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Keywords:

  • Indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs);
  • community-based conservation;
  • traditional knowledge;
  • sacred forests;
  • agroforestry;
  • livelihoods;
  • governance;
  • co-management

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Historic context
  5. Contemporary context
  6. Policy implications
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

Indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs) are natural and/or modified ecosystems containing biodiversity values, ecological services, and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous and other communities through local or customary laws. They are found in both terrestrial and marine areas; they range in size from <1 ha sacred groves to >30,000 km2 indigenous territories in Brazil. ICCAs should be recognized for what they may contribute to national and global conservation systems, but there is little documentation of their potential or discussion of their policy implications. Here I examine the historic and contemporary context of ICCAs, provide examples, and raise policy issues related to: assessing the conservation benefits of ICCAs, integrating traditional knowledge into protected area management, finding the right mix of governance regimes, and dealing with challenges faced by them.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Historic context
  5. Contemporary context
  6. Policy implications
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

The rapidly developing idea of indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs) creates both opportunities and challenges for conservation practice. ICCAs are defined as “natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values, ecological services, and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous, mobile and local communities, through customary laws and other effective means” (IUCN 2008). Three features are important. First, ICCAs involve a community (or communities) closely connected to the ecosystem culturally and/or because of livelihood needs. Second, management decisions of the community effectively lead to conservation, even though conservation may not be the primary objective. Third, the community is the major decision maker, and community institutions have the capability to enforce regulations (Pathak et al. 2004).

The importance of ICCAs was recognized internationally through two key events: IUCN's Fifth World Parks Congress (WPC) in Durban in 2003 and the Seventh Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP7) in Kuala Lumpur in 2004. The Durban Congress broke with conventional conservation wisdom to suggest a diversification of conservation approaches. The Congress recommended that the CBD “recognize the diversity of protected area governance approaches, such as community conserved areas, indigenous conservation areas, and private protected areas” (Pathak et al. 2004). Through its theme on indigenous and local communities, equity and protected areas (TILCEPA), the IUCN prepared a volume of guidelines regarding steps that conservation agencies could take to recognize ICCAs and assess their conservation values for inclusion in protected area systems (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004a).

What do these ICCAs look like? They are found in both terrestrial and marine areas. They range in size from sacred groves less than 1 ha, to 30,000 km2 Xingu Indigenous Park in Brazil (Oviedo 2006). Some are already recognized and incorporated into national protected area systems. About 20% of Australia's protected area consists of 20 indigenous protected areas (Smyth 2006), but the evidence for or against the biodiversity benefit of these and other ICCAs is not clear. Kothari (2006) has shown that ICCAs can be allocated into each of the six IUCN protected area categories. For example, certain sacred groves and other sites with taboo prohibition can be categorized as IA and IB (strict nature reserve and wilderness areas). However, the bulk of the ICCAs would fit into Category V (protected landscape/seascape) and Category VI (Managed Resource Protected Area).

What IUCN initially called CCAs represent a diversity of different kinds of areas under different kinds of governance systems, with different kinds of problems. Integrating even a fraction of these ICCAs into national systems could contribute to improved conservation but would require much effort. Although ICCAs are part of the CBD Programme of Work (Pathak et al. 2004), there is little documentation of ICCAs (Kothari 2006) and even less of the discussion of policy implications. Here I examine the historic and contemporary context of ICCAs, provide some examples, and raise some policy issues.

Historic context

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Historic context
  5. Contemporary context
  6. Policy implications
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

The term ICCA may be new, but the idea of areas or species conserved by communities is not. The traditional basis of conservation is older than the modern conservation movement and goes back at least to royal game preserves in Europe. Probably the best known kind of traditional conservation, sacred forests, or sacred groves, have been documented in some detail from India, and traditional sacred areas of diverse descriptions are found in all parts of the world (Ramakrishnan et al. 1998). There are more of these sacred areas than probably appreciated; a preliminary survey conducted in Ecuador in 2003 among 976 indigenous communities resulted in the identification of 328 sacred sites (Oviedo 2006).

