An invader in our waters: actions of Guna People (Panama) in relation to the Lion Fish

The lionfish is a priority invasive alien species that was first recorded on the East Coast of the United States in 1992, but since then it has spread down the coast to MesoAmerica. Although lionfish were first recorded in the Guna yala region, Panama, in 2009, it wasn’t until early 2010 that the communities became aware of the danger posed by the species. In that year several local fishermen and divers and three young children were stung by the fish and had to be transferred from Gunayala to Panama city, because of a lack of local medication and knowledge about how to mitigate the pain and injuries.

In order to address the lack of information, the Guna initiated a project to investigate the possible effects of this fish on the natural dynamics of communities and on their culture. It is important for the Guna yala indigenous communities to seek viable ways to manage the lionfish which do not undermine their cultural, environmental and food systems, given their reliance on the sea and coral reef systems.

One of the first objectives was to develop a participatory map of places where the fish had been seen. In addition, interviews were held with community members, lobstermen and fishermen and a review of the literature took place to gather knowledge and information about the lionfish.

Control of invasive pond apple infestations by indigenous rangers in a World Heritage Area, North-east Queensland, Australia

The Pond Apple (Annona glabra) is an invasive plant that is listed as a Weed of National Significance”1 in Australia. It originated in America and West Africa and was introduced to Australia in about 1912. It behaves like a mangrove, thriving in brackish and fresh water, and produces dense growth which crowds out native vegetation. It now extends from far northern New South Wales along most of the Queensland and Northern Territory coastlines. It transforms coastal wetlands, replacing native mangrove forest, paperbark tree swamp and nationally-endangered coastal littoral forest species 2, and forming mono-cultural thickets.

The traditional owners of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji (EKY) Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in Queensland manage over 200,00 ha of Bubu (Land/Country), either solely or in collaboration with local or national government. Invasive species represent a particular challenge to the implementation of their management plan. The pond apple is one of over 125 species of introduced weeds (IAS) that are present in the IPA. Since 2014, the Jabalbina Yalanji Rangers of the IPA have collaborated with non-profit groups 3 and the local government to complete pond apple surveys and carry out control and follow-up monitoring of pond apple infestations in different parts of the EKY territory. Jabalbina rangers, Traditional Owners and indigenous students have been trained to identify/detect and control pond apple, including hand-pulling very small seedlings and using basal barking for larger trees, which involves spraying a small amount of herbicide directly onto the bark at the base of the tree. Indigenous communities are generally against the use of chemical controls on weeds, but, after seeing the successful effects of using glyphosate on pond apple, they are more accepting of herbicide use.

Many of the smaller infestations along rivers and creeks now under control, but there is still the major challenge of eradicating pond apple from low-lying areas to which access is restricted by tides, melaleuca (tea trees) and mangrove swamps, and which are home to saltwater crocodiles. Jabalbina Rangers will conduct follow-up monitoring and control trips during 2016 and 2017 and possibly beyond, with the hope of removing pond apple from EKY Bubu (Land / Country) altogether.

“None of us really saw the pond apple work as a hard thing to do. It was enjoyable, really, camping out on our Bubu and getting rid of this weed. We’re excited to get rid of pond apple from our Bubu”4


Linking community-based monitoring and reporting of oil pollution to environmental enforcement: FECONACO’s Territorial Monitoring Programme

Oil exploitation in the Corrientes river basin in northern Peru was started by Oxy [Occidental Petroleum Corporation] and Petroperu [Petróleos del Perú S.A.] more than 40 years ago, in the territory of the Achuar and Urarina indigenous peoples, without their consent. The resulting pollution has affected the health of native communities, animals and fisheries. There are, for example, lakes that are totally contaminated, where all the fish are dead. Contamination occurs because the pipe valves or pipes used in the exploitation process break, or because waste-water wells overflow. Communities have suffered from many illnesses but did not know what was going on. In September 2013 5 the situation was declared an environmental emergency, partly due to the advocacy of FECONACO [the representative political organisation of the native communities of the River Corrientes] and its environmental monitoring programme. Today, we still continue our fight against oil pollution.

