Championing Forest Communities

Today is World Wildlife Day, and this year the focus is on Forests: Supporting People and Livelihoods.

Why working with forest communities is so important

Indigenous communities are at the heart of this year’s World Wildlife Day, which we support and encourage. Wildlife conservation strategies can only be effective and sustainable if the voices of indigenous people are at the heart of these processes.

These are the people whose lives are most affected and who have the greatest knowledge and understanding of forest ecosystems, developed over centuries of living within them. All conservation efforts must include their voices and be informed by their knowledge and experiences.

Indigenous communities often face intense challenges from actions designed to conserve wildlife. As more emphasis is placed on designating protected areas, the role of indigenous communities in conservation must continue to be recognised.

Now more than ever, we are stepping up to support these communities and to amplify their voices.

Why amplifying indigenous voices matters to conservation

There are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide, in over 90 countries. Although they make up only 6% of the global population, Indigenous Peoples inhabit approximately 85% of areas proposed for biodiversity conservation worldwide. 56 percent of the people living in important biodiversity conservation areas, including existing protected areas, are in low- and middle-income countries. The burden and responsibility therefore of conserving biodiversity falls disproportionately on the rural poor living in low- and middle-income countries, with people in high-income countries forming just 9 percent of the population of important biodiversity conservation areas.

IPLCs and community-based conservation initiatives have been effective in preventing habitat loss, often more effective than traditional conservation methods. Conservation’s problematic history has contributed to a growing list of human rights abuses, displacements, and increasingly militarized forms of violence in the pursuit of protecting biodiversity. It has been estimated that up to 136 million people were displaced in formally protecting half of the planets currently protected areas.

How Elephant Family is championing forest communities

Bananas in aid of elephants

Working with the Green Guard Nature Organisation, Elephant Family are simultaneously protecting elephant forest habitat and farmers’ livelihoods by creating “meal zones” around farms. These meal zones consist of elephants’ favourite food – banana plants – acting as a buffer around the crops, preventing hungry elephants from destroying farmers’ livelihoods. In doing so, invasive plants and weeds are also removed allowing the forest to flourish.

Weeding out invasive species

Of south India’s prime elephant habitat, 30% has been completely taken over by one of the world’s most invasive weeds: Lantana camara. Lantana suppresses the growth of native vegetation, and regenerates vigorously when it is cut back. Elephant Family supports the Dakshin Foundation on removing Lantana and restoring the native vegetation which is critically important for a whole host of wildlife. Not only this but the Lantana can also be used to make crafts, furniture, (AND elephants!) and biomass briquettes to be used as a fuel source which provides financial income for forest communities.

Pushing boundaries

Home to 22% of India’s elephants, 18% of its tigers and 14% of its leopards, the state of Karnataka is a forest haven for wildlife but due in part to firewood-gathering, the forest ecosystems have been degraded over time. We are working with the Nature Conservation Foundation to provide alternative fuel sources which not only reduce communities’ reliance on forest resources, but also support their livelihoods by reducing exposure to smoke and allowing them more time to work instead of gathering firewood.

On the fence in Myanmar

In partnership with Grow Back for Prosperity and Compass Films we are helping to protect Myanmar’s people and elephants. The use of seasonal fencing allows farmers to protect their crops from hungry elephants, whilst also allowing them to use their traditional migratory routes and wildlife corridors. Not only does this protect the livelihoods of these forest communities, but by preserving the elephants natural pathways supports the protection of biodiversity in the area.