How communities are protecting their biocultural resources with community protocols

As delegates gather for the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Hyderabad India (8-19 October), this photostory remembers some of the difficulties facing people who live in biodiversity-rich areas and looks at why two different communities have developed community protocols.

Although they have conserved important biodiversity of the regions where they have lived for generations, many communities are struggling to safeguard their biodiverse resources in the face of development threats from, for example, mining, logging and dam projects. Ironically, conservation efforts can also threaten livelihoods by creating strictly protected areas that force groups out of areas that they might have once sustainably managed or used to sustain biodiversity (such as hardy livestock breeds). Whether they are pastoralists in South Asia, or forest-dwellers in Borneo, these threats can seriously threaten the way of life and livelihoods of people who are already poor and vulnerable.

In response, some communities have developed Community Protocols to assert their rights and negotiate with others. Governments are required by the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to support indigenous and local communities in developing these community protocols to ensure that external actors respect community rules for access to their traditional knowledge and genetic resources  and for sharing the benefits that result from that access.

A recent review carried out by IIED and partners has shown that community protocols are not just about indigenous rights: they can also strengthen biodiversity conservation efforts by communities, support climate change adaptation, and help to establish long-term partnerships between communities and others. But experience has shown that to get these benefits, the community must lead the process of developing the protocol.

This photostory looks at why groups living in two different areas of the world – India and Malaysia – have developed these protocols.

A Raika man and his camel herd enter the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan, India.

The Raika are the largest pastoral community of western Rajasthan in north-west India. They have developed many unique and hardy livestock breeds adapted to their dry environment, including camels, Nari cattle, Botic sheep and Sirohi and Marwari goats. But over the last 60 years, the Raika have suffered as land they previously used to graze their livestock has diminished and been restricted by various developments. Most recently the establishment of a new wildlife sanctuary on land which they have grazed their livestock on for generations, has made access to important grazing land illegal. If the Raika now use the land they risk getting fined or arrested. 

A Raika man leading his sheep and goats to graze in the contested Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary.

In 2009, the Raika developed a Biocultural Community Protocol, to document their:

  • role in conserving animal genetic diversity and forest and rangeland ecosystems and
  • rights under national and international laws and policies.

The Raika have used this document when interacting with government officials, especially the Forest Department. It has put them ‘on the map’ and become a source of information for young people about their traditional values. However, in the current struggle for grazing rights, it has become evident that internationally binding agreements like the CBD severely lack local awareness and implementation, even though India is a signatory to the convention. Overall, the BCP is just one of many tools in the arsenal required by the Raika to claim their rights under the Indian Forest Rights Act.

The Raika BCP, developed with support of Natural Justice and Lokhit Pashu-Palak Snsthan (LPPS)

In Ulu Papar, a remote area of Sabah on the island of Borneo, Malaysia, about 1000 indigenous Dusun people depend on the forest, which they have managed communally for generations.

Panorama of Buayan village, Ulu Papar valley.

A large portion of Ulu Papar’s customary lands were incorporated into the Crocker Range Park in 1984, making many livelihood activities such as shifting cultivation , hunting, fishing and gathering products from the forest unlawful. More recently, a proposed UNESCO Biosphere Reserve threatens to engulf the entire Crocker Park for strict conservation; while a proposed dam, which threatens to submerge 4 of the 9 villages, is vehemently opposed by the community. In response, the communities initiated a participatory research process which yielded a significant amount of data on how they use their resources, and how they have shaped and used the landscape (referred to as cultural landscapes) . They used this as the basis for developing a Biocultural Community Protocol in 2010 [PDF], to address their lack of tenure security, and to try to find solutions to conflicts between them and the state-driven conservation and development initiatives.

Community researchers prepare a participatory 3D map of Ulu Papar.

The participatory resource mapping process enriched the community’s capacity to engage in conservation dialogue and action, and to take the lead in developing the Community Protocol, which was facilitated by researchers from the community.

Community researchers trained in participatory video.

The process to develop the community protocol involved several community workshops and discussions, and travelling road shows to visit each of the Dusun people’s dispersed settlements and engage them in the process. The participatory process helped the community articulate a common vision for their wellbeing and fostered a sense of solidarity amongst the community, giving them hope for the future.

The protocol forms part of the backbone of the Ulu Papar Community and Conservation Campaign launched in 2011 to disseminate information about the importance of Ulu Papar as a biocultural heritage site. This campaign has involved dialogues with the government to raise awareness about the heritage value of Ulu Papar, the role of the community in conserving this heritage, and about the desire and commitment of the Ulu Papar community to work together in preserving Sabah’s biocultural heritage. How state actors will respond remains to be seen.

Group discussions at the first biocultural community protocol workshop, Ulu Papar.

The Raika and Ulu Papar cases are just two of the fourteen community protocol and free prior informed consent processes reviewed in IIED’s latest edition of Participatory Learning and Action (also available in Spanish).

In some cases, community protocols have resulted in some concrete gains, such as the postponement of mining in a community in Northern Ghana. In other cases, the development of community protocols has led to strong partnerships between communities and others, whether companies or NGOs.They have also improved the conservation of biodiversity by communities, such as potato crop diversity in the Andes, medicinal plants in South Africa and traditional crops in Ghana, by strengthening cultural values and traditional practices, particularly where communities have taken the lead in designing and facilitating the process. Conversely, where processes of prior informed consent and benefit-sharing have been designed by governments, this has undermined traditional institutions. This suggests that top-down or pre-defined processes should be avoided.

Find out more

Consent and conservation: getting the most from community protocols

Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent (PLA 65)

IIED's biocultural heritage website

Natural Justice's community protocols website