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.