Caroline Stillman Plan Vivo 

By Caroline Stillman, Projects Officer at Plan Vivo Foundation

2020’s Indigenous World Report (IWR) took a special focus on climate change, highlighting that Indigenous Peoples (IPs) are both those most likely to be hit first and hardest by the impacts of climate change, and are the best placed to manage their lands for climate benefits. A major driver of harm to indigenous people, according to the report, is ‘green grabbing', a term first seen in a 2008 Guardian article by John Vidal. Green-grabbing (or blue-grabbing in the case of marine ecosystems) refers to land being sequestered for environmental purposes, and access for local communities being restricted in the name of conservation. Loaded with colonial overtones of pristine, empty spaces rife for the taking, green- and blue- grabbing practices exclude or displace Indigenous Peoples from lands that are often essential to their livelihoods and hold great cultural and spiritual significance.  The Indigenous World Report highlights how restricted movement and land access is further exacerbated by climate change, with local weather fluctuations driving indigenous peoples to move further to find food and water for livestock. This then leads to conflict with authorities, as has happened in the Central African Republic, Kenya and Tanzania in 2019, according to the 2020 IWR.


A 2018 Reuters article highlights how land rights are a huge issue in UN-led REDD+ programmes. It goes on to describe concerns raised by NGOs monitoring REDD+ projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo about payments for ecosystems services (PES) driving private sector actors to buy up land for PES programmes, rather than enabling local communities’ ability to protect forests. The article quotes Alain Frechette of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) who points out that the concept of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), which is integral to carbon projects around the globe going ahead, “does not require recognition of communities’ customary land and resource rights”.

It is important for all actors in the Voluntary Carbon Market space to grapple with issues around land tenure. The Plan Vivo Foundation has held communities and smallholders at the centre of our model since our inception, and a key requirement in the Plan Vivo Standard is that project participants must have “clear, stable land tenure”.



Case Study: Indigenous dispossession around Tarangire National Park

Green-grabbing is of particular concern in Tanzania, a country where 30% of the land is protected. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs recognises four organised Indigenous groups in Tanzania, the hunter-gatherer Akiye and Hadzabe, and the pastoralist Maasai and Barabaig. The East-African country is also home to several national parks, which are biodiversity hotspots and draw vast numbers of tourists each year. However, Maasai elders bitterly recall evictions from Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Mkomazi national parks. A 2012 article by Katja Neves and Jim Igoe details the way in which pastoralist Maasai peoples had large amounts of their established territory, water and pasture resources enclosed with the establishment of Tarangire National Park in 1970, despite deep local resistance to the park’s establishment. The villages to the east of the park are predominantly inhabited by Maasai herders. As Maasai people are pastoralists, their livelihoods are closely connected to their lands, and so were negatively impacted by restrictions on areas in which they used to graze their animals. In addition to economic hardship, the establishment of national parks symbolically erased Indigenous Peoples from their lands, which are now better known for their animal inhabitants than their human ones. The rise of ecotourism in these regions also saw land appropriated for tourist lodges and hunting camps, driving capitalist gains to some, at the expense of Indigenous Peoples.


Giraffes in Tarangire National Park, an area better known globally for its wildlife 
than for the presence of indigenous Maasai pastoralists  | Credit: Caroline Stillman


The 2020 IWR details the further expansion of Tarangire National Park in 2004, when the park was expanded from 2,600 km2 to 2,850 km2, closing off even more land inhabited by neighbouring pastoralists. This creates uncertainty for neighbouring pastoralists and other village inhabitants, making it difficult to build sustainable livelihoods and adopt mechanisms for climate change resilience. It is worth noting that evictions and abuses against Maasai people are likely better documented than against some other groups, due to their being a relatively more powerful tribe in the region. The Barabaig community, a sub-tribe of Tatoga pastoralists, also inhabit northern Tanzania, and likely suffered similar hardships, exacerbated by being a less powerful tribe.

Similar issues are found in top-down conservation programmes around the globe. Last summer highlighted indigenous Baka people’s interests being ignored in a conservation project in the Congolese rainforest. Not only were Baka people restricted from areas of forest where they traditionally hunted due to the establishment of a national park, but human rights abuses also came to light, and a report on the issue by the United Nations Development Programme condemned how countries in the ‘Global North’, global bodies and wildlife protection groups fail to protect human rights in Africa. Many are now advocating for a community-based approach to conservation as an alternative to green-grabbing, which meets both conservation needs and the needs of local communities.



Case Study: Community-led conservation: REDD+ in the Yaeda Valley

One such community-based conservation programme is the Plan Vivo certified REDD+ in the Yaeda Valley in Northern Tanzania. Coordinated by social enterprise Carbon Tanzania, the project is built around securing land rights for two indigenous groups - the pastoralist Barabaig and hunter-gatherer Hadzabe. Tanzanian land law provides frameworks for individuals and groups to secure their land tenure: Granted Rights of Occupancy and Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy (CCROs). A CCRO group is a strong legal tool that secures individual or community rights over land. While this legal mechanism has existed since the 1990s, it was not used to secure community land tenure for marginalised groups until 2011. CCROs allow for indigenous groups to secure communal land tenure over their customary land, and thus to protect these lands – a similar framework to that in Indonesia, whereby communities secure ‘Hutan Desa’ for forest protection (as in Bujang Raba Community REDD+).


Hadza man overlooking the Yaeda Valley landscape


Through the use of participatory methods, communities draw up land use plans, agreeing on how land will be used to benefit indigenous communities in the region. Care is taken to avoid negative impacts to neighbouring groups, for example, the land use plan for the Yaeda communities is designed so that Kukumako spring, a significant water source, can be used sustainably by both hunter-gatherers and pastoralists, particularly in dry years.

The project activities, described in the Project Design Document, include securing title deeds for Hadzabe and Barabaig groups through CCROs, enforcing the land use plans and village by-laws on land ownership through customary mechanisms. In addition, the project develops educational materials and employs and trains community guards to monitor forest conservation, contributing to building local capacity. UCRT, an indigenous rights CBO, also conducts training on legal rights and the process of creating CCROs. Rather than restricting communities’ access to their land, this project actively strengthens it and enables the Hadzabe and Barabaig to sustainably manage their forests and lands.

Through valuing indigenous knowledge for conservation aims, and keeping Indigenous Peoples at the centre of the project, the Yaeda Valley project has won the attention of actors globally and locally. The UNDP Equator Prize-winning project is now in the process of expanding to 12 villages and expanding the area of land under management to over 100,000ha.



Indigenous Peoples: The stewards of nature

With reports of a 68% average drop in global wildlife population sizes since 1970 (WWF, Living Planet Report, 2020) there is little doubt of the importance of addressing the alarming rate of biodiversity decline. Targeted conservation efforts are also recognised as being crucial to addressing the world’s climate goals, achieving net-zero and protecting endangered species. However, when not approached in a holistic and inclusive manner, large scale conservation efforts can bring their own set of unique harms and risks to Indigenous People, already those most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, those who are least responsible for its causes and those who bear the lion’s share of the costs of conservation. Conservation efforts must place local communities at their centre, and community-led conservation projects provide real opportunities to address climate challenges while building local capacity, protecting culturally important lands and wildlife, and building sustainable livelihoods for some of the most marginalised groups.