The role of Indigenous peoples and local communities in effective and equitable conservation

Neil M. Dawson, Brendan Coolsaet, Eleanor J. Sterling, Robin Loveridge, Nicole D. Gross-Camp, Supin Wongbusarakum, Kamaljit K. Sangha, Lea M. Scherl, Hao Phuong Phan, Noelia Zafra-Calvo, Warren G. Lavey, Patrick Byakagaba, C. Julián Idrobo, Aude Chenet, Nathan J. Bennett, Stephanie Mansourian, Francisco J. Rosado-May

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Debate about what proportion of the Earth to protect often overshadows the question of how nature should be conserved and by whom. We present a systematic review and narrative synthesis of 169 publications investigating how different forms of governance influence conservation outcomes, paying particular attention to the role played by Indigenous peoples and local communities. We find a stark contrast between the outcomes produced by externally controlled conservation, and those produced by locally controlled efforts. Crucially, most studies presenting positive outcomes for both well-being and conservation come from cases where Indigenous peoples and local communities play a central role, such as when they have substantial influence over decision making or when local institutions regulating tenure form a recognized part of governance. In contrast, when interventions are controlled by external organizations and involve strategies to change local practices and supersede customary institutions, they tend to result in relatively ineffective conservation at the same time as producing negative social outcomes. Our findings suggest that equitable conservation, which empowers and supports the environmental stewardship of Indigenous peoples and local communities represents the primary pathway to effective long-term conservation of biodiversity, particularly when upheld in wider law and policy. Whether for protected areas in biodiversity hotspots or restoration of highly modified ecosystems, whether involving highly traditional or diverse and dynamic local communities, conservation can become more effective through an increased focus on governance type and quality, and fostering solutions that reinforce the role, capacity, and rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities. We detail how to enact progressive governance transitions through recommendations for conservation policy, with immediate relevance for how to achieve the next decade’s conservation targets under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Number of pages39
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are thankful for funding and support provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (IUCN CEESP), particularly the Chair, Kristen Walker Painemilla, and Deputy Chair, Ameyali Ramos Castillo. We are grateful for advice and voluntary contributions provided by members of the CEESP Theme on Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods and especially to

Funding Information:
Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend for constructive comments. ND and BC were supported through the “Just Conservation” project funded by the Centre for the Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity (CESAB) of the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB), NGC’s time was funded through the Darwin Initiative RESPeCT project (No. 25-019). We are grateful to Samantha Cheng at the American Museum of Natural History for her time and advice on use of Colandr software and to Andy Wright for the illustration of Figure 5. For images in Figure 5 we thank: the MIHARI Network who permitted use of images of a fisherwoman speaking and Mangrove reforestation at Belo-sur-Mer, southwestern Madagascar; and Holladay Photo for the image of the Kahana community, Koolauloa, Oahu doing a traditional Hawaiian fishing practice called Hukilau.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by the Resilience Alliance.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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