Making funding for Indigenous Peoples and local communities fit for purpose

Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of the rainforest, but receive little international support and most of the funding is not fit for purpose, new report finds.

In 2021 Rainforest Foundation Norway presented a report that showed that international aid to support Indigenous peoples and local communities tenure and forest management was only $270 million annually on average, between 2011 and 2020. This equals less than 1% of international climate aid.

“Securing and protecting the tenure rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities is one of the most cost-effective, equitable, and efficient means of protecting, restoring, and sustainably using tropical forestlands and the ecosystems they provide. This is a solution to both the climate change and biodiversity crises that humanity is facing. We have already pledged the funding to support them; now we have to make sure they receive it," says Torbjørn Gjefsen, Senior Policy advisor Climate, Rainforet Foundation Norway.

In a new report, RFN and The Rights and Resources Initiative assessed this funding along different dimensions of “Fit for Purpose” criteria, to determine whether the funding was delivered in ways that are appropriate and relevant for IPLCs and thereby enabling the most effective results.

The report finds that of the $270 million in conservation funding invested annually in IPLC tenure and forest management, only 17 percent went to activities that specifically named an Indigenous organization. This indicates that little funding is under the leadership of Indigenous peoples.

Read the full "Funding with Purpose Report" here.

At COP26, 5 countries and 17 private foundations $1.7 billion five countries and 17 foundations pledged $1.7 billion USD to support efforts to secure, strengthen, and defend Indigenous Peoples' and Local Communities' (IPLCs) rights to their forests. The report suggest that donors need to fundamentally rethink their funding approach to achieve the objectives of the pledge.

Indigenous leaders question global commitment

The findings in the report has lead to calls for international donor to international community

“In the Amazon, we are constantly struggling against anti-Indigenous policies that seek to cut down and replace the forests that give us physical and cultural life," says Rose Meire, Deputy Director of the Podáali Fund and a member of the Apurinã people of the Purus region in the Brazilian Amazon.

"If the international community values our forests and understands that Indigenous Peoples serve humanity by preserving and fighting against our planet’s destruction, it needs to support them more effectively and provide us with direct funding through our own mechanisms," she adds.

Meire's frustration is shared by indigenous leaders and organisations in other rainforest countries.

“To the outside world, people see the Congo Basin forests—our forests—as a critically important natural resource,” says Patrick Saidi who leads Dynamics of Indigenous Peoples Groups (DGPA), DRC, a network of 45 organizations working to secure the rights of Indigenous Peoples and improve recognition of their role in protecting forests.

“Too many people on the ground, however, see our forests standing in the way of their definition of progress and wealth. We would welcome financial assistance in helping us maintain our lands and the wondrous natural resources that they contain.”

Rukka Sombolinggi, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) and an Indigenous member of the Torajan people from Sulawesi Island in Indonesia, calls on the international community to recognize the efforts and capabilities of indigenous peoples in preserving the rainforest.

“Indigenous Peoples have the capacity to manage funding directly,” she says. “As we strive to protect and manage our lands against those who would push us aside and destroy our homes, we could use the financial assistance that’s meant for such struggles. To open your wallet and pay someone else for the sweat and blood that we shed in the name of conservation puts you on the wrong side of the struggle.”

Key findings from the "Funding with Purpose" report:

  • Only 17 percent of IP and LC tenure and forest management funding between 2011 and 2020 mentioned an IP or LC organization, indicating that a low share of funding is under leadership of Indigenous and community organizations.
  • There is a lack of accountability and transparency from donors towards IPs and LCs, inhibiting IP and LC understanding and influence over donor priorities and decisions. Most private foundations, who represent the majority of the IPLC Forest Tenure Pledge donors, do not share data on their projects systematically.
  • Donors have increasingly been providing funding through long-term funding agreements, which provides IP and LC organizations with much-needed predictability and security. Yet, a lack of flexibility to change or adapt priorities within projects restricts IP and LC organizations in addressing diverse community needs, imminent threats or seize on windows of opportunity.
  • Only 32 percent of IP and LC tenure and forest management funding included gender-related keywords, despite the essential role of women in IP and LC forest management and their notable exclusion from many governance structures and forest management decisions.
  • Due to strict eligibility and administrative requirements of bilateral and multilateral donors, IP and LC organizations must overcome considerable barriers to access funding. Funding for IP and LC tenure and forest management has therefore generally relied on traditional ODA funding structures, with national and international organizations acting as intermediaries.

Most efficient climate solutions underfunded

The new report notes that the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities are inextricably linked to the preservation of key ecosystems and the maintenance of carbon stored in tropical forests and peatlands. At least 36 percent of Key Biodiversity Areas globally are found on IP and LC lands, along with at least 25 percent of the above-ground carbon storage in tropical forests.

Efforts to limit the worst impacts of climate change and the loss of biodiversity depend on these landscapes remaining intact, and IP and LC forest management has proven more effective in this regard than any other. The immense benefits -- and corresponding shortcomings in global funding -- of supporting IPLC initatives were mapped in the 2021 study "Falling Short" (Rainforest Foundation Norway). It found that despite the enormous potential of IPLC solutions, such initiatives only receive about one per cent of global funding for climate mitigation and adaptation.

Learn more about the "Falling Short" study here.

For example: While 2020 saw the highest deforestation rate in Brazil’s history, deforestation rates were up to three times lower in Indigenous territories.

The most recent United Nations climate report, embraced this point, stating: “Supporting Indigenous selfdetermination, recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supporting Indigenous knowledge-based adaptation are critical to reducing climate change risks and effective adaptation.”

“Many things get in the way of funding Indigenous Peoples and local communities, but in the end we will not solve the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity extinction unless we embrace the need for more equitable partnerships,” says Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Coordinator of Rights and Resources Initiative.

“With new funding mechanisms dedicated to supporting initiatives led by IPs and LCs, donors have an opportunity to get it right and to make sure their funds go directly to the local peoples leading the efforts on the ground.”

More information/media inquiries:

Torbjørn Gjefsen

Senior Adviser, Policy
(+47) 970 16 842

About the authors of the report:

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)

RRI is a global Coalition of over 150 organizations dedicated to advancing the forest, land, and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant Peoples, local communities, and the women within these groups. Members capitalize on each other’s strengths, expertise, and geographic reach to achieve solutions more effectively and efficiently. RRI leverages the power of its global Coalition to amplify the voices of local peoples and proactively engage governments, multilateral institutions, and private sector actors to adopt institutional and market reforms that support the realization of rights. By advancing a strategic understanding of the global threats and opportunities resulting from insecure land and resource rights, RRI develops and promotes rights-based approaches to business and development and catalyzes effective solutions to scale rural tenure reform and enhance sustainable resource governance. RRI is coordinated by the Rights and Resources Group, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. For more information, visit

The Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN)

Rainforest Foundation Norway supports indigenous peoples and traditional populations of the world’s rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment and secure their customary rights. RFN was established in 1989 and works with local environmental, indigenous and human rights organisations in the main rainforest countries in the Amazon region, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. RFN is an independent organisation, and part of the international Rainforest Foundation network, with sister organisations in the United Kingdom and the USA.