Activities of the Territorial Monitoring Programme

The Territorial Monitoring Programme documents environmental incidents and reports the companies who are responsible to the State. There are currently 19 environmental monitors, who are elected by the communities.

I myself am an Achuar, from a community located in Lot Eight. As coordinator of the Territorial Monitoring Programme, I am responsible for planning the work and coordinating which areas are to be visited each month. Indigenous monitors identify contaminated sites (e.g. lagoons, ravines) and write down the GPS coordinates. With this information a report is prepared and submitted to the OEFA [Peruvian government’s Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement]. OEFA sends investigators, who are guided to the contaminated areas by the environmental monitors in order to take samples for laboratory analysis.

Challenges and successes of the programme

Since 2004 we have been able to identify numerous spills and incidents [for example pipeline spills, leakage from storage wells, dumping of waste water]. The situation has been declared an environmental emergency, partly due to the support of our Territorial Monitoring Programme.

A big challenge to the programme has been the lack of resources for training environmental monitors. Future plans for the programme are to have indigenous environmental monitors collect soil and water samples directly, and for the programme to create its own office with internet access so that it is easier to report contamination issues. Indigenous environmental monitoring has been essential in generating evidence and highlighting our demands, which are as follows:

  • Safe water for communities: If communities do not have wells with treated water they are forced to continue drinking contaminated water and they will continue dying.
  • Implementation of best practices to prevent environmental pollution. For example changing the old pipes (many sections are from the seventies), improvement of waste-water wells, and so on.
  • Restoration of contaminated sites: The State has committed to do this but so far there has been no restoration.
  • Compensation payments to FECONACO for all damages and for use of the land.

Exploring a labelling scheme for biocultural heritage-based products

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the University of Leeds and the Asociación ANDES from Peru are exploring the development of a new labelling or indication scheme for “biocultural, heritage-based products”. An informal collective trademark developed by the Potato Park in Peru (described under Target 13) increased revenues and strengthened social cohesion and environmental stewardship, but the communities were not able to register formal trademarks for their products due to bureaucratic difficulties. The proposed scheme will emphasise and authenticate the way that cultural and spiritual values, local knowledge, innovations and practices, and the local environment are all linked closely together, giving products a unique character. The scheme aims to ensure that as much of the market value as possible is captured locally, through “full benefit capture”, rather than through the benefit-sharing approach developed by others (the access and benefit-sharing (ABS) model). Consultations on the design of the scheme and investigation into similar schemes are currently taking place. A number of key design questions around issues including accessibility, local language, certification versus labelling, and enforcement still need to be addressed. However, concrete initiatives like this hold the potential to promote continued and enhanced sustainable community-based agriculture, forestry and aquaculture while providing a source of income and incentives to sustain these practices.2

The traditional land use system of the Lua (La-weu) peoples in northern Thailand

The traditional land use system of the Lua (La-weu) peoples in northern Thailand includes different categories of conservation forests whose management and use is guided by various rules and agreements. They range from sacred forests, which can only be used for performing rituals, to forests where no trees are cut, and the only forms of harvest are gathering of timber and food. The Lua also practise rotational farming or shifting cultivation in areas which are unsuitable for rice paddy farming; each area is used for one year according to what is agreed in community meetings. The main crop is rice but many other plants are also grown in the fields. Land is cleared and dried for two months and then burned, but before burning, fire-break lines are cut near the fire protection forests to prevent spreading. When cutting the trees, the community members leave the stumps at a height of 60-100 cm and, after harvesting, trees sprout again from these stumps. This allows the forest to regenerate quickly. Land is left fallow for at least nine years. As a local leader explained:

If you farm like this, the soil will remain healthy and the rice is good”.2

History of the Ngati Hine pilot program for the monitoring, recovery, and protection of eels

Ngati Hine is a fishing nation in Aotearoa/New Zealand which cultivates a day to day relationship with eels. We maintain a high level of traditional knowledge and customary use, including on how to transfer and hold eels in boxes for up to twelve months. There is much concern over elvers (baby eels, tangariki in Māori) due to the man-made and natural obstructions within our catchments. Local environmental guardians (kaitiaki)2 have historically helped transfer the elvers above waterfalls and continue this practice today. This is embodied in the local story of a supernatural being tanisha 2,[Rangiriri, who saw young children using a kete (tightly woven flax basket) to help elvers up the waterfall at Otiria over 400 years ago.

