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Land Use

Indigenous Peoples’ Land Management

This image was taken on behalf of the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), which has worked with the Kayapo people to protect their 26-million-acre landholdings from encroaching loggers, miners, and Brazilian frontier society. From satellite photographs, the Kayapo traditional lands in Mato Grosso and Pará are a jewel of the Amazon, emerald and unblemished. On the margins of their land are the roads, clearings, frontier towns, and billowing smoke from fires clearing the land for cattle and farming. The efforts of the Kayapo have not always succeeded: Construction on the hugely destructive Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in Pará commenced in March 2011 after decades of legal and political resistance. It continues to be contested on legal fronts.

Indigenous communities have long been the frontline of resistance against deforestation; mineral, oil, and gas extraction; and the expansion of monocrop plantations. Their resistance prevents land-based carbon emissions, and maintains or increases carbon sequestration.

Indigenous and community-owned lands represent 18 percent of all land area, including at least 1.2 billion acres of forest, containing 37.7 billion tons of carbon stock. Growing the acreage under secure indigenous land tenure can increase above- and belowground carbon stocks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

Beyond carbon, indigenous land management conserves biodiversity, maintains a range of ecosystems services, safeguards rich cultures and traditional ways of life, and responds to the needs of the most vulnerable. Practices include:

  • home gardens,
  • agroforestry systems,
  • shifting swidden cultivation,
  • pastoral approaches to raising livestock,
  • fire management, and
  • community managed forests.

Indigenous communities are among those most dramatically impacted by climate change—despite contributing the least to its causes—because of their land-based livelihoods, histories of colonization, and social marginalization. More can be done to recognize the unique impacts climate change has on them, as well as their critical contributions of traditional knowledge and practices.

References

Indigenous and community-owned lands: Rights and Resources Initiative. Who Owns the World’s Land? A Global Baseline of Formally Recognized Indigenous and Community Land Rights. Washington, DC: Rights and Resources Initiative, 2015; Stevens, Caleb, Robert Winterbottom, Jenny Springer, and Katie Reytar. Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change: How Strengthening Community Forest Rights Mitigates Climate Change. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2014.

South and Southeast Asian home gardens: Toensmeier, Eric. The Carbon Farming Solution. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016.

Home gardens…sequestration potential: Toensmeier, Solution.

Pastoralists; rangelands; soil carbon: McGahey, D., Davies, J., Hagelberg, N., and Ouedraogo, R. Pastoralism and the Green Economy—a Natural Nexus? Nairobi: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, United Nations Environment Programme, 2014.

community-managed forestland: Chao, Sophie. Forest Peoples: Numbers Across the World. Moreton-in-Marsh, UK: Forest Peoples Programme, 2012.

forest-dependent indigenous peoples: Krishnaswamy, Ajit, and Arthur Hanson, eds. Our Forests, Our Future: Summary Report of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development. Winnipeg: World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development, 1999.

tenure security…positive forest outcomes: Robinson, Brian E., Margaret B. Holland, and Lisa Naughton-Treves. “Does Secure Land Tenure Save Forests? A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship Between Land Tenure and Tropical Deforestation.” Global Environmental Change 29 (2014): 281-293.

forest designated for or owned by indigenous peoples: Rights and Resources Initiative, Who Owns.

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