Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas

Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas: A Bold New Frontier for Conservation

Indigenous peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, have for millennia played a critical role in conserving a variety of natural environments and species. They have done this for a variety of purposes, economic as well as cultural, spiritual and aesthetic. There are today many thousand Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) across the world, including sacred forests, wetlands, and landscapes, village lakes, catchment forests, river and coastal stretches and marine areas. The history of conservation and sustainable use in many of these areas is much older than government-managed protected areas, yet they are often neglected or not recognised in official conservation systems. Many of them face enormous threats.

Fortunately, there is also a growing recognition of ICCAs and acknowledgement of their role in the conservation of biodiversity. Some governments have integrated them into their official Protected Area Systems, and the Vth World Parks Congress and the Programme of Work on Protected Areas of the CBD accepted them as legitimate conservation sites that deserve support and, as appropriate, inclusion in national and international systems.

Having played a substantive role in promoting the broad conservation policy reassessment mentioned above, TGER and TILCEPA, in association with SwedBio, CENESTA, WAMIP and the GEF Small Grants Programme,  has initiated in a process to deepen the understanding of the ICCA phenomenon with respect to varying historical/ regional contexts; to identify and support field-based crucial initiatives where ICCAs can be safeguarded, enabled, strengthened and/or promoted in practice; and to support consequent national, regional and international policy.

On this page you will find the latest results and analyses generated by this initiative, as well as a whealth of other material and publications relevant to ICCAs.

ICCA grassroots discussion

What are Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs)?

ICCAs are natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values, ecological services and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, through customary laws or other effective means. ICCAs can include ecosystems with minimum to substantial human influence as well as cases of continuation, revival or modification of traditional practices or new initiatives taken up by communities in the face of new threats or opportunities. Several of them are inviolate zones ranging from very small to large stretches of land and waterscapes. Three features are important:

  • One or more communities closely relate to the ecosystems and species culturally and/or because of survival and dependence for livelihood;
  • The community management decisions and efforts lead to the conservation of habitats, species, ecological services and associated cultural values, although the conscious objective of management may be different (e.g., livelihood, water security, safeguarding of cultural and spiritual places).
  • The communiti(es) are the major players in decision-making and implementation regarding the management of the site, implying that community institutions have the capacity to enforce regulations; in many situations there may be other stakeholders in collaboration or partnership, but primary decision-making is with the communiti(es).


The Significance of ICCAs

ICCAs are an important complement to official PA systems.

§ They help conserve critical ecosystems and threatened species, maintain essential ecosystem functions including water security, and provide corridors and linkages for animal and gene movement, including between two or more officially protected areas.

§ They are critical to the cultural and economic survival of millions of people.

§ They help synergise the links between agricultural biodiversity and wildlife, providing larger land/waterscape level integration.

§ They offer crucial lessons for participatory governance of official PAs, useful to resolve conflicts between PAs and local people.

§ They offer lessons in systems of conservation that integrate customary and statutory laws.

§ They are often built on sophisticated ecological knowledge systems, elements of which have wider positive use.

§ They are part of indigenous peoples and local community resistance to destructive ‘development’, e.g. rainforests threatened by mining, dams, and logging industries, ecologically sensitive high-altitude ecosystems threatened by tourism, over-exploitation of marine resources by industrial fishing, etc.

Globally, 400-800 million hectares forest are owned/ administered by communities. In 18 developing countries with the largest forest cover, over 22% of forests are owned by or reserved for communities. In some of these countries (e.g. Mexico and Papua New Guinea) the community forests cover 80% of the total (Molnar et al., 2003). More land and resources are under community control in other ecosystems. By no means all areas under community control are effectively conserved, but a substantial portion is.


The Challenge

ICCAs face critical challenges to their continued existence and growth:

§ Many are disappearing, due to inappropriate development and educational models, religious intrusions, and externally driven change of local value systems.

§ Traditional institutions managing them have been undermined by colonial or centralised political systems, whereby governments have taken over most of the relevant functions and powers.

§ As CCAs often contain valuable renewable and non-renewable resources (timber, fauna, minerals, etc.), they are often encroached or threatened by commercial users, land/resource traffickers, or community members under the increasing influence of market forces.

§ They remain unrecognised in most countries, and the lack of political and legal support often hampers community efforts at maintaining them through traditional means.