In the 1980s a study was carried out on Ngati Hine eel harvesting that found that customary harvest practices producing approximately 30,000 kg of food were sustainable over a seven year period. Over the past ten years, Ngati Hine, alongside other customary and commercial fishers, have expressed concerns over declining eel populations. In 2011, we completed an eel population survey with the support of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, peer reviewed by the Ministry of Fisheries. The report confirmed the following: long fin female numbers are low in the upper catchments; there are several eel passage obstructions; significant habitats are degraded; there are lakes with the potential for stocking where eels can mature within four years, and there is potential to establish a nationally significant reserve area on the lower Taumarere River. A pilot project was subsequently designed to address these issues. The project vision was to enhance the relationship of local people with the eel population within Ngati Hine catchments as a pilot strategy that can be implemented across the North Island. The project is called “Kete Tangariki” and its main objectives are to:

  • Improve eel populations for customary and commercial interests;
  • Improve habitat appropriate for eels;
  • Support local, established and new, customary and commercial fishermen;
  • Advocate for laws and policies to improve eel management, engaging the local and central government, industry and the public.

Snapshot of outcomes and successes from the project are as follows:

  • The ideal eel habitat and methods of improvement, such as riparian planting (a traditional method of water management) were discussed. Underground wetlands were identified as important unique habitats which Ngati Hine must maintain.
  • Impacts of farming and pine forestry were identified as having harmful effects on elvers and eel habitats. Following these discussions, priority sites for enhancing this work were identified.

The pilot project brought together customary and commercial fishers from around the country who built stronger relationships with each other through improved respect and understanding. There is a strong desire to continue this journey of assessing the on-going health and management of eels.

Ngati Hine provided information to the international panel reviewing the state of eels, which assessed its monitoring information. Since the review, the Ministry for Primary Industries has contracted Ngati Hine to carry out a national inventory of indigenous communities’ monitoring of eel stocks and has discussed whether we would be interested in adapting a common methodology so that we can contribute to national reports on the status of eels. The results and any future work on this inventory will ultimately influence regulations surrounding sustainable fishing in Aotearoa.

Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan, Indonesia: indigenous Dayak try to save forest, river and lake habitats under threat from palm oil expansion

Protecting forests and food resources from degradation due to land use change is an important issue in Kapuas Hulu district, West Kalimantan. Although it is home to two big national parks (Danau Sentarum and Betung Kerihun National Parks), at least five oil palm plantation companies are active in the area. Due to oil palm expansion, the area has lost several significant ecosystems such as forest, river or lake ecosystems. These ecosystems are customarily managed by indigenous peoples (Dayak) or Malay descendants that have lived in the area for centuries.

Seberuang sub-district has the biggest intact forest in the area (some of it protected) and is therefore key to preventing further degradation from oil palm plantations, which are growing significantly in this district.

Alongside three neighbouring villages, Bati village has rejected plans for oil palm expansion in the area. The villagers heard about an oil palm company seeking a survey permit in their area. Concerned that this would threaten forests vital to them, the communities found themselves in a race against time to prevent the oil palm expansion. In March 2015, letters were sent to the District Head (Bupati) of Kapuas Hulu rejecting the proposed expansion plan. As a young man from Bati village explained:

We have seen the impacts of oil palm in neighbouring areas that are devastating. We are concerned that our culture will disappear with the arrival of oil palm plantations.”

