No Hope for Earth without Indigenous Liberation

No Hope for Earth without Indigenous Liberation

‘The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth’
This article originally appeared in Climate&Capitalism.

The Red Nation
Indigenous Action to Our Earth

Common Notions, 2021

reviewed by Simon Butler

As heat and severe weather records are broken again and again, it should be clear by now that there is no limit for capital. There will be no scientific warning or dire catastrophe that leads to a political breakthrough. No huge wildfire, terrible drought or great flood will make governments and corporations change course. To carry on as they are means extinction. And yet they still carry on: more fossil fuels and fewer trees, more pollution and fewer species.

Recognition that there is no way out of this crisis without far-reaching, social upheaval animates the proposals put forward in The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our EarthThe short book was authored by activists from The Red Nation, a coalition devoted to Indigenous liberation and made up of Native and non-native revolutionaries based mainly in North America.

The authors make clear that they believe the campaign to halt climate change and repair ecological destruction is bound up with the fate of the world’s Indigenous peoples. They say bluntly that “there is no hope for restoring the planet’s fragile and dying ecosystems without Indigenous liberation” and that “it’s decolonization or extinction.”

Land back

This is not just a rhetorical flourish. The Red Deal points out that the approximately 370 million Indigenous people worldwide belong to traditional lands that cover 22-25% of the world’s surface. These territories overlap with areas that hold more than 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Regaining control over their traditional lands is essential for Indigenous people’s ability to protect, restore and care for them, as they did sustainably for millennia prior to their dispossession. This makes decolonization – which “starts with land back” to Indigenous peoples – a critical part of The Red Nation’s proposals to avoid planetary extinction.

The authors of The Red Deal emphasize that their vision of decolonization “isn’t exclusively about the Indigenous” but is instead meant to bring together non-Indigenous and Indigenous activists in a common fight for the future.

They say: “What we seek is a world premised on Indigenous values of interspecies responsibility and balance. We seek to uplift knowledges, technologies, governance structures, and economic strategies that will make these values possible, in the immediate future and in the long term, and which always have the future health of the land at the center of their design and implementation, Indigenous or not. In this sense, decolonization is for, and benefits, everyone. It also needs our collective cooperation to succeed.”

Some recent Indigenous-led movements against ecologically destructive projects have won international support and attention, such as the Oceti Sakowin-led protests to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock and the Wangan and Jagalingou people’s campaign to stop the huge Adani coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. But rather than focusing solely on what Indigenous movements oppose, The Red Deal aims to draw attention to “the revolutionary potency of what Indigenous resistance stands for: caretaking and creating just relations between human and other-than-human worlds on a planet thoroughly devastated by capitalism.”

Four principles

The authors of The Red Deal advance a “plan of collective climate action” based on four general principles. The first of these is What Creates Crisis Cannot Solve It. This principle means that the destructive, polluting industries that profit from the plunder of nature cannot be reformed and have no future. But The Red Deal extends this principle to carceral institutions such as the military, police and prison systems, calling for their abolition. The Red Deal insists such violent, repressive institutions also stand in the way of a safe climate future.

The second principle is Change from Below and From the Left. This is both a commitment to practice grassroots democracy in the struggle, and also a longer-term ambition to replace capitalism with a system of true democracy. The document says: “We must throw the full weight of people power behind these demands for a dignified life. People power is the organized force of the masses – a movement to reclaim our humanity and rightful relations with the Earth.”

Politicians Can’t Do What Only Mass Movements Do is the document’s third principle, which underscores The Red Deal’s skepticism that reformist politics can make significant progress against fossil capital. Although the authors say that they “refuse to compromise” they acknowledge the mobilizing potential of “non-reformist reform” that “fundamentally challenges the existing structure of power.”

The final principle is From Theory to ActionThis recognizes that the development of real social movements, in which people develop through struggle their own capacity to act and organize, is far more important than having “correct positions” on things. Rather, “correct ideas and theories of change that are worthy of reproduction only matter if they arise from, and directly nourish, our collective movements.”

Beyond the Green New Deal

The authors of The Red Deal do not see their proposals as a “counterprogram” to the Green New Deal, which they praise for its “potential to connect every social justice struggle – free housing, free health care, free education, green jobs – to climate change.” Rather, they see their ideas as a platform that builds upon and goes further than what the various Green New Deal proposals have yet offered.

However, the “primary inspiration” for The Red Deal was not the Green New Deal but the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba. The People’s Agreement was adopted by 30,000 attendees at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010. The conference, which promoted a suite of radical, people-centered policies on climate change, was hosted by the former President of Bolivia and leftist Indigenous leader Evo Morales.

