Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas 

A Bold New Frontier for Conservation 

Indigenous peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, have for millennia played a critical role in conserving a variety of natural environments and species. They have done this for a variety of purposes, economic as well as cultural, spiritual and aesthetic. There are today many thousand Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) across the world, including forests, wetlands, and landscapes, village lakes, water catchment, rivers and coastal stretches and marine areas. The history of conservation and sustainable use in many of these areas is much older than for government-managed protected areas, yet they are often neglected or not recognised in official conservation systems. Many of them face enormous threats.

Fortunately, there is also a growing recognition of ICCAs and acknowledgement of their role in the conservation of biodiversity.   The Vth World Parks Congress and the Programme of Work on Protected Areas of the CBD accepted them as legitimate conservation sites that deserve support and, as appropriate, inclusion in national and international systems.  Some governments have followed suit.  Others had already included them within their official Protected Area Systems.

Having played a substantive role in promoting the broad conservation policy reassessment mentioned above, individuals and organisations members of TGER, TILCEPA and the ICCA Consortium, with the support of SwedBio, GEF Small Grants Programme and GTZ,  got involved in a process to:

  • deepen the understanding of the ICCA phenomenon with respect to varying historical/ regional contexts;
  • identify and support field-based initiatives where ICCAs can be crucially safeguarded, enabled, strengthened and/or promoted in practice; and
  • support consequent national, regional and international policy.

On this site you will find a number of results and analyses generated by this process, as well as a wealth of downloadable publications relevant to ICCAs.


What are Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs)?

ICCAs are natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values, ecological services and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, through customary laws or other effective means. ICCAs can include ecosystems with minimum to substantial human influence as well as cases of continuation, revival or modification of traditional practices or new initiatives taken up by communities in the face of new threats or opportunities. Several of them are inviolate zones ranging from very small to large stretches of land and waterscapes.

Three features car be taken as defining charateristics of ICCAs:

  1. A community is closely connected to a well defined ecosystem (or to a species and its habitat) culturally and/or because of survival and dependence for livelihood;
  2. The community management decisions and efforts lead to the conservation of the ecosystem's habitats, species, ecological services and associated cultural values [even when the conscious objective of such management may be different than conservation per se, and be, for instance, related to material livelihood, water security, safeguarding of cultural and spiritual places, etc.].
  3. The community is the major player in decision-making (governance) and implementation regarding the management of the site, implying that community institutions have the capacity to enforce regulations; in many situations there may be other stakeholders in collaboration or partnership, but primary decision-making rests with the concerned community.

The Significance of ICCAs

ICCAs are important complements to official protected areas (PAs) and can ply essential roles in PA systems:

  • They help conserve critical ecosystems and threatened species, maintain essential ecosystem functions (e.g., water security), and provide corridors and linkages for animal and gene movement, including between two or more officially protected areas.
  • They are the basis of cultural and economic livelihoods for millions of people, securing resources (energy, food, water, fodder) and income
  • They help synergise the links between agricultural biodiversity and wildlife, providing larger land/waterscape level integration.
  • They offer crucial lessons for participatory governance of official PAs, useful to resolve conflicts between PAs and local people.
  • They offer lessons in systems of conservation that integrate customary and statutory laws.
  • They are part of indigenous peoples and local community resistance to destructive ‘development’, e.g. rainforests threatened by mining, dams, and logging industries, ecologically sensitive high-altitude ecosystems threatened by tourism, over-exploitation of marine resources by industrial fishing, etc.
  •  They are based on rules and institutions “tailored to the context”, (bio-cultural diversity), skilled at adaptive management and capable of flexible, culture-related responses
  • They are built on sophisticated collective ecological knowledge and capacities, including sustainable use of wild resources and maintenance of agrobiodiversity, which have stood the test of time
  • They are typically designed to maintain crucial livelihood resources for times of stress and need, such as during severe climate events, war & natural disasters...
  •  They play a crucial role in securing the rights of IPs & local communities to their land & natural resources through local governance – de jure and/or de facto
  • They can help prevent excessive urban migration
  • They can be the foundation of cultural identity and pride for countless indigenous peoples and local communities throughout the world

The global coverage of ICCAs has been estimated as being comparable to the one of governments’ protected areas (12% of terrestrial surface).  Globally, 400-800 million hectares forest are owned/ administered by communities. In 18 developing countries with the largest forest cover, over 22% of forests are owned by or reserved for communities. In some of these countries (e.g. Mexico and Papua New Guinea) the community forests cover 80% of the total (Molnar et al., 2003). More land and resources are under community control in other ecosystems. By no means all areas under community control are effectively conserved (i.e. can be considered ICCAs), but a substantial portion is.

The Challenge

ICCAs face critical challenges to their continued existence and functioning:

  • Traditional institutions managing ICCAs have been undermined by colonial or centralised political systems, whereby governments have taken over most of the relevant functions and powers
  • Many ICCAs are under attack due to inappropriate development and educational models, religious intrusions, and externally driven change of local value systems
  • As ICCAs often contain valuable renewable and non-renewable resources (timber, fauna, minerals, etc.), they are often encroached or threatened by commercial users, land/resource traffickers, or even community members under the increasing influence of market forces
  • ICCAs remain unrecognised in most countries, and the lack of political and legal support often hampers community efforts at maintaining them through traditional means
  • Communities’ internal conflicts, inequities and weak institutions can pose difficulties for sustained local governance and management

These and other challenges can be effectively faced jointly by communities and formal conservation agencies, with help from NGOs and others. This is beginning to happen in countries where ICCAs are formally recognised.

