Indigenous peoples own or manage quarter of world’s land surface

Indigenous peoples own or manage at least a quarter of the world’s land surface, a new study has found. The 38 million square kilometers are spread across 87 countries or politically distinct areas and overlap with 40 per cent of all terrestrial protected areas.

At least 370 million people define themselves as indigenous and among them, they own or manage at least a quarter of the world’s land surface.

In many countries, indigenous peoples are taking an active role in conservation, with a large extent of their lands little changed by development.

But as the new study published in the journal Nature Sustainability highlights, more collaborative partnerships would yield significant benefits for ecologically valuable landscapes, ecosystems and genetic diversity.

“Understanding the extent of lands over which Indigenous Peoples retain traditional connection is critical for several conservation and climate agreements,” commented Professor Stephen Garnett from Charles Darwin University in Australia who led the international consortium that developed the maps.

“Not until we pulled together the best available published information on Indigenous lands did we really appreciate the extraordinary scale of Indigenous Peoples’ ongoing influence,” he said.

Indigenous peoples are descended from populations who inhabited a country before the time of conquest or colonization, and who retain at least some of their own social, economic, cultural and political practices, explained a statement. The proportion of countries with indigenous people is highest in Africa.

Professor Neil Burgess of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre commented in the statement: “What this new research shows is the huge potential for further collaborative partnerships between indigenous people, conservation practitioners and governments. This should yield major benefits for conservation of ecologically valuable landscapes, ecosystems and genes for future generations.”

However, the authors warned that such partnerships need to be forged quickly, as many of the indigenous lands are under pressure for development. Currently, about two thirds of indigenous lands are natural, which is more than double the proportion for other lands, according to the statement.

Photo credit: United Nations Photo/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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