Power to the people

By | Science & Technology
Indigenous communities such as the Karo people of Ethiopia are better protectors of the environment than the government. .Credit@dietmartempsviaflickr.com

The individual is just as important as the collective when it comes to preserving our current climate and environment. A recent report from the World Resources Institute provides evidence that this is the case as small indigenous communities may hold the key to protecting forests and the carbon stored in them. Protecting carbon sources means progressing towards the mitigation of climate change. Studies show when the rights of indigenous people are secured the forest is better defended and biodiversity continues to thrive.

Around the world at least 1.2 billion acres of forest are recognised as being owned by the local indigenous community. This huge amount of land equates to 37 billion tonnes of carbon which is 29 times more than the carbon released by all passenger vehicles on earth. Therefore productive management of these forests plays a key role in keeping carbon safely sealed in trees, rather than being released into the atmosphere. Forests owned by these communities make up one eighth of the total forested area on the planet.  This demonstrates how important it is for governments to recognise and protect this land, aiming to give further recognition and freedom to other indigenous groups, as the World Resources Institute report suggests.

A report from the Forest Ecology and Management Journal in 2012 took data from 40 government protected areas and 33 forest areas owned by the local indigenous community. They concluded that locally managed forests were better maintained and the biodiversity was allowed to prosper. Evidence also suggests that animal species are safer under their influence. For example, since the year 2000 in the Brazilian Amazon, forests owned by indigenous groups such as the Yanomami and Kayapo have seen just 0.6 per cent deforestation rates compared to 7 per cent outside of these areas. Over the past 30 years in Niger, Western Africa, the protection of community rights has led to the addition of 200 million new trees. Similarly in Nepal 180 million tonnes of carbon has been sealed in the land, vastly improving the health of the landscape. The results may even be seen from space where community owned forests are showing substantial growth. Similar results have been noted globally and a world map displaying this forest structure can be seen here: http://www.globalforestwatch.org/

The stunning canopy in the Brazilian Amazon stores vast amounts of carbon. Credit@alexandertorrenegraviaflickr.com

How does giving freedom and ownership to indigenous groups improve forestation rates? Unlike the government these communities live off the land. They rely on its natural products for food, shelter, water and medicines. Therefore it is in their interest to keep their environment healthy and able to consistently provide them with vital resources. They actively work with their neighbours, sharing, managing and living intimately with the forest for the common good of all who reside under the canopy – a treasure trove of resources. The importance of the forest and their community livelihood gives these indigenous individuals the strength to protect the forest from poachers. Their passion for their family and community drives their desire to defend this territory. If more governments grant rights to these groups it will provide them with safer, more powerful sanctions to remove loggers and miners from their homeland.

It’s a simple, logical solution to preserving forests, backed by clear evidence from a number of studies. By granting freedom and ownership to groups such as the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon, the journey towards a cleaner, environmentally stable planet may be provided with crucial support. The drive and passion for survival is something many modern cultures may learn from these indigenous groups in preserving the planet.

How might governments ensure that the freedom and rights of indigenous communities are maintained?

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