In a remote part of the Congo Basin, Vie Sauvage has pioneered a holistic model for community development, conservation, and peace-building, helping create and manage a 4,875 square kilometer reserve for the bonobo (a great ape), and other endangered species. Deeply-rooted indigenous traditions see the bonobo as close relative to humans and forbid its hunting or eating. Local economic, social and health needs drive the planning of conservation activities, and support community ownership and mobilization. The initiative has created jobs in the management of the reserve and ecotourism. Basic health care, education programs, and agricultural cooperatives as well as a micro-enterprise program provide a perspective for isolated indigenous villages. Community activism helped achieve national government recognition for the community reserve, which is managed by Vie Sauvage. Several efforts for replication are underway. A local slogan exemplifies the connection between conservation and sustainable development pathways: “Help bonobos and they will help you”.

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Among the first indigenous owned and managed conservancies in East Africa, Nashulai Maasai Conservancy is at the forefront of a paradigm shift towards a mixed-use conservation model.

This 2,400 hectare protected area forms an important ecological corridor in the Maasai Mara and has attracted elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions and numerous other species. Combining indigenous ecological knowledge with cutting-edge science, local Maasai communities are also engaged in economic development and cultural programming, so humans, livestock, and wildlife all prosper in harmony.

An elephant nursery and a bird sanctuary support the restoration of wildlife diversity and density. Traditional agricultural practices such as rotational grazing and use of a drought-resistant cattle species have helped adapt to climate change. Profits from ecotourism have been used to build two schools, increased access to clean water, and supported entrepreneurship and leadership training for women, who hold half of the leadership positions.

A sense of pride in preserving indigenous culture is evidence of the success of the model, which has already been replicated.

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In an area of South-Eastern Myanmar marked by 70 years of conflict, the Salween Peace Park is the result of a Karen indigenous grassroots movement for stability and conservation of a 5,400 square kilometer continuous ecosystem made up of protected areas, community forests and indigenous lands. Based on an indigenous vision of sustainable use of natural resources, coupled with traditional practices and taboos, local communities lead a life that respects wildlife and local ecosystems. A camera-trap program led by female researchers has shown remarkable species diversity in the area, contributing to the conservation of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot. Organic agriculture has allowed villagers to recover livelihoods in an area impoverished from decades of conflict. Established in 2014 in a highly participatory process and founded upon principles of peace and self-determination, ecological integrity and cultural survival, the Salween Peace Park is an expression of Karen indigenous identity.

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Utz Che’ is a network of over 40 indigenous and local communities and farmer associations representing about 200,000 people in the entire country, 90% of them indigenous. Supporting its members in the sustainable management of their resources, mainly highland cloud forests and watersheds, the organization guides advocacy efforts of marginalized communities confronting encroachments on their territories. Incorporating Mayan traditional and cultural knowledge, training and farmer-to-farmer learning exchanges promote the conservation of local agrobiodiversity, use of heirloom species, and sharing of best practices in forestry and agroforestry. The livelihoods of 33,000 families have been improved through the creation of family farms using organic farming techniques. Member communities collectively hold and protect 74,000 hectares of forest. Utz Che’ emphasizes democratic inclusion, financial transparency and a strong representation of women in leadership positions.

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Alianza Ceibo unites four indigenous peoples in their struggle to counter environmental degradation to protect over 20,000 square kilometers of primary rainforest across four provinces and 70 communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, this indigenous-led alliance provides alternatives to extractive industries, ranching, and large-scale monocultures. Alianza Ceibo’s activities provide clean water to over 6,000 people, connect remote communities to solar power, and support women entrepreneurs. The alliance’s advocacy and ongoing legal accompaniment have led to the revocation of mine and oil concessions in indigenous territories. Participatory community mapping processes document the stewardship of Kofán, Siona, Secoya and Waorani peoples over their lands, and have initiated legal claims for community land title. Community patrols and monitoring trace illegal incursions into their territories, while indigenous youth train in documentary film-making and storytelling. Alianza Ceibo’s wide range of gender-responsive solutions is inspired by indigenous wisdom and traditional practice, aligning conservation and sustainable development in a significant carbon sink.

