Biodiversity provides the foundation for every aspect of human life. Indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs) have an important role to play in its conservation. Biodiversity conservation and IPLCs are not mutually exclusive. IPLCs have been the stewards of nature for thousands of years, making it imperative that they are empowered, supported and protected in all biodiversity conservation projects. IPLCs need to be involved in the design, implementation and monitoring of biodiversity projects.

Here are ways IPLCs can be supported:

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION – The importance of education and awareness can never be overemphasised. The local communities cannot help if they do not know-how. The establishment of our Women’s Woodlot Program gave Obudu Conservation Centre great insight into the power of education. In the Okpazange community, prior to the set-up of our initiative, the inhabitants of the community had limited information about the destructive effects of deforestation on the ecosystem as a result, forest management in the community was poor. With discussions about deforestation with community heads and youths, they became aware and were compelled to support our initiative by volunteering to fence off and protect the woodlot reserve.

FOOD SECURITY – In the rural areas, the poaching of wildlife especially during food or an economic crisis is not uncommon. The local communities see wildlife as their last resort during uncertain times. As a result, it is important that these communities have food security. Given that the majority of rural settlers are predominantly farmers, it is imperative they are provided with technical support to ensure their farms thrive.

ECOTOURISM – Promoting ecotourism in rural communities will provide economic benefits to the communities through the sale of their products to tourists. This will reduce their dependence on wildlands and wildlife for economic support.

BOTTOM-UP GOVERNANCE AND PARTICIPATION – The local communities should be encouraged to participate at international, national and local level governance. When implementing conservation policies, traditional knowledge, innovation and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities should be built upon. If the local communities participate in decision making, then they will be more inclined to implement the policies and practices. Additionally, if they are provided with sufficient support and information about the environmental policies to be implemented in their community, they’ll be capable of recommending the most appropriate actions to take to arrive at the set goals. This was another lesson we learnt from our Women’s Woodlot Program. We were able to increase community participation through including a member from each of the neighbouring communities in the Water Management Board. Each person brought with them information about what will work best for their community and how to go about the implementation of policies.

ACCESS TO SCHOOLS AND SKILLS ACQUISITION PROGRAMS – With education and skills acquisition programs in local communities comes awareness of and exposure to alternative sources of income and reduced dependence on nature for economic benefits.

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