Looking after more than 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, Indigenous peoples are the world’s most knowledgeable and effective conservationists. Despite growing scientific evidence that they know better than others how to protect our natural heritage, their land and forest rights are still not legally recognized in many places across the world.
Securing land and forest rights to protect nature
One group, called the Tenure Facility, wants to change that by helping Indigenous peoples secure their land and forest rights. It aims to achieve that by providing funding and legal advice to Indigenous communities fighting for tenure rights in court.
Indigenous lands first came under threat under colonial encroachment. Now, lacking legal recognition of land rights, Indigenous communities are often on their own when confronting illegal logging and mining activities on their lands. The failure of governments to support them often leads to deadly consequences: In 2020 alone, 227 people died protecting valuable ecosystems such as forests and rivers.
“With their deaths, and the deaths of forests, something is also lost in us — the ability to survive the climate crisis,” said Nanette Royo, Tenure Facility’s executive director, while speaking at the recent 2022 TED Conference.
Safeguard up to 50 million hectares of Indigenous land
Royo joined the group five years ago when it had just completed several projects that secured land tenure for nearly 1.8 million hectares of land and forest in Cameroon, Mali, Indonesia, Panama, and Peru. Since then, the Tenure Facility has helped Indigenous peoples secure land and forest rights across 14 million hectares, benefiting 700 million people across 12 countries.
And the group plans to take its efforts much further. Thanks to support from TED’s Audacious Project, a funding initiative bringing together change-makers and philanthropists, the Tenure Facility will expand its work to help protect up to 50 million hectares of land and forests across Amazonia, the Congo Basin, and tropical Asia by 2027.
Indigenous peoples’ key role in tackling climate change
As climate awareness grows, experts are increasingly recognizing the crucial role of Indigenous stewardship in meeting global climate and conservation goals. During COP 26 last year, Indigenous communities spoke for the first time at the table, and the United Nations summit pledged $1.7 billion in funding to support Indigenous peoples in reversing deforestation and land degradation.
This growing recognition of Indigenous communities’ huge contribution towards environmental stewardship is only expected to advance the Tenure Facility’s successes. “There is a trend to know that you will be watched, that there will be monitors…and then there is a very strong emphasis on the importance of forest,” says Royo. “These strengths are helping ground the need for the guardians of the standing forests.”