Indigenous Peoples and traditional forest-related knowledge


Indigenous Peoples manage approximately 28 percent of the world’s land surface, including some of the most ecologically intact forest areas. Many lands now characterized as ‘natural’ or ‘wild’ generally have long been shaped by diverse histories of human habitation, use and protection by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. They are the custodians of much of the remaining forest biodiversity and are critical stakeholders in climate-change mitigation and adaptation. There exists indisputable evidence that forest governance by Indigenous Peoples and time-tested traditional resource management strategies are locally and globally imperative to addressing deforestation, biodiversity loss, and climate change.

Yet, Indigenous Peoples and traditional knowledge systems throughout the world are confronted with a multitude of threats, including: increasing loss of customary control and management over forest resources, rapidly progressing extinction of indigenous languages, intergenerational erosion of traditional knowledge, and monocultural formal education systems, among others.

FAO has been working with Indigenous Peoples for many years to address the unique challenges they face, while assisting governments with the development of appropriate forestry policies that take Indigenous Peoples’ land, resource rights and views into account. FAO’s work with Indigenous Peoples in forestry covers areas such as: valuing and promoting indigenous knowledge of forests and food systems; supporting collective tenure rights for indigenous lands; supporting the role of Indigenous Peoples in climate change mitigation; facilitating sustainable forest management and improved livelihoods; and promoting Indigenous Peoples’ rights to manage and conserve wildlife and other forest resources. 

©Marta GrucaThe Social Forestry team collaborates with various FAO units, projects and programmes and provides support through: capacity building on social inclusion and Indigenous Peoples’ rights; advocacy for integrating traditional knowledge in sustainable forest management and forest education; support to development of community communication materials and knowledge sharing, among others.  Our work is guided by FAO’s Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, recognizing and respecting the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).


Key messages

  • Forests are critical for the survival of many Indigenous Peoples as their cultural identities, livelihoods and knowledge systems are integrally linked with their ancestral lands.
  • Traditional knowledge and resource management strategies are time-tested and have an important role in sustaining species and ecosystem diversity across the globe.
  • Securing customary tenure rights is crucial to reducing deforestation, resilient forest conservation and biodiversity protection.
  • Effective governance systems along with strengthened human and institutional capacities are needed to protect and ensure more responsive and productive sustainable management of forest resources by local and indigenous communities.
  • Sustainable Development Goals and targets related to conservation of forest and biodiversity (15) but also ending poverty (1), eliminating hunger (2), climate change mitigation (13) and others - can only be achieved with the active involvement of Indigenous Peoples, the recognition and protection of their rights, and their vital contributions to sustainable resource management.

FAO Forestry Programmes working with Indigenous Peoples

Promoting Indigenous Peoples’ rights to manage and conserve wildlife

Through the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme FAO supports Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife as a key enabling condition for maintaining biodiversity and ensuring sustainable rural livelihoods and food security. The Programme fully respects the rights and cultural identities of those involved and or affected; and follows a rights-based approach, which includes a Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process. Through innovative visual communication materials, the programme engages with rural communities to ensure they understand and are fully involved in the FPIC process.

Watch a video how the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme works hand-in-hand with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to improve food security and wildlife conservation.
Read the story on supporting Indigenous Peoples to restore the balance between wildlife and food security.

Supporting Indigenous Peoples to improve their livelihoods and climate resilient landscapes

The Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) provides technical support and funding to local forest and farm producer organizations, community forest organizations and Indigenous Peoples. In Bolivia, FFF recognizes that sustainable development is linked to the rights of Mother Earth and the paradigm of Living Well (Vivir Bien). FFF strengthens collaboration and coordination between institutional and productive actors in Bolivia to achieve climate-resilient landscapes and better livelihoods, which allows producer organizations to access funding from the FFF and to be the main actors of change. For example, FFF has supported the formulation of the “National Programme of Support for the Production and Collection of Cocoa", which will invest USD 21.7 million over five years in the establishment of 8 593 ha of cocoa, benefiting 7 500 families. Sauce Tipnis, Indigenous Peoples organization is one of groups benefiting from the FFF support to take chocolate industry to the next level.

Read this success story.

Supporting the role of Indigenous Peoples in climate change mitigation

The Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), in developing countries, including the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks is one of the global mitigation efforts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. FAO seeks to ensure that indigenous men, women and youth have a voice in international and national dialogues on climate change, and that they are fairly compensated for their contributions to climate mitigation. FAO is also supporting on-the-ground monitoring of forests and carbon stocks by Indigenous Peoples.

Watch the video on involving local communities in Papua New Guinea’s National Forest Inventory.
Read the story on how traditional and technical knowledge-sharing impacts the protection of forests.

Mapping indigenous and local communities living in the mountain areas

The Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS), hosted at FAO, works to promote high-value mountain products as a means to develop mountain economies and improve the livelihoods of many Indigenous Peoples through the Mountain Partnership (MP) Products Initiative. The MPS and partners have developed a database and a map of Indigenous Peoples and local communities living in mountain areas. This map provides online users with visual cues to a growing database on mountain and Indigenous Peoples around the world, including information on their locations, populations and food systems.

last updated:  Thursday, October 14, 2021