By Sharon Atieno

Supporting custodians of nature, increased financial investment in nature conservation and addressing injustices experienced by indigenous communities are among the resolutions that make up the Kigali Call to Action during the inaugural International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Africa Protected and Conserved Areas Congress (APAC).

The more than 2,400 participants drawn from about 53 African countries and 27 from outside the continent called for support to Africa’s indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth, working in partnership with governments, civil society and private actors, to sustain the wisdom, traditions, scientific and traditional knowledge and customary approaches that will result in effective conservation and the long-term resilience of nature, culture, livelihoods and human well-being.

Acknowledging the past and ongoing injustices experienced by some indigenous peoples and local communities, they requested for a mechanism to hear their voices, understand options for resolution of their grievances and reach agreement on remedies that will rebuild confidence, and for the relationship between conservation and people to be restored and respected, so that nature conservation in Africa puts people at the centre.

Also, they called for direct funding through mechanisms that are fair, equitable and efficient, and that provide direct support to Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), women, youth, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address priority conservation and social outcomes.

Further, the participants requested for enhanced Pan-African collaboration, cooperation and partnership for protected and conserved area systems throughout the continent, adding that it should involve all governance authorities and organizations and be consistent with the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

With regards to promoting inclusive and equitable governance in land and water, they called for ensuring equitable, effective, generational and gender-responsive participation of all rights-holders and stakeholders, including indigenous people and local communities and youth in decision making related to biodiversity at all levels and their equitable enjoyment of benefits from the conservation and sustainable use of biological and genetic resources.

They also called for understanding of the power relations among stakeholders, to help limit elite capture, injustice and corruption and to ensure that the marginalized, women and youth are genuinely included in decision making.

Moreover, the participants demanded for promotion of truly sustainable use of natural resources and investment in building an appropriate wildlife economy, through rights-based approaches and with the involvement of rights-holders and stakeholders, while halting human rights abuses associated with law enforcement.

They also called for stronger support and resourcing of rangers, urging Governments and other organizations to adopt the new International Ranger Federation Code of Conduct presented at the congress.

Additionally, they demanded for grievance mechanisms based on clear standards that are directly accessible to IPLCs to ensure speedy and appropriate resolution of conflicts and injustices while demanding for strategies to resolve human-wildlife conflict and the establishment of a special fund to compensate communities affected by human-wildlife conflict.

Besides, the participants requested for better understanding and capacity to recognise and support other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) under diverse forms of governance that contribute to national and global biodiversity targets.

They also noted that people should be put at the centre of effective and equitable conservation and thus called for assessment of the effectiveness of protected areas and other conserved areas including their governance and management benchmarked against universal standards such as the IUCN Green List Standard and to prioritize actions, capacity development and funding based on the findings.

Also, they requested for additional efforts to identify all areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services that are neither protected nor conserved and to build these into conservation plans and programmes and ensure ecological representativeness, while ensuring that any proposed targets are not achieved at the expense of people.

Besides, the participants called for identification and recognition of all areas in the custodianship of governance authorities that meet the definition of other effective area-based conservation areas (OECMs), and to seek their inclusion and support in national systems, following the free, prior and informed consent of their custodians.

Universities, governments, regional observatories and research institutes were urged to support the collation of information and knowledge and promote greater collaboration between formal science and Indigenous Peoples’ and local knowledge to build capacity and to share experiences at national and regional scale, to apply best practices, and to celebrate and reward success in achieving conservation outcomes.

Governments and non-state partners were called upon to collaborate to transform educational curricula at all levels so that nature conservation is integrated into all disciplines including the humanities, physical, biological and social sciences, technology and innovation.

The participants also observed that African protected and conserved areas (PCAs) are grossly underfunded despite their enormous economic value, and that public funding, international assistance and revenues fall short of needs, inhibiting their effectiveness and value. Thus, they called for seven main actions.

These include strong leadership by African governments to integrate environmental priorities in economic and financial planning to address the biodiversity and climate crises and sustain the economic value of these areas, urgent action to address the significant under-resourcing through diverse funding interventions, and recognition of the global benefits of Africa’s PCAs to attract increased global funding that complements domestic sources, while maintaining strong national and local accountability and ownership.

Besides, they requested that investment should be through direct grant-funding that focuses on those activities that enhance governance and management effectiveness, and that can catalyze the direct involvement of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women and youth.

Also, they called for increased investment using appropriate and diverse financing mechanisms such as those announced at the Congress; scaling up of policies, planning approaches and tools leading to long-term funding and establishment of a Pan-African sustainable financing technical advisory service through existing landscape finance efforts to develop capacity at PCA and local levels that can unlock financing opportunities.

With the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, they noted that governments should consider PCAs as a first option for climate adaptation and mitigation and as nature-based solutions to address both crises through mutually beneficial action.

In this regard, the participants called for restoring fragmented and degraded ecosystems and avoiding or mitigating the impacts of climate change, new infrastructure and environmentally destructive activities, thereby maintaining ecological connectivity through networks of protected and conserved areas, including other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) and transboundary areas.

Moreover, they called for positioning of PCAs as a significant sector within One Health frameworks, improving land degradation and contributing to sectoral and institutional cooperation and coordination for health promotion, detection and treatment of disease and better understanding of pathways to human and environmental health and well-being.