Gaining recognition for territories conserved by Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the Philippines and Bolivia

Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) play a central role in conserving and defending their territories. These Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) are under increasing pressure, resulting in a global movement to gain recognition for the importance of these areas. IUCN NL’s partners in the Philippines and Bolivia are both active in this movement and are dealing with a lot of the same challenges to gain recognition for their land. Civil society organizations from the Philippines embarked on a learning exchange to Bolivia to learn about the situation of IPLCs in the country and their movement toward the recognition of ICCAs.

Header photo: © Erwin Mascarinas, NTFP-EP Philippines / IUCN NL

In both the Philippines and Bolivia, indigenous groups are trying to protect their territories from external pressures. ‘These groups have a strong cultural link to their land, which is visible in the way that they conserve it. But the valuable biodiversity in the areas, and therefore the IPLCs’ culture, is threatened by developmental projects like dams and other infrastructure,’ Charlotte Floors , Senior Expert Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at IUCN NL explains. These projects are often facilitated by local or national governments, most of whom do not formally recognize ICCAs. ‘There is often no prior consultation and consent from the communities for these projects,’ says Floors.

‘We noticed that our partners in the Philippines and in Bolivia both face these challenges, which sparked the idea of organizing an exchange between the groups fighting for recognition of ICCAs in their countries,’  she adds. Both countries host a large amount of indigenous groups, whose territories have high biodiversity and cultural value, but little national and international recognition. IUCN NL organized the exchange in February 2020 in collaboration with NTFP-EP Philippines, Savia Bolivia and CONTIOCAP. This is what the participants learned.

Recognizing struggles

The most important lesson that participants drew from the exchange is the realization that both countries have a lot in common in terms of the threats they are facing. The exchange highlighted the on-going plight of indigenous peoples’ and local communities in both countries for the recognition of their ICCAs. ‘Ten representatives of IPLCs in the Philippines went to Bolivia, meeting with important leaders and communities that are part of the movement in the country’, Floors explains.

Participants attended presentations by indigenous leaders about their on-going struggle to defend their territories from development projects, like the Rositas Hydro-electric project in the Rio Grande Basin. ‘This Chinese-financed mega-infrastructure reminded me of the ongoing struggle of indigenous communities in the Philippines against the construction of the Kaliwa mega-dam,’ says one of the participants from the Philippines.

This same sense of recognition was shared by Bolivian participants after the Filipinos presented their experiences in documenting and eventually registering their ICCAs to the global ICCA registry. Ruth Cuqui, National Coordinator of CONTIOCAP: ‘These common struggles serve as very valuable lessons, and strengthen us in our work to protect our territories and nature.’

Women empowerment

What was also clear throughout the exchange is that women empowerment is essential in addressing conservation and sustainable development,’ says one of the participants from the Philippines. Communities from both countries place significant value on women empowerment; not just in advocacy work but also in economic development. ‘We need to take action to ensure that these women have the opportunity and capacity to lead their communities, for example through trainings and action plans,’ one participant concluded.

Focus on the communities

Another conclusion shared by the participants is that the people from the communities are the most important actors in the movement, not the NGOs. Participants agreed that when building a network and a movement, IPLCs are the primary actors and all community members should be in the conversation. In the Philippines, organisations leading the struggle against Kaliwa Dam will implement this lesson by continue to build the capacity of IPLCs who are on the front line of the movement.

Involving youth in conservation

Participants from both countries are concerned about youth leaving their communities and losing their connection to the land and the movement. ‘We all agreed that youth involvement and participation is necessary to ensure the sustainability of the conservation efforts taken by today’s community leaders,’ one participant concluded.

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Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future