Unleashing the potential in Indigenous forest management

Indigenous peoples are the most efficient caretakers of the rainforest. With increased funding, existing indigenous-led forest management programmes can protect up to 15% per cent of all remaining rainforest.

The evidence is in: If you want to protect tropical rainforests, leave indigenous peoples in charge. Across all major rainforest biomes, forests under legally recognized Indigenous tenure show markedly less deforestation than areas under other types of forest protection programmes.

The solutions are there, it is a question of matching climate finance with solutions that work and getting it out to the communities that can implement them,” says Toerris Jaeger, Secretary General of Rainforest Foundation Norway.

Rainforest Foundation Norway highlights four specific indigenous-based programmes that can be scaled up to potentially protect 1.5 million km2, about 15% of all remaining rainforests across the tropics, by placing them under the sustainable management of indigenous communities. The organisation further estimates that with appropriate funding and support, indigenous peoples can sustainably manage about a quarter of all carbon in tropical and subtropical forests.

But in spite of their proven role as effective guardians of tropical rainforests, indigenous tenure and land management programmes receive only a small fraction of international climate and forest financing.

“Forest conservation by indigenous people provides the world with a service worth billions every year. And they have done this practically for free. Due to the increasing pressures from the outside world, this can no longer be taken for granted. They urgently need our support,” Jager says

Four scalable models for indigenous forest management

Rainforest Foundation Norway presents three different ways to realize large-scale forest- management based on indigenous land rights, that are highly cost-effective methods to significantly decrease deforestation.  All three are characterised by scalability: with increased funding, they can be significantly expanded to protect even greater areas of tropical rainforest. 

Read how these programmes work, and how they can be expanded, below:

Brazil: Protecting the Amazon through Indigenous Management Plans

The inhabitants of more than 110 Indigenous territories have developed Plans for Territorial and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands (PGTAs). These plans offer the opportunity to protect the Brazilian Amazon through forest management based on Indigenous peoples’ rights, needs and aspirations. They specify plans for monitoring and protecting the territories, to deliver health services and education, and to create sustainable livelihoods for the communities. Communities and financial supporters also develop budgets for the implementation of these management plans, estimating their cost and matching them with appropriate funding sources.

Colombia: Forest conservation through Indigenous local government:
The Colombian Constitution and a presidential decree from 2018 offer the opportunity to establish Indigenous Local Governments in Indigenous territories that are currently outside the municipal system.  Indigenous Local Governments can ensure Indigenous self-governance within the structure of the state, with the associated funding and responsibilities as other municipalities. Up to 24% of the Colombian Amazon forests could be managed and governed by Indigenous Local Governments, helping to secure almost entirely intact rainforests with vast biodiversity and carbon storage within these areas. RFN and Colombian partner organisations are supporting Indigenous communities establishing Indigenous Local Governments covering 165,000 km2.

Indonesia: The social forestry approach

The Indonesian government 's Social Forestry programme gives licenses to specific communities to manage forest areas. It offers an opportunity to put large areas of mainly intact forests under the sustainable management of Indigenous peoples, who so far have mapped and claimed more than 130,000 km2 as Indigenous collective title under the Social Forestry programme. However, progress on recognizing these claims is slow and investments are needed to support a rapid expansion of the Indigenous forestry approach within the government’s Social Forestry Program.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Protecting intact forest through involvement of Indigenous people and local communities
While the DRC government exercises permanent sovereignty over all forests, the national territory is also covered extensively  by customary rights. Unclear and overlapping user-rights can create confusion and conflict. The Forests For Life initiative proposes the establishment of an Intact Forests Facility to support effective, equitable, rights-based management regimes for the remaining large blocks of intact forest in DRC. This will focus on creating integrated mosaics of Indigenous or community land and protected areas, recognized, and supported in government-endorsed spatial and provincial plans.

Wampís Nation, Peru: Indigenous governance for rainforest protection


Falling Short

Earlier this year, RFN presented Falling Short, a report that mapped international funding aimed at supporting Indigenous peoples and local communities’ tenure and forest management across the tropics. 

In the ten years mapped in the report, 2011-2020, only 270 million dollars per year on average was disbursed to support Indigenous peoples and local communities’ tenure and forest management. This is less than 1% of what was allocated as aid to climate change in the same period. 

Only a small fraction of this funding ends up with the indigenous peoples and their organisations. Only about 17% of the funding went to projects that included an Indigenous peoples’ organisation. Most of the funding went to multilateral institutions and large international organisations, while not using more direct channels and intermediary organisations with close relations to indigenous organisations and communities. 

Read our report Falling Short here (PDF)

Read the summary of the Falling Short report here (PDF)