Dayak communities in other parts of Kapuas Hulu have already been affected by oil palm expansion. Since the start of the operation of Golden Agri Resources’ (GAR) subsidiary PT KPC in 2007, unclear processes of land acquisition and non-compliance with social and environmental standards have caused protests and demonstrations and resulted in major rifts in almost all the affected communities. Following an international campaign, GAR developed a Forest Conservation Policy related to the zoning of High Carbon Stocks (HCS) forests as a tool to achieve “zero deforestation” in palm oil production. The site of PT KPC’s operations was selected as a pilot area.

Several of the affected communities undertook participatory mapping exercises and action research to develop community land use plans. This allowed them to identify how much land each family will need to sustain their ways of life, and to take an informed decision on whether to lease or sell their land for oil palm development. As the head of custom of the hamlet of Kenabak Hulu said:

We need to explain where our customary lands and forests are, which are ours, because of certain conditions and events of the past. For example sacred sites and untouchable areas are guarded by us and we make the decision to look after such areas collectively and make them a sacred site. When we do this we also invite the neighbouring villages to witness the agreement and make the area a customary forest. This is because it is not just our own beliefs [that matter] but these need to be transferred with our traditional knowledge and culture to the coming generations. This is how we came up with an agreement about which areas should not be used commercially or cultivated”3

Several villages rejected the proposed palm oil expansion plans (including Kenabak Hulu) and the lands of these communities were excised from the concession area. Because of this as much as 90 per cent of the HCS forests identified in GAR’s provisional concession ended up outside the company’s permit and jurisdiction. The communities emphasised that it has been they who have maintained these forests up to now and who value them and can look after them in the future. Nevertheless, their customary rights to these lands are still not recognised by district and national governments.

Children of the water: Plan de Vida (Life Plan) of the Misak people, Colombia

We, the Misak, are located in the Southwest of the Republic of Colombia, and have a population of approximately 25,000 inhabitants, with ancestral and autonomous authorities managing and regulating the territory.

We created the “Plan de Vida” (Plan of Life), which is a political strategy to ensure the existence of community life and spirituality linked to Mother Nature and countervailing the country’s own laws and regulations. The “Plan de Vida” is Mother Earth’s path to a comprehensive life with the mission of preserving moors, water resources and wetlands, all of which are alive and enjoy their own natural rights with no economic attributions. But we humans cannot see them as living beings. The Plan of Life is ancient and was passed on through oral tradition until it was systemised in 1992.

We, the Misak People, based on our Plan de Vida, protect life in our territory. We safeguard the moors, which are sacred places, and plant trees to safeguard water sources, manage watersheds and riverbanks and avoid their contamination. Similarly, we restrict research activity and the collection of resources within our territories. We, the Misak, are a people consisting physically of individuals, but we have a collective mind and conscience. This collectiveness gives us the necessary measures to protect Mother Earth and its biological diversity. We, the Misak, we have lived with Mother Nature wisely without looking at economic, commercial or industrial benefits, with the conviction that exercising the right to live is not only a human right but also the fundamental right of our Mother Earth. Only then can we live well. We are not against what the Western world call “development”. But we are against dispossession, a model of extractive development, mining, or any kind of human action that threatens the life of our Mother. We support a minga2 for the life of our Mother; we want to work as brothers with all the peoples who work to protect environmental rights. We want to unify our physical and spiritual strengths to protect a sustainable life. This is the only way to stop the illness of the economic and political models that fail to ensure the life of the planet and humanity.

IPLCs making good use of REDD+ in Vietnam

Can financial incentive systems be designed in a way that respects the rights, wishes and existing practices of IPLCs? This was the central question of a pilot project managed by the Tebtebba Foundation in Vietnam2 in collaboration with the Centre of Research and Development in Upland Areas (CERDA),2 the Northern Vietnamese local authorities and grassroots organisations. The aim of the project was to provide legal standing for IPLCs in REDD+ and to integrate the principles of carbon sequestration and reductions in deforestation in a way that respects human rights, traditional knowledge, traditional monitoring systems, collective decision-making, and local social and environmental attitudes. Through the project, communities established cooperatives, which provided them with legal standing to use and manage forests that had previously been unallocated and consequently affected by illegal logging. A demarcation map of community forests was created by the communities and local forest experts developed tools for monitoring tree diversity and forest biomass through community-based monitoring.34 Project funds were allocated for community projects linked to forest regeneration, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Story from the Northern Territory, Australia: Dabboh and Smoke Money: Burning the Bush for People and Country