The Fifth World Parks Congress

The participants at the Fifth World Parks Congress (Durban, Sept. 2003) stated that national and international recognition of ICCAs is an urgent necessity. In its Message to the CBD, this largest ever gathering of conservationists suggested to “recognize the diversity of protected area governance approaches, such as community conserved areas, indigenous conservation areas and private protected areas, and encourage Parties to support this diversity”. The Durban Accord further “urged commitment to recognize, strengthen, protect and support community conserved areas”.

The WPC also developed specific Recommendations on ICCAs and on governance of PAs as means to strengthen the management and expand the coverage of the world’s protected areas, to address gaps in national protected area systems, to promote connectivity at landscape and seascape level, to enhance public support for protected areas, and to strengthen the relationship between people and the land, freshwater and the sea.

Convention on Biological Diversity -- Programme of Work on Protetced Areas (PoWPA)

Following recommendations from the World Parks Congress, the CBD has included in its Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA) a specific section-- element 2 on “Governance, Participation, Equity and Benefit Sharing” and embedded its key concepts also in all its other elements. The PoW includes several specific activities (in particular nos. 2.1.2, 2.1.3, 2.2.2, and 2.2.7) that request the signatory countries to:

  1. Develop better practices and stronger patterns of accountability in PA governance.
  2. Recognise and promote various PA governance types in national and regional systems to support people’s participation and community conserved areas through specific policies and legal, financial and community means.
  3. Establish policies and institutional mechanism to facilitate the above with full participation of indigenous and local communities.
  4. Seek prior informed consent before any indigenous community is relocated for the establishment of a protected area.
  5. Better appreciate and understand local knowledge, as well as the priorities, practices and values of indigenous and local communities.
  6. Identify and remove barriers preventing adequate participation of local and indigenous communities in all stages of protected area planning, establishment, governance and management.

The PoW also calls for studies, constructive dialogue, exchange of information and experiences and joint research among local and non-local experts. It asks for a more equitable division of the costs and benefits of conservation for indigenous and local communities and to make use of conservation benefits to reduce poverty. Specifically, among the targets to be reached and reported upon by the parties to the Convention in the next years are the following (emphasis added):

Target 1.4: All protected areas to have effective management in existence by 2012, using participatory and science-based site planning processes that incorporate clear biodiversity objectives, targets, management strategies and monitoring programmes, drawing upon existing methodologies and a long-term management plan with active stakeholder involvement.

Target 2.1: Establish by 2008 mechanisms for the equitable sharing of both costs and benefits arising from the establishment and management of protected areas.

Target 2.2: Full and effective participation by 2008, of indigenous and local communities, in full respect of their rights and recognition of their responsibilities, consistent with national law and applicable international obligations, and the participation of relevant stakeholders in the management of existing, and the establishment and management of new, protected areas

Target 4.1: By 2008, standards, criteria, and best practices for planning, selecting establishing, managing and governance of national and regional systems of protected areas are developed and adopted.

A major review of  PoWPA was carried out as part of the the 9th Conference of the Parties to CBD (Bonn, May 2008).  The review emphasised that:

  • CBD parties should give special attention to the implementation of PoWPA element 2…
  • They shoudl establish multisectoral advisory committees in support of PoWPA implementation
  • They shoudld improve, diversify and strengthen PA governance types, leading to or in accordance with appropriate national legislation
  • They shodul recognize [various PA governance types] through acknowledgement in national legislation or other effective means

New collaboration opportunities with the ICCA Consortium. Click here for details

Upcoming event: Understanding community conservation in Europe: a 5-day workshop in Gerace, Italy, September 10-16, 2011. For call for contributions (deadline 28 May 2011) click here.


cover page of the ea icca english


available in English, Spanish and French



avaialble in English, Spanish and French 

rediscovering iccas in nepal cover for web




 the ccas in india - directory

COMMUNITY CONSERVED AREAS IN INDIA- A Directory (available from This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

partager le pouvoir front cover for the web Partager le Pouvoir: Cogestion des Ressources Naturelles et Gouvernance Partagée de par le Monde (2010) - 21 MB
guidelines english cover

IUCN Guidelines for Protected Areas Manageent Categories .. [and governance types!]  2008 (Englisn)


UICN Lignes Directrices pour l'Application des categories de Gestion aux Aires Protégées, 2800 (Francais)


IUCN Directrices para la Aplication des lA Categories de gestion de Areas Protegidas, 2008 (Espanol)

cbd technical series 15 cover

Biodiversity Issues for Consideration in the Planning, Establishment and Management of Protected Areas Sites and Networks, CBD Technical Series no. 15, Montreal (Canada), 2004 (see pages 94-105).

front cover sharing power

Sharing Power: Learning by Doing in Co-management of Natural Resources throughout the World (published in 2004, reprinted in 2007 – inspiration of the Conference Sharing Power – a New Vision for Development)




of natural environments and species. They have done this for a variety of purposes