§ Communities’ internal conflicts, inequities and weak institutions can make sustained management difficult.

These and other challenges can be effectively faced jointly by communities and formal conservation agencies, with help from NGOs and others. This is beginning to happen in countries where ICCAs are formally recognised.


Outcomes of the Fifth World Parks Congress

The participants at the Fifth World Parks Congress (WPC, Sept. 2003) recommended that national and international recognition of ICCAs is an urgent necessity. In its Message to the CBD, this largest ever gathering of conservationists suggested to “recognize the diversity of protected area governance approaches, such as community conserved areas, indigenous conservation areas and private protected areas, and encourage Parties to support this diversity”. The Durban Accord further “urged commitment to recognize, strengthen, protect and support community conserved areas”.

The WPC also developed specific Recommendations on ICCAs and on governance of PAs as means to strengthen the management and expand the coverage of the world’s protected areas, to address gaps in national protected area systems, to promote connectivity at landscape and seascape level, to enhance public support for protected areas, and to strengthen the relationship between people and the land, freshwater and the sea.


Outcomes of Convention on Biological Diversity 7th Conference of Parties (CBD COP 7)

Following recommendations from the World Parks Congress, the CBD has included in its Programme of Work (POW) on Protected Areas a specific section (element 2) on “Governance, Equity, Participation and Benefit Sharing”, and embedded its key concepts also in all other elements. The PoW includes several specific activities (in particular nos. 2.1.2, 2.1.3, 2.2.2, and 2.2.7) that request the signatory countries to:

  • Developing better practices and stronger patterns of accountability in PA governance.
  • Recognising and promoting various PA governance types in national and regional systems to support people’s participation and community conserved areas through specific policies and legal, financial and community means.
  • Establishing policies and institutional mechanism to facilitate the above with full participation of indigenous and local communities.
  • Seeking prior informed consent before any indigenous community is relocated for the establishment of a protected area.
  • Better appreciating and understanding local knowledge, the priorities, practices and values of indigenous and local communities.
  • Identifying and removing barriers preventing adequate participation of local and indigenous communities in all stages of protected area planning, establishment, governance and management.

The PoW also calls for studies, constructive dialogue, exchange of information and experiences and joint research among local and non-local experts. It asks for a more equitable division of the costs and benefits of conservation for indigenous and local communities and to make use of conservation benefits to reduce poverty. Specifically, among the targets to be reached and reported upon by the parties to the Convention in the next years are the following (emphasis added):

Target 1.4: All protected areas to have effective management in existence by 2012, using participatory and science-based site planning processes that incorporate clear biodiversity objectives, targets, management strategies and monitoring programmes, drawing upon existing methodologies and a long-term management plan with active stakeholder involvement.

Target 2.1: Establish by 2008 mechanisms for the equitable sharing of both costs and benefits arising from the establishment and management of protected areas.

Target 2.2: Full and effective participation by 2008, of indigenous and local communities, in full respect of their rights and recognition of their responsibilities, consistent with national law and applicable international obligations, and the participation of relevant stakeholders in the management of existing, and the establishment and management of new, protected areas

Target 4.1: By 2008, standards, criteria, and best practices for planning, selecting establishing, managing and governance of national and regional systems of protected areas are developed and adopted.

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  • CEESP Briefing Note 9 Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas

    CEESP Briefing Note 9 Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas

    Photo: IUCN CEESP

Presentation: Engaging Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in Governance of Protected Areas
  • Presentation: Engaging Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in Governance of Protected Areas
Recognising and Supporting ICCAs: Workshop at the 4th World Conservation Congress
IUCN Guidelines for applying protected area management categories, including section on Governance
Briefing Note: Governance for Effective and Equitable Protected Areas Systems
  • CEESP Briefing Note 8

    CEESP Briefing Note 8

    Photo: IUCN CEESP

Indigenous and Local Communites and Protected Areas Guidelines
  • Indigenous and local communities and protected areas: towards equity and enhanced conservation

    Indigenous and local communities and protected areas: towards equity and enhanced conservation

    Photo: Cardiff IUCN

PARKS issue on Community Conserved Areas
  • PARKS 15_1 Community Conserved Areas

    PARKS 15_1 Community Conserved Areas

    Photo: WCPA