“The Balngarra Clan is an indigenous Nawurrk5 tribe from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Our homeland covers around 250 km2 of savanna, escarpment and wetlands. The Balngarra Clan’s ‘ownership’, ‘connection’ or ‘belonging’ to this land has never been broken. The Balngarra Clan use many types of fire to look after people and Country.2 Fire is used for hunting and gathering, cooking, keeping plants and animals healthy, and clearing paths for walking and is important for ceremony. In the cool part of the dry season, somewhere between April and August, in our language3 we call it marluwurru. When we see spear grass, gardaykkah4 flowering, when we are touched by that wind feeling, cold weather is coming up – gabekbek. That means it is time to go and burn, to ‘smoke up’ the Country. We never leave fuel load to build up because we know that the next season coming will be warlirr (hot weather) and more fuel of dry grass, leaves and branches will build up on the ground and we get unmanaged wildfires.

Our fire is like a treasure. When we do traditional fire management we always get rewarded; our Country gives us back animals, bush tucker5, and we can collect spears from the jungle. Our Old People looked after it the proper way. Burning at the right time is not dangerous.

Then one time, these Balanda6 scientists were watching Bi7 burning Country. They realised that our traditional fire management was not only good for biodiversity, but also reduced the greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide that gets put into the atmosphere by unmanaged wildfires.8910 Bi started to make partnerships with fire scientists and worked together to measure all the trees and collect data from the monitoring sites. In the late 1990s we started the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project.1112  Today, we are negotiating agreements with all of the indigenous ranger groups in Arnhem Land to join the Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project (ALFA). This will cover an area of around 120,000 km2, including hundreds of indigenous clan groups. Every year we bring all the rangers, scientists and knowledge holders together to plan for burning at the right time.13 ALFA has a board that watches over the project and we use a formula to split the income equally. However, boundaries do not worry us. We want to manage that country without lines. Because when you put lines, draw boundaries on a map, that is the Balanda way.

As soon as the fire projects started to grow, all the rangers received training from ‘accredited trainers’. They taught us how to fight fire. All the smoke money that we were creating was going back into rangers fighting fires. One time I was watching Traditional Owners using fire to do hunting and gathering on their Country. The rangers started to worry that this Traditional Owner fire might grow into a wildfire. So they got a helicopter, flew over and put it out. That is wrong. In Bi culture we never fight fire. That is not the way of Nawurrk tribes. We just make fire, not put him out. So this made me stop and think. Look back to that Country and to the Traditional Owners.

Bi did not work closely with scientists on developing the carbon accounting methodology. We only did field work with scientists. Just recording and measuring, and guiding scientists to different places. We did not get proper pay. All the science work we did out in the field, carrying all the equipment and tools with scientists, we only got CDEP14 money. Scientists and politicians set up the carbon accounting methodology and gave us this rule saying we can only burn every year in May, June and July. The 1st of August is the deadline to stop burning or we will get a penalty.15.

Today, we are making some good money from fire work. We are making satellite ranger bases on each of the clan estates in the Arafura Swamp region in Arnhem Land. These satellite bases are not getting any funding from any government organisation. They are running on bushfire smoke money. Traditional Owners are being paid a salary and have equipment to support burning. This means that we can make sure that rangers are not acting like heroes by going and fighting fires, but that Traditional Owners are taking the lead in looking after their Country.

It is really important for Traditional Owners to have jobs on Country. Country is not a place for weekends, it is our home. The towns that the governments are trying to make us live in, ‘growth towns’16 are making our people and our Country sick. They are overcrowded with lots of different clans, which creates social problems. It makes us worry. But the good news is that from smoke money some of our families are getting back to Country. Not only do carbon projects help us to stop global warming, if they include Traditional Owners properly, they can help us look after our health, our language, our ceremony, the biodiversity that lives with us on Country, and provide good jobs for our people.”