Valuing caretakers of natural wealth

Indigenous and local communities that have lived in integrated and sustainable relationships with their biome are intrinsically valuable.

In recent decades, large corporations have begun to understand and address the risks of biodiversity loss and habitat destruction. In response, they have begun qualifying and quantifying the economic value of Nature, both in ecosystem services and natural resources.

The private sector is way ahead of government agencies, UN organizations and NGOs in this field. While international agreements around carbon taxes are only just being reached after years of negotiations, corporations such as Nestle have been sizing up and purchasing water resources for decades. This is only one example of what has become a vast but opaque area of investment.

Inevitably, it seems these reductionist corporate assessments fail to take into account the role and importance of human populations in land stewardship and resource management.

The tropical savannah of Northern Australia, for example, thrives under the careful fire and water management of traditional Indigenous groups who have a 60,000 year relationship with the land – reflected in a wealth of practical and cultural knowledge.

The rainforest of Mesoamerica are not actually untouched by human influence, but rather the result of centuries of selection and management by generations of Mayan forest gardeners.

A failure to consider the importance of this knowledge and its impact on the land and biology can only mean a loss of wealth and negative impacts on sustainability and quality of life.

As projects and discussions around monetizing ecosystem services move forward, the importance and value of Traditional Knowledge, as well as Indigenous and local communities must be understood and brought to the forefront.

Corporate actors interested in benefiting from the wealth contained in landscapes under the stewardship of these communities would do well to begin any project with a negotiation process involving them, and understanding both the tangible and intangible importance of their sustainable presence and involvement with the landscapes they inhabit.

Perhaps a niche role exists for business and organizations dedicated to bridging the gap between capital investment, corporate leadership and Indigenous or local leadership. In order for these negotiations to be fruitful, a rights based approach that recognizes subtle power and non Western thinking must be used.

Published by ecosocialdesign

I am a graduate of Gaia University's action learning program where I developed a number of experimental techniques on rooftop gardening and the use of bamboo in the construction of human powered machines. I later focused on ways to use action learning to bring higher education recognition to Indigenous holders of traditional knowledge. I currently collaborate with my family in Chiapas, Mexico to promote agroecology and alternative markets with Indigenous communities there. My interest is in the burgeoning field of integrative eco-social design, specifically as applicable to landscape and habitat restoration. I am interested in the nexus between productive human activity and biodiversity conservation as I believe there can be no sustainable conservation that does not directly address and resolve the needs of human populations. Other areas of interest for me include traditional Indigenous knowledge around habitat management and food production. I am specifically interest in creating business opportunities for landscape and forest restoration specialists to engage with industry and community stakeholders in long term management contracts, as I believe this will become an essential part of all projects from their inception and design moving forward. This blog is a repository for my ideas on conservation and human productivity in the post-natural age.

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