Community-based documentation of positive contributions of traditional rotational farming to carbon sequestration and ecosystem resilience, Thailand

The Indigenous Knowledge and Peoples network (IKAP), a regional network of indigenous communities throughout mainland montane Southeast Asia, and the Inter Mountain Peoples’ Education and Culture in Thailand Association (IMPECT), a network of indigenous peoples in northern Thailand, have carried out detailed research during the past two decades in three areas in Chiang Mai province where rotational farming is practised. Rotational farming is an agroforestry practice where a selected patch of land is cleared and the vegetation is dried and then carefully burned. The land is then cultivated and, after harvesting, left fallow for a long period (generally seven to ten years) to regenerate. This practice is based on deep cultural and spiritual relationships between the people and the environment and follows many customary rules and regulations. The research done by IKAP and IMPECT involved community monitoring of Karen farming areas in Ban Mae Lan Kham 1 and Hin Lad Nai2 using a stock-based approach to analyse above-ground carbon. The net carbon storage from fallow fields covering 236 hectares that were left to recover for up to ten years accounted for 17,348 tonnes of carbon, while CO2 emissions from the burning of fields amounted to only 480 tonnes of carbon.  Thus the overall effect of rotational farming was a reduction in carbon emissions.

The research also documented a large number of edible plant species that grow naturally or are planted in each successive year during the seven to ten year fallow period, all of which contribute significantly to food security and sustainable livelihoods. In addition, various wild animal species were attracted to the fallow plots for food. Overall the research concluded that rotational farming stores much more carbon than it emits and contributes to sustainable livelihoods, food security, the resilience of agroforestry systems and increased biodiversity. 3

The research led to a change in government and media perspectives on rotational farming. In 2010 the Thai Government passed a Cabinet Resolution for the Revitalisation of the Karen Way of Life, thereby providing policy support for the maintenance and revitalisation of these important customary practices in northern Thailand.

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 4, 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.

Wapichan people’s plan to secure and care for their lands, Guyana

The Wapichan people live in the South Rupununi District of Guyana. The “Wapichan wiizi” (territory) is home to many animals, reptiles, plants, insects, birds, fishes and other water creatures, many of which are globally rare or endangered.2 The Wapichan territory contains many important cultural heritage sites for the communities, where stone axes, arrow heads, beads, pottery and rock carvings and burial grounds are found. The Wapichan have compiled a plan for the sustainable community-based use and development of their ancestral territory, which covers about 2.8 million hectares, for the benefit of present and future generations.2 The plan describes the multiple services, values and meanings that the territory provides. For instance, respect for spirit beings and their homes is essential for the wellbeing of the communities and the health and abundance of the fishes and game. The territorial management plan sets out common principles, goals, and customary laws on the responsible use of the land, forest, mountain, grassland and wetland ecosystems. It includes more than one hundred inter-community agreements on collective actions for sustainable land use, customary sharing of resources, community development and livelihood initiatives. It also details hundreds of local wildlife sites for community protection, including proposals to establish an extensive 1.4 million hectare Wapichan Conserved Forest covering old-growth rainforest in the eastern part of the territory.

Securing the Wapichan territory by obtaining its legal recognition is a major goal for the Wapichan and a prerequisite for fully realising and implementing their plans. The existing land titles are fragmented and do not cover the full extent of the areas traditionally used and occupied by the Wapichan people. Further the Wapichan territory is facing serious external pressures from illegal mining, cattle rustling, logging and encroachment from commercial hunting. To address these, the Wapichan have developed a community-based system to detect and document such pressures as well as to monitor ecosystem health (for example water quality) and land use change.3 4

The Wapichan have initiated active dialogue with relevant government departments, agencies and commissions to explain their plans for continued community-based care of their ancestral areas. The Wapichan use their own maps and photographic and geo-referenced information, and data on traditional use of the land, to support their land claims and to point out where the tenure gaps are. These initiatives have led to formal talks between the communities and the government about actions to secure their land and forests legally, and to prevent and suspend industrial logging and mining concessions on Wapichan land.

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.5

Development of cultural indicators to monitor Kauri dieback disease in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Kauri dieback is a deadly, fungus-like disease specific to New Zealand which has killed thousands of kauri trees over the past ten years. Kauri dieback was formally identified in April 2008. Its origin and time of arrival in New Zealand are still unknown, but evidence suggests that it was introduced from overseas. This assumption is based on the narrow genetic variation found in the disease population and on its preference for high soil temperatures, which suggests a more tropical origin.2 There is no known treatment as yet.

Kauri trees are considered a taonga species by many Māori: a species valued as a means of connection to the spiritual beliefs and way of life of their ancestors. A collective of representatives from Māori entities with kauri forests have formed the Tangata Whenua Roopu (TWR), part of a joint Kauri Dieback Programme that encompasses research on detection of kauri dieback, methods to control it and public awareness campaigns to help arrest its spread. The Programme has developed a culturally-based methodological framework for monitoring Kauri Ngahere (forest) health.

The framework uses a holistic kauri ecosystem approach (ngahere) which takes into account factors beyond the kauri alone. A key application of the methodology is the development of cultural health indicators, including both qualitative and measurable (quantitative) indicators that were repeatable and duplicable. The indicators were designed to determine the state of health of kauri forests in different areas; to anticipate or predict the presence of kauri dieback, and to identify resilient kauri trees or forests that were not susceptible to kauri dieback. The indicators were created using a mātauranga Māori approach2 within a complementary scientific framework.

Extensive interviews with experts in ngahere kauri (kauri forests) were held in order to develop a set of values, which guided the development of indicators and recommendations for the monitoring programme. A site record form and mobile data collection app template were also developed. In addition, a research project based on how Matauranga Māori rongoa (medicinal use of plants) may be useful for either individual kauri trees or kauri forest health was also developed. If successful it could provide knowledge and /or tools for use in future research and potentially in the fight against kauri dieback, either through use of a bio-control or by building the resilience and enhancing the health of kauri forests.

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”3 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.

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.

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 Vietnam3 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.”