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2.3 Conservation and indigenous livelihoods

  • To be truly sustainable, landscape initiatives must support protected areas and other conservation efforts alongside improvements in agriculture.
  • Landscape initiatives also need to support the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and traditional peoples living in the area.
  • Funding conservation and indigenous livelihood projects requires innovative thinking, as they are unlikely to give returns to investors.
Sustainable landscape initiatives aim to reduce deforestation or the degradation of landscapes. Conservation is key to these efforts, protecting forests from encroaching agriculture and restoring degraded land. In areas populated by indigenous peoples, projects will need to ensure their rights and livelihoods are also supported.
Copyright: Allen Sheffield.

1. An essential element of sustainable landscape initiatives

Sustainable landscape initiatives aim to increase the efficiency of agriculture and production, thus reducing the overall amount of land used. However, this approach is not without risks.

If a farm’s efficiency increases and becomes more profitable, there is a risk the farmer will use the profits to expand further, increasing the cultivated area and potentially encroaching on previously wild areas. This is the so-called ‘leakage.’ This can diminish or even cancel the project’s positive impacts.  

Conservation efforts reduce this risk. Investing in increasing production must go hand in hand with efforts to conserve the landscape and where necessary, protect the rights of indigenous and traditional peoples living in the landscape.

2. Conservation

Protected areas cover more than 15% of the planet’s land area. But these protected areas are not as effective as they can be. In many areas, especially tropical areas with limited enforcement capacity, they are chipped away by illegal logging and farming.

Many protected areas currently have a style of management which addresses low-level threats in a piecemeal way. For some areas examined in the Unlocking Forest Finance initiative, this is expected to continue into the future in a ‘business as usual’ scenario.

The aim of sustainable landscape projects is to help protected areas move towards more comprehensive management, with better equipment and training for surveillance, more people on the ground and stronger institutions which can better resist corruption.

In many cases, money can help improve protection of forests and other important ecosystems. However, this is not the only factor. Political will and priorities are also a major factor for protecting forests, ensuring that laws are properly enforced.

Copyright: Icaro Cooke Vieira for Centre for International Forestry Research.

3. Indigenous and traditional livelihoods

Tropical forests and other landscapes are collectively held and used by indigenous peoples and other forest communities. However, in many cases tenure and land rights are not legally recognised despite the presence of international agreements on indigenous peoples' rights to land, territories and resources, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 169

Strengthening land rights for indigenous peoples and other forest communities also brings environmental benefits with a number of studies demonstrating that indigenous peoples with strong land rights are well placed to protect forest landscapes

Finance is urgently required to support indigenous peoples to map their lands and secure tenure. In some cases, projects may also support capacity building to strengthen management and protection of lands, such as training and equipment for monitoring the landscape, or other areas of livelihoods such as nutritional programmes, healthcare, community leadership or education. 

4. Funding conservation and sustainable indigenous livelihoods projects

Funding these activities is an ongoing a challenge. Conservation costs are always higher than the potential income from market based conservation initiatives, even when revenue streams such as national park entry fees are taken into account. This means that returns will be too low for most investors, so projects will need innovative mechanisms to fund this work.

One potential route is to bundle conservation efforts with other profit-making activities in the landscape. For example, a financial mechanism may include investments in agriculture alongside the enhanced monitoring of a protected area. However, investors’ expected returns on investment may prevent activities being bundled in this way. In this case, it may be necessary to separate out conservation activities and fund them separately.

Many governments support conservation and indigenous and traditional peoples rights programmes directly from national or regional budgets. However, many tropical forest countries have limited resources. Fortunately, there are also international sources of finance including international conservation organisations.

Learn more about this approach

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