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In 2004, facing the deterioration of the 90-hectare Andranobe Lake which provided the base of their local fishing and agriculture livelihoods, four communities in central Madagascar came together to form the community-based organization Tatamo Miray an’Andranobe (TAMIA). Based on customary social contracts, TAMIA has served as a platform to restore the lake’s water level and quality, remove invasive aquatic species, and repopulate fish stocks. Planting trees on the adjacent hillsides, the communities reduced silting of the lake by 50%. Fish catches increased from 8 tonnes in 2004 to 20 tonnes in 2019. 420 hectares of farms are under irrigation with lake water even in the dry season. The lake secures access to drinking water for 3,500 people. A water user association as well as farming and fishing cooperatives under the umbrella of TAMIA have further contributed to higher and more predictable incomes for villagers.

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Bringing together 11 indigenous groups, Forum Musyawarah Masyarakat Adat Taman Nasional Kayan Mentarang (FoMMA) advocates for the rights of communities who live on 20,000 square kilometers of customary land in Northern Kalimantan. A large portion of their ancestral lands, mainly made up of forests and rivers, overlaps with Kayan Mentarang National Park. The park was the first in Indonesia to be placed under a collaborative management arrangement. Government and indigenous authorities, represented by FoMMA, decide jointly on resource management as well as traditional access and use rights, promoting local stewardship over the park. FoMMA has supported communities to document and map over 20,000 square kilometers of indigenous territories. In 2019, they secured legal recognition for a first block of 2,500 square kilometers of customary lands under national law. FoMMA’s communities pursue traditional forest-based local economies, and protect large swaths of rainforest in an effort to mitigate climate change and retain traditional ways of life.

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The Boon Rueang Wetland Forest Conservation Group formed in response to threats against the largest wetland forest in the Ing River Basin in Northern Thailand. The community has maintained stewardship over the 483 hectare forest through coordinated advocacy and dialogue with stakeholders, while pursuing a successful community forestry model under a landscape conservation paradigm. Education, mobilization, fundraising, and extensive research on the rich biodiversity and significant economic value of the wetland forest all have ensured the protection of an ecosystem critical to providing natural water reserves for agriculture and consumption, habitats for wildlife, acting as carbon storage and preserving the biodiversity of the Indo-Burma Region. Through thoughtful advocacy, the group achieved the reversal of an earlier administrative decision to use Boon Rueang wetland forest for industrial purposes. The wetland forest is now protected as a community inheritance for generations to come.

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In the state of Querétaro, this women-founded and women-led association has been working with an environmentally-minded Spanish company, the Mexican Government, and a local university to develop and market cosmetics based on the ‘toronjil’, or lemon balm plant. The agreement signed between the parties is considered one of the first cases of full compliance with the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. The association supports women entrepreneurs to grow their agricultural micro-businesses, and engages in biodiversity conservation, restoration, stabilization of soils, and nursery cultivation. The activities have empowered the women to create jobs and improve livelihoods in their community based on their traditional knowledge about local biodiversity, including herbal products and medicinal plants. The entrepreneurs have become part of a sustainable supply chain for the cosmetics industry, and serve as an example of successful conservation through the sustainable use of genetic resources.

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After 40 years of advocacy, the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation achieved the vision of protecting their land and waters for future generations in 2019 by signing agreements with national and territorial governments to officially create Thaidene Nëné, a 26,000 square kilometer protected area between the Canadian boreal forest and the arctic tundra. This intact landscape features some of the cleanest freshwater in the world and provides habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, moose, wolverine and some of the last herds of barren-ground caribou. It is also a globally significant carbon sink. This indigenous-led conservation model is made possible through the use of an innovative conservation finance mechanism called the Thaidene Nëné Trust, which is critical to the long-term conservation and lasting stewardship of this protected area. The Trust and indigenous local leadership lay the groundwork for this model of effective co-management.

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