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CITES and IPLCs: a matter of participation and livelihood


The livelihoods of many rural and coastal communities greatly depend on the utilization of multiple species of wild animals and plants. Once these species get listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), States Parties must ensure that their national legislation provides for their sustainable utilization, pursuant to CITES requirements. This effectively means that the access to and use of such species are subject to regulation. If the communities concerned, including of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), are not adequately or meaningfully involved in the CITES-listing decision-making process, there may well be negative impacts on these communities’ livelihoods.  

This short piece supports IPLCs’ meaningful involvement from the outset in the discussions around the listing of species, so they can contribute their needs and concerns to the discussions and influence decisions that will affect them. Doing this will also enhance the transparency and legitimacy of the decision-making processes, and enrich the discussions with the wealth of traditional, unique and historical knowledge that IPLCs hold.  

The questions to ask in the context of ensuring IPLC participation are the following: How can legal instruments and other measures support IPLCs’ participation in the CITES-listing decision-making processes? To what extent can their traditional knowledge be integrated into such processes? Which actions are needed to ensure their products benefit from traceability systems? Finding answers to these questions will be important in order to protect the legitimate rights of ILPCs with respect to their access to, use of and benefits from sustainable management and trade in CITES-listed species.

These and other questions were discussed during the Joint meeting of the intersessional working group on livelihoods and engagement of ILPCs (the Meeting), organized by the CITES Secretariat, hosted by the government of Peru, in which the Development Law Service (LEGN) of the FAO Legal Office participated from 29 August to 1 September 2023, in Cusco, Peru. The Meeting provided an important opportunity to share lessons learned, good practices, such as the measures which led to the repopulation of the Vicuna in Peru and practical challenges faced by Parties to CITES and key stakeholders when engaging with IPLCs in the context of international trade, sustainable use, and management of wild species of fauna and flora. LEGN showcased some practical examples of support tools, such as the Legal-Hub, which has been developed in the framework of the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme. This online platform provides users with easy access to legal information, including customary law specific to relevant agri-food sectors, which has been proven to be a key tool for triggering and informing participatory law reform processes at national level. Indeed, by making legal texts and analysis accessible to all stakeholders, the science-policy interface is strengthened, which has been seen to lead to increased national discussion on policy and law reforms.

In fisheries, it is worth mentioning that case studies have revealed that community-based harvesting and trade in CITES Appendix-II listed species, notably of the Pirarucu Arapaima gigas (Brazil), have been effective in species conservation and combatting illegal trade, through, inter alia, promotion of local leadership and integration of traditional knowledge in the CITES context. Another case study demonstrated that CITES-regulated trade can generate benefits for local communities when they are involved in the relevant processes with respect to Queen Conch Strombus gigas (Saint Lucia) by supplementing the other products normally harvested locally.  

Concerns about the impacts on livelihoods in the CITES context have been raised by Parties since 2004. While progress has been made in the CITES regime – which currently includes a dedicated Resolution 16.6 (Rev. CoP18) on CITES and livelihoods and a set of decisions on livelihoods and decisions on engagement of IPLCs – there remains a number of practical challenges to ensure the full protection of IPLCs’ rights, including the adequate integration of their traditional knowledge, and the full realization of IPLC’s meaningful participation in CITES-listing decision-making process.

                                                                                                                                   Julia Nakamura and Eugenio Sartoretto (FAO)