Appropriate support

Besides appropriate recognition, the custodians of territories of life need various types of political, social, legal, economic and other forms of ‘appropriate support’. Many relevant actors in society, such as governments, private industry, NGOs and activists are generally willing to offer it… but is that support always what the custodians need or see as a priority? The providers of support may be powerful and determined enough that the custodians may find it difficult to refuse what they offer, and thus end up receiving support that is undesired or inappropriate. Unfortunately, most support organisations have rigid programmatic lines to follow and are usually poorly equipped to deal with the idiosyncratic governance institutions and culturally-diverse approaches of the custodians of territories of life. Due to strong power differentials, even the best-meaning interventions risk resulting in some forms of social engineering and can have unintended detrimental impacts. Therefore, it is essential that actors willing to support ICCAs intervene in response to requests by the custodian communities and treat them with respect and care. Actors willing to support ICCAs should intervene in response to requests by the custodian communities and treat them with respect and care. Obtaining their #Free, Prior and Informed Consent (as international law requires for indigenous peoples) is the first step towards a fair relationship between a community and the actors offering ‘appropriate support’.

Civil society organizations often support communication and negotiation processes between communities and governments, private corporations and others. Acting as ‘translators’, moderators, information providers and legal advisors, they may reduce the power-gap between the parties and build capacities and self-confidence within the communities. They can also help communities to be fully informed, in a language they can understand, about projects or processes that affect them, and provide experts’ information on the possible consequences of accepting this or that initiative. Such support may also mean help in interpreting relevant legal norms, such as about indigenous peoples’ rights, local communities conserving nature, customary law and use, the commons, protected areas, decentralization and subsidiarity, as well as agriculture, tourism, mining, forestry, fisheries, finance and economic development. In case of lack of specific ICCA norms, appropriate support may also mean promoting the recognition of ICCA-friendly legislation and policies at the governmental level.

Legal support can also take the shape of appealing for the respect of states’ international obligations towards ICCAs—territories of life.[1] The negotiation of projects giving application to international programs, such as the Global Support Initiative to ICCAs (GSI) implemented by UNDP GEF SGP and various initiatives involving payments for ecosystem services may provide useful contexts. All interventions involving financial support to ICCAs—territories of life need to be treated with extra care not to fuel internal conflicts or promote the abandonment of traditional livelihoods with associated knowledge, practices and institutions. The custodian communities should be well aware of the pros and cons of initiatives, capable of internally discussing those and taking decisions without undue intimidation or pressure.

Where does the ICCA Consortium come from?

For more than two decades, the main global experiment to provide appropriate support to ICCAs—territories of life has been an international movement for equity in conservation that coalesced first around the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy[2] and later created the ICCA Consortium. The movement has been working at various levels, fostering at the same time supportive international policy, capacity building at regional level, enhanced visibility for emblematic ICCAs—territories of life and, at national level, the generation of a critical mass for advocacy and change in as many countries as possible.

The movement is today a membership-based civil society organisation with Members representing indigenous peoples, local communities and their supporters spanning all continents. With no property and no offices, staffed by volunteers and semi volunteers and commanding a minimal budget, the ICCA Consortium has achieved a number of results, including: a growing number of recognised emblematic ICCAs (visibility, international listing by the UN Environment WCMC, awards, grants for self-strengthening); hundreds of people with enhanced self-awareness of their roles as custodians, as well as enhanced capacities and mutual support; more than thirty ICCA-related national networks functioning in very diverse countries; and relevant issues articulated and technically backed in a variety of publications, videos and on-line resources. The Consortium has also actively promoted a suite of international policies[3] that recognise the values of governance of nature by indigenous peoples and local communities, and of ICCAs—territories of life in particular.

Since mid-2015 a Global Support Initiative for ICCAs (GSI), implemented by UNDP GEF SGP with funding from the German government, has provided some support to the ICCA Consortium. In turn, the Consortium has provided technical backing to the initiative. Small grants have been disbursed to national catalytic organisations and communities in a variety of countries, with very diverse engagements and results. The international ICCA Registry hosted by WCMC was supported to foster communication and experience sharing among different ICCAs around the world (see #Appropriate recognition). The IUCN was supported to provide technical backing in assessing governance of protected and conserved areas at national level in a few countries. And Natural Justice was supported to coordinate reviews of national legislation vis-à-vis ICCAs. While assisting all partners, the Consortium has focused on a strategic approach of facilitating processes of ‘self-strengthening’ of ICCAs—territories of life from local enhanced self-awareness to national advocacy for recognition and support.[4]

Key references:

Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2010; Jonas, Kothari and Shrumm, 2012; Kothari et al. (eds.), 2012; Jonas, 2017; Borrini-Feyerabend and Campese, 2017.

See also:; ICCA Registry

[1] Which can be derived/ interpreted from, among others: the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Man and the Biosphere program of UNESCO, the ILO Convention no.169, the Aarhus Convention, the Ramsar Convention, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Cultural and Natural Heritage, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[2] This took place in 2000-2008 and is reflected in the experiences and debates published in Policy Matters (especially volumes 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15 – all available at

[3] Jonas, 2017.

[4] Borrini-Feyerabend and Campese, 2017.