Indigenouslandrightskeyto stopping deforestation in Central America



Without their traditional land managers, conservation reserves in Central America are left vulnerable to corporate interests, report finds. Climate Home reports

Conservation reserves in Central America have shut indigenous peoples off from their traditional lands and driven deforestation, community leaders have told Climate Home.

Since revolution in the region started to wind down in the 1980s, there has been an internationally celebrated trend to create large conservation areas. Hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of forest have been placed within borders designed to protect them.

But according to a report released at a meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Mexico on Thursday, some of those areas have placed restrictions on the tribes who made their living in the forest through traditional, and what they say are sustainable, practices.

“The protected areas have had a terrible impact on our people,” said Norvin Golf, the president of a coalition of Miskito tribes from Honduras. “And when you look at the maps you can see it. It is clear that on lands that we manage, the forests are standing, and where there are protected areas and no people, there is invasion and destruction.

“By not recognising the indigenous peoples as owners of the protected areas, the government opens our territories to an invasion of people seeking to expropriate the land, destroy the forests, and turn our ancestral home into a source of money.”

Andrew Davis, who produced the report for the Primsa Foundation, said: “Commitments to indigenous peoples look good on paper, but when you travel to the protected areas in some countries, you see government agencies using the threat of arrest and sometimes even intimidation to prevent indigenous peoples from harvesting and using resources on lands they have been conserving for hundreds of years.”

In October, a study compared the health of forests in South America under indigenous management and those where tenure had not been granted. It found significantly decreased rates of deforestation.

“Indigenous people living in that area are really interested in keeping those areas well,” said Gustavo Sánchez, president of an umbrella organisation for indigenous and peasant groups in Mexico. “Because they are living there, they are living from products they get from the forests. The government don’t have the resources to make sure that this happens.”

A map, also released on Thursday, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that indigenous communities in central America occupy an area of 282,000 sq km: five times the land area of Costa Rica.

“You cannot talk about conservation without speaking of indigenous peoples and their role as the guardians of our most delicate lands and waters,” said IUCN regional director Grethel Aguilar. “Where indigenous people live, you will find the best preserved natural resources. They depend on those natural resources to survive, and the rest of society depends on their role in safeguarding those resources for the wellbeing of us all.”

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