Q&A: Negotiating a new biodiversity deal that works for Indigenous Peoples

Article, 09 August 2021

On International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Daniel Kobei highlights the challenges the biodiversity and climate crises present for Indigenous communities, and sets out hopes for the upcoming meeting of the working group guiding negotiation of the new global biodiversity framework. 

Daniel KobeiDaniel Kobei (DK) is founder and executive director of Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), a Kenyan-based NGO working to secure human and land rights of the Indigenous Ogiek community and other Indigenous Peoples across Kenya and Africa. Kobei is also chair of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) and a representative of IIFB under the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management

Here, Kobei shares how biodiversity loss and climate change have impacted Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and discusses what needs to be agreed at the third meeting of the open-ended working group (OEWG-3) tasked with advancing the post-2020 global biodiversity framework

Q: What are the main challenges the Ogiek community faces from climate change and loss of biodiversity? 

DK: The Ogiek are a hunter-gatherer community that relies on biodiversity, especially forest biodiversity, for survival. The Mau forest complex – the Ogiek community’s ancestral land − has been heavily degraded in the last decades. Large tracks of Indigenous forest biodiversity have been cleared out to pave way for agriculture and human settlement. Loss of forest biodiversity has led to the loss of the Ogiek way of life, which was highly dependent on and linked to the forest.

Insecure land tenure is another challenge. The name Ogiek means ‘caretaker of flora and fauna’; we are conservationists. However the Kenyan governments, starting with the colonial government, has failed to recognise the Ogiek as conservationists or respect our centuries-long use of traditional knowledge and techniques to protect the Mau forest’s biodiversity.

These governments have forcefully evicted the Ogiek from the Mau forest, claiming their intent to conserve it. But this never happened. Instead, our community has watched helplessly as the biodiversity we have protected since time immemorial is destroyed by those who should be protecting it.

The Kenyan governments have failed to recognise the importance of using traditional knowledge in biodiversity protection as per Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Our way of life depends on predictable weather patterns – so climate change has been hugely detrimental to our community. The Ogiek calendar guides the community on when to migrate to either the lowlands or the highlands across the Mau complex divide; this calendar has been heavily disrupted by climate change. And it is now impossible for the community to predict weather patterns, negatively affecting their livelihood activities − especially beekeeping.

The Ogiek also depend on the forest for provision of herbs and medicinal plants. Climate change and loss of biodiversity has depleted these herbs and medicinal plants causing a gradual loss of traditional knowledge of medicine within the community. For elders who are traditional medicine practitioners, it is a challenge to pass on this knowledge as some of the important herbs and plants have disappeared altogether.

Q: How has the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program helped to address these challenges since it was founded 20 years ago? 

DK: OPDP, with support from development partners, started an environmental conservation initiative in 2016 in the Logoman and Kiptunga forests in the East Mau region. The initiative aims to protect and rehabilitate the Mau forest.

Rehabilitation: so far, over 20,000 hectares of degraded forest land has been rehabilitated in the areas of Sigaon, Nessuit Centre and Tipwoge. This is done by planting Indigenous tree species that are native to the Mau forest and support the ecosystem, in particular providing flowers for bees to gather nectar.

Protection: we have organised our youth into forming community scouts groups; one in the Logoman and another in the Kiptunga forest. They work in partnership with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) in forest patrols to prevent illegal logging and other activities harmful to the forest biodiversity. This initiative has successfully reduced forest destruction, especially felling trees for timber and charcoal burning.

This two-pronged approach has helped revive lost forest biodiversity − enabling the community to supplement their livelihoods with income-generating activities such as beekeeping. 

The Mau forest complex is the Ogiek community’s ancestral land and it has been heavily degraded in the last decades (Photo: Patrick Shepherd/CIFOR via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Q: What needs to be in the global biodiversity framework to address these challenges? What negotiation outcomes are needed at OEWG-3 to achieve this? 

DK: Respecting human rights should be paramount to addressing challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples. For instance, a rights-based approach – at all levels of discussion and implementation − should be applied to all efforts geared towards restoration and conservation of the Mau forest.

The framework also needs to recognise issues of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), giving Indigenous Peoples a say in biodiversity and projects affecting biodiversity in their lands and territories. For instance, Indigenous Peoples were not consulted about the Lamu Port, South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project, despite it cutting across their lands and territories; nor was FPIC observed.   

Access and benefit sharing of genetic resources found within Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories should be mutually agreed and terms set up before any projects aiming to utilise these genetic resources are rolled out. Indigenous Peoples should receive what is due to them. Their resources should be protected and they should be compensated for any losses.

Discussions on genetic resources within Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories and any other matter involving them should never be discussed without their involvement; nothing for us without us!   

Additionally, Indigenous Peoples should develop biocultural protocols (BCP) that strengthen their negotiating power. The Ogiek community has recently launched the third edition of the BCP. The first and second BCP was important in informing the ruling that was delivered by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in favour of the Ogiek community. This shows how important BCPs are and why Indigenous Peoples should develop them.

Q: In this 'super year' of climate and biodiversity COPs, what are your main messages to decision-makers to strengthen outcomes on the ground for communities like the Ogiek community? 

DK: There should be no discussion on biodiversity without first discussing and ensuring that Indigenous Peoples’ land rights are respected. Most of the world’s biodiversity lies on Indigenous Peoples’ land and territories − any discussions on conserving biodiversity and protecting land rights must recognise and respect their rights.

The role that Indigenous Peoples and local communities have had for centuries as custodians of biodiversity should be recognised. Evidence from around the world shows that biodiversity on Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories has been least disturbed. Special attention must be given to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are at the forefront of biodiversity discussions.

Indigenous Peoples and local communities should be trained on how to negotiate, both for the strongest outcome in Kunming and to enable better engagement in and influence of decisions that affect their land, to ensure access and benefit sharing from genetic resources found within their lands and territories.

Additionally, sufficient financial support should be availed to Indigenous Peoples, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), grassroot organisations and leaders to enable them to take Indigenous Peoples’ issues to the global arena.

My final message is for the Sustainable Development Goals to be mainstreamed − to ‘leave no one behind’ − to deliver truly tangible results right down to the grassroots, thereby reaching Indigenous Peoples and local communities. For history has shown that these groups have, too often, been left behind.  

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