Guardians of the Forest is a global campaign highlighting the role of indigenous and local communities in protecting forests, preserving biodiversity, and mitigating climate change around the world. The campaign has partnered with indigenous organizations in Central America, the Amazon, Indonesia, and the Congo Basin to showcase and amplify the voices and work of the indigenous populations and position them as part of the solution to climate change.
There is ample scientific evidence that shows how the best way to preserve forests is to respect the rights of the communities that live in them. These forests preserve biodiversity, capture carbon from the atmosphere, and represent the livelihoods of over 2 billion people, but while indigenous and local communities currently inhabit about 50% of the world’s land, they only legally own about 10%. When indigenous communities enjoy legal land rights, deforestation rates are radically lower, there is increased biodiversity, and even a lower occurrence of forest fires.
Unfortunately, indigenous and local communities are sometimes required to protect their land with their lives. Global Witness and The Guardian report that up to four environmental defenders a week were killed in 2017 — due to struggles against mines, plantations, poachers and infrastructure projects.
This is why land rights, ending the violence and criminalization, and being consulted before development and infrastructure projects in their lands are green-lighted are the main goals of the Guardians of the Forest initiative.
How? Through raising awareness, shifting narratives, building capacity, and advocacy campaigns.
Guardians of the Forest has played a visibility role at large international climate conferences, like COP 22 in Marrakech, the Congress of Biodiversity in Cancun, and COP 23 in Bonn. Partnering with indigenous organizations, the message of the key role that their communities play against climate change has been loud and clear. At these high-level convenings, decisions are made about the future of the planet and how to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but indigenous voices have been largely absent from the negotiating tables. Guardians of the Forest has ensured that these voices are not ignored.
There are several common misconceptions about indigenous and local communities: that they lack knowledge and sophistication, that they exploit the land they inhabit, and that they part of the problem and not the solution to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. Guardians of the Forest has partnered with local experts, indigenous leaders, and leading scientific researchers to dispel these notions. Traditional and ancestral knowledge in the Amazon, local sustainable forest management initiatives in Central America, and victories against oil palm industry through community organizing in Indonesia are a few of the stories that we are able to tell, through our partners and allies, always in the voices of those leading the efforts on the ground.
Through the Guardians of the Forest initiative, more than one hundred and twenty indigenous communicators, leaders, and activists have participated in workshops, trainings, and exchanges. Strategic communications, digital advocacy, social media best practices, storytelling, and narrative development have been part of every international or local effort. Building power from the ground up is a key component of developing a global indigenous movement.
While visibility at the international level is fundamental, the quickest way to begin shifting power in favor of indigenous communities and away from corporations, land speculators, and governments is effective advocacy at the local level. Guardians of the Forest has supported campaigns against Chinese mining companies in Ecuador, in favor of indigenous participation in forestry laws in Mexico, in favor of extending local forest management concessions in Guatemala, against violence towards environmental defenders in Honduras, and against criminalization of activists in Indonesia.