Why land rights are essential to help indigenous peoples — and our forests
Growing up in Camiguin, an island in the southern Philippines known for its seven volcanoes and the lanzone fruits that grow only in this region, Nonette Royo went to the forest with her father. “Often he would look me straight in the eye and say, ‘Spirits, forests, lanzones, they feed us, you feed them back. You work with people who know how to do it,” she said at the recent TED Talk 2022.
For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have done just that: nurturing the land that sustains them. Indigenous peoples are the greatest conservationists in the world, and modern scientific studies prove that indigenous peoples manage their environment and take care of their lands better than others.
As Executive Director of the Tenure Facility, Royo helps Indigenous Peoples and local communities secure their land and forest rights, funding better mapping and funding legal services to Indigenous communities fighting for their lands in court. With support from TED’s Audacious Project, a funding initiative that connects changemakers with philanthropists, Royo announced last week that they would expand their work, protecting up to 50 million hectares of land and forest in across the Amazon, the Congo Basin and tropical Asia over the next five years. This will not only benefit the 15 million people who live and protect these regions, but will prevent 140 million metric tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere over a decade.
Royo joined the Tenure Facility in 2017, having recently completed pilot projects that have secured such tenure for nearly 1.8 million hectares of land and forest in Cameroon, Indonesia, Liberia, Mali, in Panama and Peru. Since then, the Tenure Facility has helped indigenous peoples advance their collective legal recognition of land and forest rights on up to 14 million hectares, benefiting 700 million people in 12 countries.
Already, indigenous peoples care for and protect more than 80% of the world’s biodiversity, but in many cases their land rights are not legally recognized. Or, says Royo fast businessthe government will say it recognizes their rights, but it devotes no resources to this recognition, making it difficult to combat threats such as illegal logging.
Even without government support, indigenous peoples continue to protect their lands and monitor deforestation. But the government’s failure to support them is deadly: in 2020, 227 people were killed trying to protect forests, rivers and other ecosystems. “With their death and the death of the forests, something is also lost in us,” Royo said on the TED Stage. “The ability to survive the climate crisis.”
Without legal recognition of land rights, there is conflict. It started with colonial encroachment, and now, says Royo, “the same land holds the resources that the government wants to access and control because they are important for the nation, for development, for progress, for GDP. , and all that. So there is always this challenge of coexistence.
The work of the Tenure Facility helps resolve long-standing conflicts between Indigenous communities and private parties like governments. It’s also part of a larger trend of coexistence, thanks to growing climate awareness. Indigenous stewardship, experts agree, is crucial to addressing climate change and global conservation goals. At the last UN Climate Change Summit, COP 26, Indigenous Peoples engaged in conversations – a first for this Summit – and the Summit pledged at least $1.7 billion to Indigenous Peoples in recognition of their role in the protection of our lands, and in particular the forests. .
This changing understanding of the need for Indigenous stewardship, along with the pressure on nations to meet their climate goals, can set the Tenure Facility up for even more victories. “There’s a tendency to know that you’ll be watched, there will be monitors…and then there’s a very strong emphasis on the importance of the forest,” Royo says. “These assets help justify the need for standing forest guardians.”