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Putting indigenous peoples’ rights at the center of development

FAO and NGOs launch a manual for project managers on Free Prior and Informed Consent

Photo: ©FAO/ Rommel Cabrera
Datu Rico Pedecio, head of the Manobo Tribe in Leyte in the Philippines. Following the devastation of typhoon Haiyan, the Manobo replanted valuable forest areas and gardens destroyed by the storms.
10 October 2016, Rome - Indigenous Peoples' right to give or withhold consent to development projects that affect their natural resources and ways of life has become stronger thanks to a new manual that guides development actors in designing and implementing such projects.

The Manual on Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) outlines essential ways to ensure Indigenous Peoples, can give or withold their consent to interventions proposed in their lands and territories and do so free of coercion, prior to any decisions being made, and with the necessary information presented to them in a culturally appropriate way.

Indigenous Peoples make up 75 percent of the world's cultural diversity and are custodians of no less than 80 percent of the world's biodiversity. This biodiversity holds valuable answers for current and future food challenges, including climate change.

But their territories have shrunk to only 20 percent of the world's land surface. Mounting pressures from some extractive industries are placing Indigenous Peoples at the verge of collapse in parts of the world. A constant variable in all the actions that lead to forced displacement and destruction of their natural resources is the lack of respect for their right to Free Prior and Informed Consent.

"Out of the several thousand complaints we receive from Indigenous Peoples across the world yearly, 99 percent of them relate to the lack of respect and application of FPIC. The results are catastrophic for our peoples," says Alvaro Pop, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.
 
"It is shocking that in the 21st century we have the underlying understanding that there are different rights for different human beings. None of us would allow someone to come to our home and start any activity of any kind without our agreement. This is de facto marginalization by dividing rights for first and second class citizens," says Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO's Office for Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Building.

Today, there are about 370 million indigenous individuals living in more than 90 countries and speaking 4,000 out of the 7,000 surviving languages. Over the past decades, they have been facing mounting challenges related to their livelihoods, respect for their rights and spiritual beliefs, and access to lands, natural resources and territories.

Allies in the fight against hunger

"Indigenous Peoples do not see themselves as dissociated from the environment and natural resources where they live, they feel part of the same system and this is why they protect the biodiversity where they live," according to Jeffrey Campbell, manager of the Forest and Farm Facility at FAO.

Preserving biodiversity is essential for food security. The genetic pool for plants and animal species is not found in agronomic research centres but rather in the "laboratories of life" — forests, rivers and lakes, and pastures — he adds.

Indigenous Peoples's food systems can help the rest of humanity expand its narrow food base, currently reliant on only a small set of staple crops. Additionally, by protecting forest resources, many indigenous communities help mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. This is why Indigenous Peoples are key allies in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.

"While we are the ones who contributed the least to climate change, we are those suffering the most. In the Arctic we have started to talk about the "right to be cold" as the melting displaces more and more communities from our ancestral homes," said Carol Kalafatic, one of the authors of the FPIC manual.

Free, prior and informed consent

The manual — which builds on a year of consultation with various Indigenous Peoples — underlines Indigenous Peoples' intrinsic right to self-determination as enshrined in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and international law.

Key to this is the ability to give or withhold consent for a proposed development project. Examples of such projects can range from an NGO designing emergency interventions following a natural disaster to a government wanting to grant a mining concession in indigenous territories.

This new manual — launched byFAO Deputy Director-General Daniel Gustafson and Alvaro Pop, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues — is the result of one year of collaboration between FAO and partner organizations including Action Aid, Action Against Hunger, Agencia Española de Cooperación International para el Desarrollo (AECID), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GiZ), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and World Vision.

The manual outlines essential steps to follow along the lifecycle of a development project, from identifying which communities need to be consulted to sharing achievements after the project has been completed.

Along the way, the guidelines give special attention to include traditional leaders, women and youth in consultations and decisionmaking.

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