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STRENGTHENING CUSTOMARY INSTITUTIONS IN COMMUNITY CONSERVED AREAS FOR ACHIEVING IMPROVED LEGAL RECOGNITION


The sacred sites or indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs) are repositories of biological and cultural diversity. ICCAs are the spaces de facto governed by indigenous peoples or local traditional communities. There are today many thousand sacred sites or ICCAs across the world, including sacred forests, wetlands, landscapes, village lakes, catchment forests, river and coastal stretches and marine areas. When formal official protected areas (e.g. national parks, biosphere reserves, etc.), despite protected under national laws with heavy financial investments and complex State structures, have failed globally to address conservation of critical/fragile ecosystems, sacred sites or ICCAs withstand pristine and unfragmented tracts with literally no investment or structured mechanism for protection. In majority of countries, industrial and development projects have fragmented, degraded, destabilized and debauched primeval ecosystems and habitats of keystone/rare species in formal protected areas. To overcome enormous challenges to and heavy costs of conservation, legally established protected areas worldwide can only be fully successful if they integrate, overlap and assimilate spatially and rhetorically the sacred sites or ICCAs. Otherwise, multiple conservation approaches (e.g. cooperative management, co-management, integrated conservation development programs, participatory conservation, ecodevelopment, etc.) have been only partially successful in winning the confidence of local inhabitants, especially Indigenous people and local traditional communities. Thus, sacred sites or ICCAs have unilateral potential to preserve, conserve and manage sustainably the ecosystems, habitats, and biocultural territories.

 

Towards National Policies to Recognise the ICCAs

How can the protection of ICCAs be realized? Global policies and frameworks can create an environment conducive to supporting ICCAs. Changing international policies to create a more supportive legal environment is important, not only to change the attitudes of civil society, national governments, the private sector, and local communities towards the sacred sites or ICCAs, but also to pave the way for structured institutional support for ICCAs. National policies and legal instruments must also enable ICCAs to survive sustainably. Countries can promulgate policy or legislation based on model international legal instruments. There is a need for changes in international and national law and policy environments that can improve protections for ICCAs. Unless the ICCAs receive national treatment on par with formal protected areas governed under State laws, the protection of ecosystems and habitats, and the conservation of biological and cultural diversity in community-controlled ICCAs cannot be ensured.

The Grassroots Institute commissioned a Scoping Review not only to understand the ICCAs in global contexts but also highlight the needs of strengthening or advocating for the national policies or legislation recognizing and protecting the ICCAs in respective national territories. Read the Scoping Review led by the Founder President of the Grassroots Institute.

In the next phase, the  Grassroots Institute intends to identify, map, document and characterize the existing ICCAs in certain geographies of selected countries of Eastern Europe or Asia. Analysis of policy and legal frameworks that directly or indirectly support ICCAs will embody action research of the Grassroots Institute before positioning the advocacy action for national policy apparatus safeguarding ICCAs and custodian communities.

 

Customary Institutions and Law for Biodiversity Heritage

No doubt the ICCAs are increasingly recognized as best conservation models carried forward by Indigenous people or local traditional communities. Nevertheless, the backbone of sacred sites or ICCAs is the robust local governance system embedded in indigenous/customary institutions and their undercurrent customary laws/rules. In context of institutional analysis, institutional governance, customary laws/rules, management systems, national and sub-national integration of ICCAs or sacred sites, there is a urgent need of action research. Without customary laws/rules woven around customary institutions, the conservation function in a sacred site or ICCA cannot sustain and the ecologically and bioculturally protected territory will decay, degrade and fragment.

As baseline understanding on this aspect of ICCAs, the Founder President of the Grassroots Institute has written background paper entitling “Customary Institutions and Rules underlying Conservation Functions of Sacred Sites or Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas. Next stage of the work on this critical aspect of strengthening the ICCAs would start basing this foundational work.

In conformity of the UNDRIP, resource rights of Indigenous peoples, biocultural resources, and biodiversity conservation are the core crosscutting elements of actions of The Grassroots Institute under this arena of ICCAs. Under the CCAs approach of conservation, excessive extraction and greed-based economic exploitation of natural resources from defined land territories should be excluded by Indigenous institutions in micro zones and in larger collective territories. To achieve larger goal, declaration and notification of larger landscapes and Indigenous territories as Biodiversity Heritage Site (BHS) would protect natural and cultural resources from unseen/unknown future threats of destructive development projects, extractive industries, habitat fragmentation, township projects, mining, hydroelectric projects, and so on. Following set of activities pursued:

  • Sterngthening Customary Institutions and Networks
  • Tribe-Specific Documentation of Customary Laws on Conservation
  • Integration of Customary Laws for Improved CCAs Management
  • Tribe-Specific Biocultural Community Protocols (BCPs)
  • Identification and Proposals for Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS)
  • Promotion of Resource Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Promotion of Biodiversity Based Alternative Livelihoods