns.

In Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia, the Orang Asli community is the only tribe allowed to harvest resources from the park. They still maintain a nomadic lifestyle and have some small settlements within the park.

Visitors to Taman Negara may take a trip to the Orang Asli community with the permission of park management, and have an opportunity to see traditional hunting practices of the Orang Asli, and marvel at their traditional handicrafts.

Recognition of the contribution of indigenous peoples in conservation and respect for their rights has led to a shift where indigenous peoples are now actively engaged as partners in conservation. As such, ILCs in protected areas is one of the major sessions at the forthcoming conference.

The session will focus on practices that incorporate the perspective or involvement of indigenous and local communities in protected area management. Issues affecting ILCs in conservation management, such as science and technology, policy, traditional knowledge, and access and benefit sharing, will also be highlighted.

It is now widely acknowledged that effective and sustainable conservation can be better achieved when these are approved and have the collaboration of local indigenous peoples because their knowledge and cultures contribute to the building of comprehensive protected areas. Protected area management and ILCs often have common objectives in the conservation of lands and natural resources. Thus, there should be a greater effort to work with indigenous peoples and local communities in the conservation of protected and key biodiversity areas.

Sahlee Barrer

 

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