Map shows the importance of indigenous communities for forest conservation in Central America

On the morning of October 12 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) introduced in Managua, Nicaragua the first Map of Indigenous Peoples, Protected Areas and Natural Ecosystems in Central America. According to researchers the map reveals the close relationship between indigenous peoples and conservation of land and sea ecosystems in the region.

“This map confirms once again that we, the indigenous peoples, are the best caretakers of the forests,” Mark Rivas, representative of the Miskito territories of the Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean (RACN) from Nicaragua told the press.

The map demonstrates the overlap of areas inhabited by indigenous peoples and the forests that remain. The data obtained from a research in which over 3,500 people participated takes into account information that is not reflected in simple cartographic maps or satellite images. The scientific evidence shows that about 50% of the forests of Central overlap with indigenous peoples. “This map shows that where indigenous peoples live is precisely where the best natural resources are preserved” Grethel Aguilar, IUCN Regional Director, told Reuters.

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For indigenous peoples of Central America to continue their work as guardians of the forests and biodiversity is necessary that their land rights be respected and that they have direct access to funds created for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

The indigenous peoples of Nicaragua and the Central American Region are grateful to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for evidencing through this map the contribution of indigenous peoples to conservation. The map of Indigenous Peoples, Protected Areas and Natural Ecosystems opens the possibility of dialogue at national and international levels on the demand of land rights and governance.

Indigenous peoples deserve real autonomy and financial resources to manage their territories, this will enable them to continue preserving natural resources, especially forests and biodiversity.

The Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognises them as holders of the right to self-determination and self-government and includes recognition of indigenous systems of government as well as the recognition of the sovereignty and ownership over their lands, territories and natural resources within their jurisdictions. However in most cases these rights are only on paper and not reflected in reality.

With the map data as a tool the territorial authorities of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests are preparing to attend the Biodiversity Convention that will be held in December as part of COP13 in Mexico. To show that indigenous communities in Central America are giving a positive contribution to climate balance with its influence on over 50 million hectares of land in the region.

Reserva de la Biosfera Bosawás en Nicaragua. Crédito: Birgitte Riber Hald para BBC Las autoridades indígenas Centroamericanas tienen influencia sobre las mayores masas boscosas de la región, incluyendo las reservas de Río Plátano en Honduras, Biosfera Maya en Guatemala, Talamanca-La Amistad en Costa Rica y el Parque Nacional Darién en Panamá.

Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua. Credit: Birgitte Riber Hald  BBC
Central American indigenous authorities have influence over the mayor woodlands in the region, including the Rio Platano Reserve in Honduras, The Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, Talamanca-La Amistad in Costa Rica and Panama’s Darien National Park.