Sustainable Future|

A key relationship and interconnectedness between humans and nature have been emphasized in every conservation conversation or key international agreement. The relationship can be categorized into various spectra but one of the most important parts is the coexistence in harmony. Sustainability is one of the biggest lessons humans can learn from Nature. Thus, the knowledge that humans have acquired since the existence of the race and have passed down from generation to generation is indigenous knowledge. The original inhabitants who have passed down social, cultural, and survival knowledge to their generations are the indigenous people.

The lands and territories of Indigenous Peoples harbor some 80% of the world’s biodiversity – and Indigenous worldviews, cultural values, and traditional knowledge typically promote ecological sustainability and equity. [1] According to a recent World Bank Report[2], there are an estimated 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide. “Indigenous communities, peoples, and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined
to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, following  their own cultural patterns, social institutions and  legal systems”[3].

Nepali indigenous communities and their conservation practices

Although Nepali indigenous communities make up just 6 percent of the global population, they account for about 19 percent of the extreme poor. Indigenous Peoples’ life expectancy is up to 20 years lower than the life expectancy of non-indigenous people worldwide. In Nepal, 36% of the total population comprises indigenous people. Thus, a significant amount of people has the indigenous knowledge passed on through generations to peacefully coexist with nature. In Nepal, indigenous knowledge can be categorized into five main spectra such as agriculture, art and craft, linguistics, medicines, and human-wildlife conflict. Indigenous communities have lived amongst nature and biodiversity and have dealt with daily issues through their own natural and survival instincts. Thus, their knowledge is utterly important when it comes to coexisting with nature, which is a priority for the implementation of sustainable development strategies.

One of the successful examples of Nepal’s indigenous practices is Community forest management. In Nepal, community forestry is an effective participatory strategy for forest protection and management. To date, Nepal’s forests have been handed to up to 11,000 forest user organizations, totaling around 850,000 hectares maintaining 40% of the forest cover of the country. [4] Water conservation, use of forest products sustainably, human-wildlife management, and so on are the practices that the indigenous communities have been since the beginning of times which has been rightly recognized by the Government of Nepal.

Similarly, the Terai region of the country is considered the food hub and agriculture is one of the main occupations of the people there. Our food security depends on that belt and the country’s population need to have a sustainable agricultural practice. Unfortunately, the region is highly affected by climate change and its impacts. Recent studies[5] have serious predictions on the negative impacts of climate change which state that Nepal will face losing 2.2% of its annual GDP due to climate change by 2050. For a vulnerable country like Nepal, this is a serious threat and the most impacts will be faced by the vulnerable communities which also include the indigenous people. For a decade now, every year, we see floods and landslides causing agricultural as well as infrastructural damages. This is not only a threat to the present but a key threat to future generations and a sustainable future.

Conserving Indigenous knowledge is a key to Sustainable Future

One of the biggest issues and challenges of indigenous communities is social vulnerability. Indigenous communities have faced serious discrimination by the caste system of Nepal, human rights violations, a lack of knowledge of the importance of the communities, and a lack of policies to support and secure their rights. One of the recent reports of Amnesty International[6], the indigenous communities living in harmony with the forests have been displaced from their habitats and have not been rehabilitated properly by the government. In the name of conservation to establish national parks, indigenous settlements have been destroyed and their livelihood has been affected drastically. Proper sustainable management and engagement in conservation is the key to a sustainable future. They have the knowledge of coexisting which will support mitigating human-wildlife conflict, as it is one of the severe issues in conservation sectors.

It is quite unfortunate that the communities’ next generation is leaving the country in search of better opportunities. Indigenous knowledge will be lost from communities if the younger generation is not given a platform to learn about their culture. Education and policies are the strongest tools to keep the knowledge alive and if the government can work together with the communities to preserve this, then the conservation sector will have one of the strongest stakeholders to support the country towards a sustainable future. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has compiled a report[7] that suggests that proper network and coordination between policymakers, indigenous communities, and their knowledge, and the conservation sector will successfully address the issue of biodiversity loss and there are high chances of the conservation efforts to succeed.

With this learning, Nepal, to achieve the sustainable goals related to climate actions and conservation, must create an enabling environment for all the stakeholders of conservation to come together and plan for policies that will support, recognize and acknowledge the power of indigenous knowledge and communities.

Trishna Singh Bhandari
Masters in Climate change law
Partnership and Communication officer, Restless Development
Founder, Mithila House Pvt. Ltd.

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