- A new funding mechanism aims to support the territorial land management visions of four Indigenous groups in the region, including the Tacana, Lecos, T’simane Mosetene and San José de Uchupiamonas Indigenous peoples, who also contributed to the creation of this fund, along with the Regional Organization of Indigenous People of La Paz (CPILAP).
- The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) launched the new funding mechanism, in collaboration with Bolivia’s Foundation for the Development of the National System of Protected Areas (FUNDESNAP); the new mechanism will channel conservation funds to Indigenous organizations in the Madidi Landscape.
- The Madidi Landscape is one of the most biodiverse terrestrial protected areas in the world, where scientists have recorded the most plant, butterfly, bird and mammal species.
- The new fund, announced Oct. 30, has so far attracted $650,000 in initial support from the Bezos Earth Fund.
A new fund, announced Oct. 30, plans to support the territorial land management visions of four Indigenous organizations in Bolivia’s Madidi Landscape. It has so far attracted $650,000 in initial support from the Bezos Earth Fund, and more funding from several other sources is now being explored.
“We want these funds to help us move forward,” said Gonzalo Oliver Terrazas, president of the regional organization of Indigenous People of La Paz (CPILAP) and member of the Tacana community. “It will help us reaffirm our strong commitment as Indigenous peoples to advance and to carry out territorial management responsibly, for the territories and our future generations.”
According to Lilian Painter, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Bolivia, the money collected will enable the Tacana, Lecos, T’simane Mosetene and San José de Uchupiamonas Indigenous communities in Madidi to secure their land rights and livelihoods collectively. In addition, it will help them continue to conserve and protect portions of the Madidi Landscape that overlap with their territories from encroaching threats, such as illegal gold mining, as laid out in their territorial management plans.
These plans, also known as Indigenous Life Plans, were first drafted by communities in a series of workshops and community assemblies 20 years ago and are updated every five years. Facilitated by WCS technicians, technical staff and leaders from the Indigenous organizations, the groups identified a set of objectives and strategies to work toward their collective vision. This included planning, monitoring, capacity-building and the implementation of natural resource management, most of which require resources and funding.
With the establishment of the fund, Painter and the communities hope it will contribute to the protection of the Madidi Landscape, which WCS researchers have classified as the most biodiverse terrestrial protected area in the world. Inside the 1,895,750-hectare (4,684,500-acre) national park, which is three times the size of the Grand Canyon, scientists have identified 9,193 species, leading them to assert that Madidi is home to the most recorded plant, butterfly, bird and mammal species in the world. This includes significant populations of endemic and threatened wildlife, such as the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus).
Despite the richness of this protected area, in recent years, the encroachment of illegal gold miners and the creation of large infrastructure developments have threatened Madidi. Campaigners have warned that up to 60% of the park’s biodiversity may be affected by mega projects, such as oil drilling, which could alter ecosystems, watersheds and habitats.
Indigenous peoples play a critical role in defending this land from these threats, said Painter. “Their role for the future of this region of global importance is key and must be recognized by all.”
Laying out the process
Laura Aileen Sauls, a professor of global affairs at George Mason University, told Mongabay this initiative “could lead to improved territorial management by enhancing rights, tenure security and livelihoods.” But to succeed, the financial mechanism must consistently have funds and the Indigenous groups in question have to proactively pursue activities that meet their needs, as well as have the right to refuse projects that do not, she said.
The funds will not be given directly to communities. Instead, they will be managed by Bolivia’s Foundation for the Development of the National System of Protected Areas (FUNDESNAP), with technical support provided by WCS, which is also responsible for monitoring the livelihood and conservation outcomes through a technical committee.
However, all decisions are made by an Indigenous-led board appointed by each territorial organization and the regional organization of CPILAP. To monitor and measure the impact of this fund, leaders are expected to provide quarterly technical and financial reports to be presented to FUNDESNAP and WCS.
“For many years, we have been working on consolidating the territorial management of our Indigenous territories,” Oliver of CPILAP told Mongabay. “This fund will help us put into practice our territorial management plan. It is an opportunity for us as Indigenous peoples to demonstrate our capacities.”
Capacity to manage funds effectively and transparently is one of the sticking points that influence whether donors give funds directly to Indigenous organizations or through intermediaries. If these concerns arise, Indigenous and environmental groups say financial commitments to build capacity are needed so that organizations can have solid structures in place to manage funds themselves.
To build this capacity, Oliver’s community has received training from WCS staff. The purpose of this training is to help communities develop the organizational and technical skills to implement their Indigenous Life Plans and meet the objectives laid out in funding agreements, said WCS. This includes, for example, administrative, financial and operational guidance to effectively manage resources.
“As Indigenous peoples, we have learned to develop powerful tools, such as planning and territorial management,” Oliver said. “I believe that these funds will help us enhance, improve and strengthen our capacities.”
The fund is unique because it is one of the few that sees Indigenous peoples as managers and administrators of their own resources, Sergio Eguino, executive director of FUNDESNAP, told Mongabay. “Communities have gradually developed organizational capacities,” he said. “Now we must support them and ensure that the goals and objectives marked in their life plans are truly fulfilled.”
Today, Indigenous peoples conserve nearly 80% of the world’s biodiversity. While an increasing number of international funding programs support Indigenous-led initiatives, only a tiny fraction — sometimes as low as 2.1%, according to the Forest Tenure Funders Group — actually trickles down to communities. Most pass through intermediary agencies with whom donors tend to be more comfortable liaising, such as international NGOs, development banks and consultancies. Initiatives like this fund aim to rectify this by channeling conservation funds directly to IPLCs.
Empowering IPLCS in their fight to secure and conserve their territories is important because “the management of protected areas, the conservation of biodiversity and the fight against climate change all depend on these Indigenous organizations,” said Eguino. “Unlike other actors, they are the ones who live there and are directly affected.”
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Camino, M., Aceves, P. A., Alvarez, A., Chianetta, P., De la Cruz, L. M., Alonzo, K., … Cortez, S. (2023). Indigenous lands with secure land-tenure can reduce forest-loss in deforestation hotspots. Global Environmental Change, 81, 102678. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2023.102678
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