By Gift Briton

With Sustainable Development Goal(SDG)15 pointing out the need to protect at least 30% of world’s land and oceans by 2030, experts urge countries to include indigenous and local people in the management and control of the protected areas by recognizing their knowledge and rights in order to achieve biodiversity goals.

Speaking during the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Rwanda, Solange Bandiaky-Global Coordinator of Rights and Resources(RRI) and President of Rights and Resources Group, Senegal – noted that indigenous and local people have coexisted with nature for many years with scientific evidence showing that they protect biodiversity better than aliens, yet they are often excluded from management and control of environmental programs.

Bandiaky notes indigenous and local people remain the most impacted by the creation of protected areas exposing them to a lot of challenges including violent eviction, rape, arrest, wounds and injuries, human rights violation, destruction of habitats and animal confiscation yet they contribute the least to biodiversity loss and climate change. According to her, deforestation is lower in areas occupied by indigenous people than in areas invaded by aliens.

Furthermore, with upto 1.8 billion indigenous and local people living in the world’s most important biodiversity conservation areas, RRI 2020 report proves that right-based conservation is a viable and cost effective path towards global biodiversity goals.

According to her, the cost of relocating of 1.5 billion people currently living in the world’s unprotected important biodiversity conservation areas is USD 4.5 trillion while the cost of recognizing their tenure rights is 1% less than the cost of relocating them.

“Therefore, a whole new model of conservation that recognizes the rights and use of traditional knowledge of indigenous people and local communities to the protection and conservation of protected areas is required.  Governments must stop trying to tell them what to do with their land or asking them to agree with their policies but to respect their knowledge and rights,” she said.

Similarly, Collins Nzovu, Minister of Green Economy and Environment, Zambia, also reiterated the importance of recognizing and including local and indigenous people in conservation of protected areas by offering incentives to them through inclusive development as well as capacity building in protected areas. According to him, good governance in management of protected area is critical in ensuring that integrity of biodiversity is protected.

“For climate change mitigation and conservation measures to be actualized, it is imperatives that local governments uphold the right of indigenous and local people for the promotion of good governance and equity in the management of protected areas and the resources therein for the countries’ benefit,” Nzovu said.

Nzovu notes that, over many years, indigenous and local people have been marginalized at the time of benefit sharing following the trade in carbon and other resources that are stored in the conservatories and that varieties of fauna and flora are rapidly disappearing in their habitat, a vice which is mainly perpetrated by intruders yet the blame and injustice is shifted to locals.

Therefore, he called on African governments to recognize the potential benefits of involving the indigenous people and locals not only in the conservation of protected areas but also in the sharing of accrued benefits.

“With the right incentives and protection from exploitation the locals and indigenous people can contribute to lowering and reversing the rate of environmental damage and natural resource depletion and conversely the reduction of carbon emissions as well as reduce the number of threatened animals and plants in the protected areas,” Nzovu said.