Vueti Navakavu: A success story from Fiji

Vueti Navakavu, an LMMA and registered ICCA on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, is a community conserved marine area. Designated in 2002 to address the decline of fish populations observed by the communities in their traditional fishing ground (locally known as qoliqoli and covering an area of 19.1 km²), this area is managed by the Yavusa Navakaavu clan to improve the management and protection of their marine area. Its aim is to conserve a healthy ecosystem that can support abundant and diverse marine life as a source of food and income. Following the creation of the Qoliqoli Committee and several consultations with the wider community, a system of community fish wardens was introduced to stop illegal fishing, and a no-take area constituting 20 per cent of the total area was created. Following the establishment of the reserve, the condition of the coral reefs has stabilised and fish catches and invertebrate populations have increased. This in turn has reduced the time and effort required for catching fish and increased the income of the fishermen in the local community.

Community-based vulnerability and resilience mapping and adaptation practices in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, Bangladesh

The communities around the Sundarbans are continuously struggling to sustain their livelihoods. Most of the community members are entirely dependent on the Sundarbans’ mangrove ecosystem but forest degradation (caused by overwhelming pressure on its resources), recurring cyclones 1, salinity intrusion, floods and other factors are contributing to increased vulnerability of the traditional resource users. With the support of the NGO Unnayan Onneshan, a local research team and the communities worked together to identify areas of vulnerability of traditional resource users and to map the current and potential threats. Elders and experienced honey collectors, fishermen, and collectors of golpata (Nypa palm fronds) collaborated to point out the areas that are most vulnerable to flooding and other threats. Resource collection areas were grouped into three zones: a green zone where resources are abundant, a blue zone where resources are decreasing, and a red zone where resources have decreased considerably. Factors were also identified relating to the drivers of resource degradation. The research data gathered were used to prepare vulnerability maps to indicate which areas need special conservation attention and which areas can be used for resource collection (and to what extent). These maps are used for advocacy with the forest departments, who often have a different view on the vulnerable areas and therefore implement inappropriate action.

The same research initiative also investigated community-based adaptations and listed their main features, limitations and opportunities. The study documented 47 adaptation practices that respond to livelihood and water scarcity and structural scarcity. The practices enhanced resilience to tropical cyclones, storm surges and salinity intrusion. For example, communities affected by natural disasters and climate change in coastal areas in Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat districts have attempted to cultivate mangrove species in swampy lands with brackish water, which are suffering from increased salinity and have become unproductive for food crop production. In their community-based mangrove forestry practices, which combine traditional knowledge and innovation, mangrove species are grown alongside production of fish, ducks and vegetables, leading to reduced pressure on the Sundarbans while also securing livelihoods through the generation of multiple incomes. Following small-scale advocacy programmes at the local level to popularise this agro-silvo-aquaculture model, many Bawalis (traditional woodcutters) have started similar practices in their private or leased land and have been able to improve their livelihood conditions.

The story of the Potato Park

We are potato farmers and papa arariwa (guardians of the native potato), passionate in the conservation of our native potato diversity now and for future generations. I live in the Community of Paru Paru. My community is one of the six that make up the Potato Park, established in the year 2000 in collaboration with Asociación ANDES.2 Our home is near Pisaq, Cusco, in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

The Potato Park is an Indigenous Biocultural Territory. We call it “Papa Ayllu” because it is modelled on the Andean Ayllu system2, which is a holistic community where humans (and domesticated species), the wild, and the sacred, live together in harmonious and reciprocal co-existence. This model is key for maintaining the habitats and the evolutionary processes that have created the potato germplasm. The Ayllu model helps us to maintain potato genetic diversity along with other domesticated and wild species and the diverse habitats where they thrive. In turn this helps to maintain healthy wildlife and pollinators, and we have better decomposition of organic matter and soil fertility.