The World Heritage Sites network of UNESCO includes many sites related to the conservation of cultural and biological diversity: sacred mountains (such as Machu Picchu in Peru), sacred forests, temples and shrines, and sacred lakes and springs (Schaaf & Lee 2006). A UNEP compendium on cultural and spiritual values of biodiversity conserved by traditional systems includes sacred groves that serve as temple gardens and the community medicine chest at the same time (Posey 1999). There seems to be some overlap between these values and that of modern conservation. Colding & Folke (1997) found that about one-third of species-specific taboos used by indigenous people corresponded to threatened species on the IUCN Red List.

Many national parks around the world have been established at the sites of former sacred areas (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004b). One example is the Alto Fragua Indiwasi National Park in Colombia, the first national park in that country created at the request indigenous groups (Oviedo 2006). Another example is the Kaz Daglari National Park in Turkey, established in an area with centuries-old sacred sites and a high diversity of trees used by local craftsmen and traditional woodworkers since the 1400s (Ari, pers. comm.; Berkes 2008).

In some cases, existing high species richness is explainable in terms of traditional livelihood practices rather than the existence of sacred sites. Bird et al. (2008) have shown that indigenous burning for small game hunting results in the formation of small-scale mosaics that maximize habitat diversity in Australia's Western Desert. In the absence of indigenous burning, these fine-grained mosaics dissolve, leading to a decrease in biodiversity at the local scale. Similarly, large areas of Oaxaca State in southern Mexico exhibit high species richness despite the absence of official protected areas. Robson (2007) attributed this to local and indigenous practices that result in multi-functional cultural landscapes, characterized by community forests in the higher areas, shade coffee at lower latitudes, and a mosaic of multiple-use forests and small-scale agriculture at the lowest latitudes.

Integrated protected landscapes with both wild and domesticated species are particularly interesting for conservation (Kothari 2006). In the Peruvian Andes, the center of origin of the potato, Quetchua indigenous people maintain a mosaic of agricultural and natural areas as a biocultural heritage site. A potential candidate for IUCN Category V designation, the 8,500-ha area contains some 1,200 potato varieties, both cultivated and wild (Pathak et al. 2004). The Quetchua do not make a sharp distinction between cultured and wild varieties, but tend to regard them as part of a continuum (Kothari 2006).

The Oaxaca and Peru cases exemplify mixed systems that retain some elements of historical belief and practice, but at the same time respond to contemporary issues and livelihood needs. They also highlight the fundamental difference between formal protected areas and ICCAs. The primary objective of the former is biodiversity conservation, whereas the latter are established for livelihoods, community well-being (including the provision of clean water in the Oaxaca case, J. Robson, pers. comm.) as well as for cultural reasons. Resource management systems and practice in ICCAs often produce outcomes that are analogous to those desired by conservationists from industrialized nations, and this is not merely accidental. The people in these areas do not use a biodiversity discourse, but nevertheless have well-developed concepts for productive landscapes and waterscapes that provide a diversity of what we would call ecosystem services and products for livelihood needs (Capistrano et al. 2005).

Many rural and indigenous peoples do not make a distinction between the biological, economic, and social objectives of conservation, as scientists often do, but tend to regard these aspects as interrelated. In the worldview of many indigenous groups, from the Cree and Dene of northern Canada to the Maori of New Zealand, use and protection go together. One has to use a resource to respect it and to have responsibility for it. According to this view, conservation without use makes no sense (except for taboo areas and species) because it alienates people from their lands and from their stewardship responsibilities (Berkes 2008).

Contemporary context

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Historic context
  5. Contemporary context
  6. Policy implications
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

In addition to historically old ICCAs, as in sacred groves, new ICCAs have been coming into being in recent years. Most of the marine ICCAs seem to be new and are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, a legacy of the rich heritage of reef and lagoon tenure systems with prohibitions, and species and area taboos (Johannes 2002). More than 500 marine ICCAs are found in the Philippines alone (Kothari 2006). In the terrestrial case, some of the new ICCAs are based on existing landscapes used under traditional practice, and some seem to be basically new protected areas, encouraged by payments for environmental services, for example, in Oaxaca (Robson 2007). Shade-grown coffee, now common in agroecological systems in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, is a new “innovation” primarily because international markets opened up for green products (Tucker 2008).

