Indigenous Peoples are protecting biodiversity, one harvest at a time


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Indigenous Peoples are protecting biodiversity, one harvest at a time

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Indigenous Peoples are inextricably linked to their natural environment. From medicinal plants to staple crops, like the cassava, the land they inhabit sustains their food systems as well as their ways of life.

But they also sustain the world’s biodiversity. 80 per cent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity is located in Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

Where modern forms of mechanized agriculture can lead to monoculture deserts, many Indigenous Peoples use farming techniques that nourish the land and conserve biodiversity instead of eradicating it.

Their centuries-old food systems are anchored in sustainable practices, which are unique to their native ecosystems.

Here are examples of how Indigenous Peoples are conserving biodiversity in just three of the 80 countries in which IFAD supports them.

Protecting precious species in the Philippines

The mountainous Cordillera region in the northern Philippines is a “biodiversity corridor”—an uninterrupted passage rich in biodiversity that allows animals to move from one protected area to another.

Here, with support from the CHARMP2 project, indigenous communities manage moss-filled rainforests, home to countless rare species—from tree shrews to orchids.

With help from IFAD, Pepe Lao-an’s coffee trees in the northern Cordillera Administrative Region now yield over three times as much coffee as before. © IFAD/Irshad Khan

They do this with traditional systems like lapatindigenous laws to regulate the use of natural resources – as well as using agroforestry and reforestation to conserve biodiversity.

What's more, an integrated watershed management plan, created by local tribal communities, protects over 44,600 hectares of land by increasing soil fertility, diversifying forest cover and reducing soil erosion.

Through the principles of free, prior and informed consent, CHARMP2 ensures effective and efficient implementation, while enhancing ownership and sustainability.

Caterpillar trees in the Democratic Republic of Congo

When the indigenous communities of the DRC’s Mwenga territory had to leave their traditional forest to make space for a nature reserve, they faced food insecurity, poverty and discrimination.

To survive, they had little choice but to engage in logging and deforestation, producing charcoal and wood to sell at the market. Before long, the land had become barren and biodiversity was gravely harmed.

“When we came here, this area was well-forested, but we cut down the trees, and we didn’t realise we were damaging our environment – but it was because of poverty,” explains Wanzila Lutula Albert, originally from South Kivu's Itombwe forest. “We couldn’t feed our children or take them to school. So, we cut down all the trees.”

In 2019, IFAD’s funding instrument Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) and a local non-profit called Pilier aux Femmes Vulnérables Actives (PIFEVA) set out to help Mwenga’s Indigenous Peoples , particularly those on which edible caterpillars live.

Edible caterpillars, a high-protein dish and source of income for many youths and women. © T.K. Naliaka

By restoring and managing their native biodiversity, many women and young people went on to sell edible caterpillars and earn a living.

In just two years, 202 indigenous youths and women abandoned deforestation and took on an active role in project activities. As a result, 350 hectares of land were reforested in seven communities.

Back to basics in Peru

Until 2004, the Indigenous Peoples of the Matsigenka community cultivated land, fished, gathered fruit and hunted. Then oil and gas exploration in the Amazon Basin gave local families temporary jobs and many stopped cultivating. Fish and livestock numbers dipped as the population grew and the rivers became polluted from oil spills and increased traffic. 

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many families returned to farming and their ancestral roots after losing their jobs.

This meant the community could secure their livelihoods, while taking care of the land and preserving their local biodiversity. 

“We need the community to not forget our plants. We have to maintain our culture and customs,” says Dolores Primo Primo, an artisan and local knowledge keeper.

From manioc to bananas, the Amazon Basin has plenty to offer its inhabitants. “From my ancestors until now, we continue to practice the custom of cultivating the chacra (garden) and we do not forget all the knowledge of our people, says farmer Agustin Gomez Olarte.

“We cannot lose what our grandparents left us,” he explains. “If there is no manioc, what would we eat?”