My land, Peru, is a territory blessed with diversity. Our mountains have marked variations in elevation and microclimates. The efforts of our ancestors have made this land one of the world’s most important centres of plant domestication and diversification. We have adapted and farmed diverse crops in all altitudes3. For us, however, the potato is the most important food crop. Over 2,000 different varieties are known to our peoples in Southern Peru alone. At the outset of the Potato Park initiative we collected 778 varieties from our own and surrounding communities; later we added 85 varieties through community to community exchanges and donations. The Park now has a total collection of 1,430 potato cultivars, 410 of which were incorporated through a Repatriation Agreement signed with the International Potato Centre (CIP) in 2004. This agreement led to the restitution of the diversity of the Park and also to recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Other crops in the collection include unique Andean tubers and grains. The Park harbours six of the nine existing cultivated potato species, two semi-cultivated species and six wild relatives. We farmers recognise and name all these potatoes as distinct units. I myself farm around 150 cultivars of native potato in my community, all different in shape, colour, texture and flavour. They are beautiful. My brothers and sisters do the same in their communities. Our indigenous knowledge, particularly of the women, is responsible for the high number of varieties we have in the pool of species used in our fields and kitchens. Women ultimately make the decisions about what variety to maintain, incorporate or discard from the repertoire of varieties we keep in our households.

Biocultural heritage improves our food security, our local economy, the resilience of the agro-ecosystems and thus the wellbeing of the Potato Park communities. Diversity helps us to continue to adapt our potato varieties to the heterogeneous and fast changing environment and makes them less vulnerable to pests, diseases and severe weather conditions that we face in the Andes.

In managing this great diversity, we have merged in-situ and ex-situ conservation strategies. Our in-situ conservation approach combines community seed banks (which are probably more dynamic than conventional gene banks because they are actively used by all community members) with the conservation of wild relatives within genetic reserves4, and the continued cultivation of potato genetic resources in our indigenous farms. This approach has minimised genetic erosion as well as generating endogenous plans5 based on traditional knowledge, which ensure that genetic variation is secure for the future.

The repatriation process has fostered a dynamic horizontal partnership with other scientists, creating exemplary collaborative partnerships based on written agreements and mutual respect with research centres, including national and international universities. These collaborations focus on complementarities and on producing new ideas and innovations from the cross-fertilisation of indigenous knowledge and science that benefits our communities.

The Potato Park is managed collectively by a decision-making body called the Association of Communities of the Potato Park. This leadership is an inter-community institution working for the collective. Local institutions function and coordinate with the leadership at various different levels of governance. These institutions have been effective in fostering local innovations based on their deep knowledge of the local environment and the application of customary rules, norms and protocols. Livelihood and income generation from crop diversity has been achieved by fostering local microenterprises, and the generation of benefits through these micro-enterprises has gone hand in hand with the promotion of the maintenance of crop diversity on farms. Government support, through the Peruvian Biodiversity and Biosafety Unit of the Environment Ministry, has been essential for both ex-situ and in-situ conservation at the Potato Park.6

The Ogiek’s experience with protected areas in Mount Elgon, Kenya: Ways towards rights-based conservation

The population of the Ogiek of Mount Elgon is about 18,000 and about 3,000 Ogiek still live on our ancestral lands in Chepkitale on Mount Elgon, which supports a rich variety of vegetation ranging from montane forest to high open moorland. As hunter gatherers indigenous to this area, our rights to our lands are recognised by Article 63(2)(d)(ii) of the Kenyan Constitution. But the fact is that the Government has not put this into practice, and this is a bone of contention for all forest communities in Kenya, not just for the Ogiek.

The Ogiek’s struggle and impacts of evictions

In the 1930s the effects of land dispossession and colonialism really started to be felt by the Ogiek. The communities were first evicted from their lower lands and restricted to the higher mountain forest areas when the lower lands were taken by British colonialists for farming. The forests were then gazetted as protected areas and a tiny part up on the moorlands was set aside as a native reserve. From 2000 onwards, the community’s struggles have become more urgent, especially after the final part of the community lands in the native reserve was gazetted as Chepkitale Game Reserve, following the conversion of other parts as Mount Elgon National Park in 1968. Communities have been evicted from all these areas except Chepkitale, to where we have kept returning after every eviction. Every community member has been a victim of evictions; I doubt that there is a single Ogiek family that has not faced evictions. I have experienced evictions four times myself; others have been evicted many more times.