The differences in the primary objectives of many ICCAs as compared to formal protected areas, and how the two sets of objectives might mesh, may be best considered through a set of cases. Table 1 lists five recent ICCAs from a diversity of geographical areas and cultures, three of them involving indigenous groups (Canada, Mexico, and Guyana cases) and two nonindigenous (Thailand and Namibia). Two of the cases are under protected-area status (Canada, Namibia) and one is within an existing protected area (Guyana). Three (Namibia, Mexico, Thailand) were short-listed for UNDP's Equator Prize for projects combining biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation objectives (UNDP 2008).

Table 1.  Examples of modern CCAs
CaseMain reason for ICCAReference
The Torra Conservancy, Namibia, 352,000 ha, one of Namibia's 50 plus conservanciesEmployment and cash benefits from wildlife use; ecotourism; community organization and empowerment; participation in wildlife managementHoole (2007)
Nuevo San Juan, Mexico, 18,000 ha community-based forestry enterpriseEconomic and social development; multiple-use forest ecosystem for timber and non-timber forest products; control of traditional landsOrozco (2006)
Pred Nai Community Forestry Group, Trat Province, ThailandRehabilitation of degraded mangrove forest (about 2,000 ha); access to livelihood resources; secure community land tenureSenyk (2006)
Arapaima Management Project of the North Rupununi District Development Board, GuyanaCommunity-based conservation as investment for future use of Arapaima gigas, a giant Amazon fish; collateral donor support; empowerment; management participationFernandes (2004)
Paakumshumwaau-Maatuskaau Biodiversity Reserve, 4,259 sq km, Cree Nation of Wemindji, CanadaBiodiversity and landscape conservation; security from hydro-electricity development threat; reaffirming land and resource rights; community identity, cohesion and cultural needsQuebec (2008)

One striking finding in Table 1 is the wide range of motivations for ICCAs: access to livelihood resources, security of land and resource tenure, security from outside threats, financial benefit from resources or ecosystem functions, rehabilitation of degraded resources, participation in management, empowerment, capacity building, and cultural identity and cohesiveness. A related finding is that each case has multiple objectives, often combining economic, ecological, and social aspects. As these are recent ICCAs, livelihood needs as well as ethical/cultural values seem to be important. Attachment to land and tenurial security are major motivations in all cases, even in the seemingly most commercial Mexico case.

In some, cultural values are implicit: in the Guyana case, the arapaima (Arapaima gigas) was once considered by the Makushi people as “mother and father of all the fishes,” associated with myths and stories, and was under taboo protection. The modern Makushi say that they do not believe in such superstitions (Fernandes 2004). In many of the cases, the needs of future generations are very much a part of the ICCA narrative, a point that comes across most strongly in the Canadian case, a locally managed protected area “so our grandchildren can hunt and fish,” and in the Guyana case in which the Makushi are apparently willing to forego current arapaima harvests for future potential benefits from enhanced future use.

Policy implications

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Historic context
  5. Contemporary context
  6. Policy implications
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

ICCAs have the potential to increase considerably the current area under conservation status, but they also raise a number of questions with policy implications, many of them under discussion in IUCN circles (Kothari 2006; Oviedo 2006). Here I explore four areas of policy implications: assessing the evidence for or against the real conservation benefits of ICCAs; integrating traditional knowledge with protected area management; finding the right mix of governance regimes; and dealing with challenges faced by ICCAs.

Assessing the evidence for conservation benefits of ICCAs

Brazil's extractive reserve model of rubber tappers served as the basis for the development of IUCN Category VI protected areas (Oviedo 2006). These reserves are typically lightly used areas in which protecting one component (e.g., rubber trees) serves to conserve entire plant communities. But many ICCAs, such as Mexico's multifunctional forests, are more heavily used. Bray et al. (2002) have suggested that community-managed forests of Mexico (including the Mexico case in Table 1) can serve as a model for sustainable forest landscapes.

What are the conservation trade-offs in including such forests in national protected area inventories? In some cases, conservation organizations have allied themselves with indigenous groups, as in the case of the Kayapo of Brazil, with clear evidence that indigenous control protects against forest degradation by settlers (Schwartzman and Zimmerman 2005). In other cases, increasing market integration may impoverish conservation values, unless the indigenous group in question has the opportunity to learn from resource scarcity and develop its own conservation ethic over time (Holt 2005). Given the extremely diverse nature of ICCAs, it is likely that some of these areas will prove to be of positive biodiversity value and others not. At the end of the day, a given ICCAs can be incorporated into national conservation networks only by the agreement of all parties.

