Evidence Shows that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are vital to combating Pandemics, Climate Change and Poverty

Press Release: November 30, 2020

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Evidence Shows that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are vital to combating Pandemics, Climate Change and Poverty


Fionuala Cregan at fionuala.cregan@oxfamnovib.nl 


***Media Advisory - For Planning Purposes Only*** 

On Wednesday, 2 December, Indigenous Peoples, members of local communities and their allies, part of Land Rights Now, will launch a week-long virtual land rights campaign   


Evidence Shows that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are vital to combating Pandemics, Climate Change and Poverty

 Advocates Launch world wide #CreateASpark Campaign for Land Rights

As the world confronts a triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and the risk of future pandemics, a campaign will be launched on 2 December to draw attention to the role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as a solution to the global crises, while highlighting struggles to resist the destruction of lands and resources that forest peoples have cared for, often for centuries.  



WHAT: Civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations  join allies worldwide 

 to demand recognition of land rights as concern grows that economic priorities will trump environmental and human rights issues.

Citing a growing body of research that shows Indigenous Peoples and local communities outperform other forest managers in preventing deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as the conditions that enable the emergence of potentially dangerous pathogens.  


An initiative of Land Rights Now, the campaign calls for global solidarity to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities in standing up to legal and illegal activities that are destroying tropical forests and waterways worldwide. The campaigners address four key challenges that address this  illustrate this global problem:  



In addition Young Indigenous Peoples across the world will come together during the campaign  to document, through a series of Pandemic Diaries, how traditional indigneous knowledge has helped them through COVID-19 lockdowns. 

WHEN: 2-9 December, 2020 
Editor’s NoteA science panel will be held on 9 December to raise the visibility of a significant body of evidence supporting land rights as a solution to climate change, biodiversity loss and the threat of future pandemics. For information, please write to: wbautista@burness.com. 


WHY: Against a backdrop of a global pandemic, Indigenous Peoples and local communities across the world will remind policy audiences, national governments, investors and the global public that their guardianship of the planet is essential to protect the health of the planet and all its inhabitants. 


COVID-19 has led to a worsening of global poverty and hunger crises. As a new report from the  Global Forest Expert Panel (GFEP) shows, forests have  enormous  potential to slash poverty and food shortages..  Greater forest cover also protects humans from close contact with wild animals carrying unknown viruses.  

To achieve these benefits, the world’s top experts in biodiversity and climate change have called for a transformation in the way humanity relates to nature, warning that we must live in harmony with nature and put an end to widespread deforestation. 
“The evidence linking land use change to pandemics like COVID-19 is crystal clear. Deforestation and land use change is a globally significant cause of new emerging diseases moving from wildlife into people,” says Peter Daszak, President of the EcoHealth Alliance.  


“Granting and protecting Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities land rights is a critical step in protecting our whole planet from emerging pathogens,” he says.   
Indigenous Peoples and local communities protect 50% of the world’s surface and defend 80% of its biodiversity. Through  their traditional knowledge, they can protect the Earth’s remaining forests from depletion far better than governments or private entities. According to the 2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, recognizing Indigenous and community land rights leads to reduced deforestation and  conserving biodiversity 


However, Indigenous Peoples and local communities cannot continue this role when their lands are prime targets for environmentally destructive agriculture, mining, logging, and other large-scale projects. Due to a lack of clear legal rights and land titles, they are not just unable to manage their resources, but also in constant danger of being displaced and pushed into poverty.  


The Create a Spark campaign will highlight cases across three continents emblematic of this struggle: 


  1.  Santa Clara de  Uchunya  community in the Amazon of  Peru faces devastation of their ancestral forests and rivers due to the expansion of a palm oil plantation. The plantation is operated by Plantaciones de Pucallpa S.A.C, a member of the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and an international agribusiness group known in Peru as the ‘Melka group.' Over 7000 hectares of their forests have already been destroyed to make way for oil palm and those who protest face death threats and intimidation.  
  2.  In Borneo it is estimated over one million Indigenous Dayak people play a critical role in maintaining the forest. Their traditional conservation practices preserve the island’s rich and extraordinary biodiversity. In 2005, their lands were threatened by plans to establish the world’s largest oil palm plantation along the Malaysia-Indonesia border. Resistance and activism led to the plan being scrapped and in response the Heart of Borneo conservation project was established to protect 23.4 million hectares of forests. Despite these efforts, indigenous territories are in danger once again. Two mega-infrastructure projects: the Trans-Kalimantan Road Network (Indonesia) and the Pan Borneo Highway (Malaysia) will carve through the Heart of Borneo and provide all-season access to previously inaccessible forests, opening them up to exploitation and appropriation by investors. 
    3. In Myanmar the Indigenous Karen people in the extremely biodiverse Salween Peace Park in Myanmar  run an Indigenous grassroots movement that received the Equator Prize for outstanding community and indigenous initiatives. They also prevented a Covid19 outbreak through an immediate territorial lockdown and by preparing a traditional medicine for good health and strong immune systems. But despite these efforts, their land rights are under attack from proposed mega-dams, mining, logging and large-scale agricultural plantations. 
  1. NorthernTanzaniaand across the world, nomadic pastoralist communities manage rangelands that cover a quarter of the world's land surface, but have few advocates for legal land rights. At least 70% of Tanzanians earn their living through agro-pastoralism; securing their land rights and recognizing their contribution has huge potential to help them manage their lands sustainably.  


Through calls to support these communities, the Create A Spark campaign will call upon global civil society and leaders to recognize the undeniable role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in saving the planet, and empower them to do so through secure land rights. 


Interviews are available with the following key spokespeople:  


  • Joan Carling, The Phillippines - Co-Convener of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group for Sustainable Development and Board Member of Land Rights Now. 
  • Dr Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance, member of the National Academy of Medicine and Chair of the NASEM’s Forum on Microbial Threats. 
  • Dr. Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio, Vice President for Conservation and Health at EcoHealth Alliance (available for interviews in English, Spanish and Portuguese)  


  • Epu Efer Silvano, leader of the Shipibo Indigneous community of Santa Clara de Uchunya (available for interviews in Spanish)  
  • Norman Jiwan, Indonesia,  contributor to Breaking the Heart of Borneo Research Report and member of TuK Indonesia - NGO focused on the environmental, natural resource and human rights impacts of development in Indonesia. 
  •  Paine Mako, Tanzania,  Executive Director for Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), which works with pastoralist, agro-pastoralist, and hunter-gatherer communities in Tanzania. 
  • Saw John Bright and Casper Palmano, Myanmar, Karen Environmental and Social Action Network which coordinates the Salween Peace Park initiative.  


For interview requests please contact Fionuala Cregan at fionuala.cregan@oxfamnovib.nl. 



Land Rights Now is an international alliance campaign co-convened by the International Land Coalition, Oxfam, and the Rights and Resources Initiative that aims to secure indigenous and community land rights worldwide. Since its launch in March 2016, over 800 organizations and thousands of individuals from all corners of the world have joined the campaign. Read more  in our flagship report Common Ground or visit: www.landrightsnow.org 


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