These evictions have broken communities and families. Many acts of violence have been committed, such as burning of our houses and confiscating or burning of our belongings. Impacts have included restrictions on harvesting of forest resources, which has threatened our food security. This was very pronounced in the fifties and seventies, when it exposed the community to unimaginable hunger. Another negative impact has been the lack of access to medicinal plants.

Some of those who have been completely evicted from the forests were forced to change their livelihoods and become farmers. These evictions have not only had negative impacts on communities’ livelihoods but also on the forest itself.

Corruption amongst government officials has had a negative impact in many of these supposedly protected areas, not only through facilitating the establishment of timber plantations but also through encouraging charcoal burning, elephant poaching and so on, all of which the Ogiek community opposes.

Application of the Whakatane assessment: a way to facilitate conflict resolution

In 2011, IUCN agreed to pilot rights-based assessments of protected areas as part of the “Whakatane Mechanism” to address the injustices that have been inflicted on indigenous peoples through the creation of protected areas. One of the pilot assessments took place at Mount Elgon. It focused especially on the Ogiek land that had been turned into the Chepkitale Game Reserve in 2000 without our consent.

The assessment took place in three stages: a first stakeholder roundtable discussion, a scoping study, and then another roundtable discussion. The discussions took place in Nairobi and involved the Ogiek communities, Kenya Forestry Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Ministry of Environment, the IUCN country office and the local government.

The Whakatane Mechanism really helped us to have amicable discussions with the different actors and it became clear that the different interests could indeed be consolidated and that a win-win situation could be achieved. It became clear to all stakeholders that the communities were not interested in destroying the forest; if they were, they would already have done so long ago.

One outcome of the assessment was the recommendation that the land should revert back to the Ogiek community. The County Council declared in a resolution that they would not oppose this and from 2012 until June 2016 we have had amicable discussions to achieve an out-of-court settlement, only disrupted very occasionally (e.g. in 2016) by the Kenya Forestry Service burning our homes as some people find it very hard to let go of the colonial approach and embrace the win-win potential of the new conservation paradigm.

Identifying impacts and threats to vulnerable ecosystems in Guna Yala, Panama

The Guna people live in Guna Yala, an archipelago in which most inhabited islands are threatened by rising sea level caused by climate change. Guna Yala contains 81 per cent of Panama’s reefs and has high levels of biodiversity.7 The Guna undertake fieldwork to analyse and diagnose problems associated with climate change, both in relation to the ecosystem and in relation to their own socio-cultural and economic systems. Through their research, the Guna have been able to identify and monitor several impacts, including increased mortality of coral reefs, drying up of mangroves and erosion of sandy island ecosystems. These have negative impacts not only on biodiversity, but also on the traditional management of the islands by the Guna.

The Indigenous Terra Madre 2015

In November 2015 the second Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM 2015) was held in Shillong, Meghalaya, North-east India. Indigenous Terra Madre is an event organised by the Indigenous Partnership for Agro-biodiversity and Food Sovereignty, Slow Food International and North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS).

Bringing together 640 delegates representing more than 170 indigenous food communities from 62 countries across the world, the ITM celebrated the cultural and biological diversity of indigenous communities as expressed in their songs, dance, dress, folklores and food systems. Thematic sessions centred around issues of advancing local food systems, clean and fair food, building networks of local climate-smart crops, and promoting resilient livelihoods and nutritional security. The event showcased indigenous traditional knowledge, evolving skills including culinary innovations, and sustainable practices that safeguard agro-biodiversity and contribute to resilient food systems. The event also facilitated engagement among food communities and participating scientists and policymakers. The gathering adopted “The Shillong Declaration” – a declaration with commitments and proposals for action – which has since been disseminated and communicated widely.2

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.

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 2 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.

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.