Integrating traditional knowledge with protected area management

ICCAs may offer lessons in integrating traditional knowledge and management practices into protected area planning, but this will require legal and policy changes (Oviedo 2006). Local and traditional knowledge have been discussed seriously only since the 1990s, and have not to any extent entered mainstream conservation science. Yet, integrating ICCAs into protected area systems would mean that conservation area managers at all levels would need to be able to deal with local institutions and knowledge. There is a rapidly growing list of applications of local and traditional knowledge in protected area management. State-based scientific knowledge and community knowledge are complementary because the two kinds of knowledge operate at two distinct spatial scales, and good management requires the use of both (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004b; Berkes 2008). The cases in Table 1 and other UNDP Equator Initiative projects (Berkes 2007) indicate that integrating such knowledge often involves multiple partnerships, and requires managers to have the skills for network building, negotiation and conflict resolution.

Finding the right mix of governance regimes

There is no single “correct” governance model for ICCAs, although Brazil (Oviedo 2006) and Australia (Govan et al. 2006) experiences provide guidance. The strength of the Australian model for indigenous protected areas is that, the incorporation of ICCAs into the national system is voluntary, and aboriginal people can choose the level of government involvement. In return for government assistance, the aboriginal owners of the ICCAs are required to develop and implement a management plan (Pathak et al. 2004).

Although the governance dimension in the current IUCN protected area categories makes a distinction between “co-managed protected areas” and “community conserved areas” (Borrini et al. 2004a), ICCAs will be in effect co-managed because all conservation is guided by government legislation, and necessarily involves multiple organizational levels, requiring partnerships and networks. The conservation outcome is often the result of the interaction (or lack thereof) amongst these levels (Berkes 2007). Co-management involves finding the right mix of community and government rights and responsibilities, and a problem solving approach. However, for many communities, “co-management” implies the threat of government intervention. In any case, co-management by itself is no guarantee of good conservation; for example, the co-managed Kakadu National Park in Australia has succumbed to damage from invasive species (Bradshaw et al. 2007).

Dealing with challenges faced by ICCAs

Existing ICCAs suffer from many limitations and problems, including the loss of traditional management capabilities and authority, and insecure land tenure (Kothari 2006). On the basis of cases in Table 1 and elsewhere, addressing weak institutions and capacity building needs about 10 years, and requires partnerships and networks, typically involving the community, NGOs, government agencies, and universities (Capistrano et al. 2005). “Packaged” prescriptions do not work because each ICCA is different. Flexibility and site specific approaches are needed to adapt solutions to local problems through learning-by-doing. Strengthening land and resource tenure through government recognition and payment for environmental services are ways to provide incentives for ICCAs to join the national system. However, many indigenous and rural groups around the world associate “parks” with “dispossession”. Kothari (2006) alludes to this problem in a discussion of the reluctance of Indian ICCAs to take advantage of new legislation for recognition. In the Philippines, the Tagbanwa people fear losing control of their resources if Coron Island is added to the national system (Pathak et al. 2004).

In conclusion, each of these issues (and others) has implication for conservation policy nationally and internationally. Responding to the call of the 2003 World Parks Congress for more diversity in protected area governance, ICCAs can contribute to the redefinition of conservation, and the role of local people and institutions in it. As such, the conventional conservation approach could become more inclusive and pluralistic, no longer in the monopoly of scientists from industrialized nations. But at the same time, broadening the constituency for conservation will make it more real and legitimate for indigenous and rural peoples of the world. Whereas strict preservation will continue to be important, the incorporation of sustainable use and livelihood needs into IUCN Category V and VI lands may help conservation to contribute to UNDP Millennium Development Goals regarding sustainability and poverty eradication. Managers working in these areas will need to develop skills consistent with participatory governance, joint problem solving and social learning, knowledge integration, and community-based multilevel conservation.

Editor : Bill Adams [Correction added after publication 20 November, 2008: The Editor for this manuscript was incorrectly listed as Dr. Corey Bradshaw.]

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Historic context
  5. Contemporary context
  6. Policy implications
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

I thank Yilmaz Ari, Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, Taghi Farvar, and James Robson for their information and insights; and two anonymous referees and the editor for sharpening the focus. The work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canada Research Chairs program (http://www.chairs.gc.ca).

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Historic context
  5. Contemporary context
  6. Policy implications
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
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