This inspiration is clear in the way The Red Deal tackles the issues of technology transfer and climate debt owed to nations of the Global South – topics not addressed in some versions of the Green New Deal discussed in Europe or North America. It notes that the past high carbon emissions of the rich countries have in effect “colonized” the atmosphere, meaning nations in the Global South are blocked from pursuing the same path of industrialization due to climate change. This injustice means “any climate policy must also be anti-imperialist” and include “the payment of northern climate debt to the rest of the world.”

The Red Deal also includes criticism of “some Western socialists” who downplay the Global North’s responsibility to reduce its ecological impact rapidly to make room for the South but instead fixate on “technological pipe dreams like mining asteroids, gene editing, and synthetic meat.” Reshaping the wasteful economies of the Global North so they can play a role in healing the planet should instead take priority.

Towards the end of the document the authors note wryly that it’s evident other people have not listened enough to Indigenous people in the past. “Why else would we be on the precipice of mass extinction?” they ask. Those willing to listen today will gain a lot of insight and inspiration from the radical Indigenous activists showing leadership in this fight to save the Earth.

Simon Butler is co-author, with Ian Angus, of Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. He lives in Scotland.

India’s Farmer’s Protests: This Is History In The Making

India’s Farmer’s Protests: This Is History In The Making

This article was written by Sarang Narasimhaiah and Mukesh Kulriya and published on in the 5th February 2021. Sarang and Mukesh offer the reader a detailed account of the protests, why people are against corporate rule and what the protests may lead to.

Featured image by Mukesh Kulriya.

Amidst the months-long, farmer-led protests on the outskirts of Delhi, the foundations of a more democratic and anti-corporate India are being built.

On January 26, 2021, India observed its 71st Republic Day under historically unprecedented circumstances. On an occasion meant to commemorate the adoption of the Indian Constitution, two fiercely antagonistic visions of the country locked horns with each other in the capital of Delhi.

On the Rajpath ceremonial boulevard in the heart of Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s homegrown Hindu nationalist proto-fascism was on full display. It was no coincidence, for example, that the winner of the Republic Day Parade’s tableaux competition was the state of Uttar Pradesh, whose float celebrated the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 and its impending replacement by a Hindu temple — a blood-soaked, decades-long travesty that has dovetailed with the rapid proliferation of the Hindu right.

In other parts of Delhi, however, a rather different spectacle was unfolding, as tens of thousands of farmers, primarily from the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana, took over the streets of the city with their tractors.

For the past two months, hundreds of thousands of farmers have camped out on the outskirts of Delhi to protest three recently passed, transparently pro-corporate agricultural laws that stand to devastate their livelihoods. Coordinated by the Samyuta Kisan Morcha (United Farmers’ Front or SKM), the participants in the January 26 rally attempted to proceed along three pre-planned routes, but came up against police barricade after barricade. In the most explosive moment of the day, a section of the tractor parade broke away and entered the Red Fort, an iconic historical landmark in the heart of Delhi. Amidst gunfire, teargas, and lathi (baton) charges by state authorities, as well as a widely condemned internet shutdown, the protesters raised their own flags over a location famous for the prime minister’s hoisting of the Indian tricolor on Independence Day.

Notwithstanding predictable condemnations from India’s “law and order” liberals and leftists, the storming of the Red Fort and the Indian state’s hyper-repressive response exemplify how the protesting farmers have rocked Modi and the BJP to their core. They pose the most fundamental threat to the BJP’s neoliberal Hindu chauvinist agenda since Modi first came to power in 2014.


While the scale of the current resistance is unprecedented, the government’s targeting of vulnerable populations is not. Farmers are but the latest to appear in the cross hairs of the Modi government. Immediately after receiving a renewed mandate in India’s 2019 general election, Modi and the BJP stripped the majority Muslim region of Kashmir of its statehood, while simultaneously intensifying its brutal occupation by Indian military and paramilitary forces. This move came on the heels of the BJP-controlled northeastern state of Assam’s publication of a National Register of Citizens, which deliberately targeted Bengali-speaking Muslims, who are automatically presumed to be “illegal immigrants,” for detention. Finally, in December of 2019, India’s Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which grants citizenship solely to non-Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and could set the stage for rendering up to 200 million Indian Muslims stateless.

These measures — and the brutal repression of the mass protests that followed in their wake — demonstrate the Modi regime’s determination to lay the foundations for the ultimate goal of a Hindu supremacist ethnostate upheld by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization or RSS for short), the engine of the Hindu nationalist machine that was directly inspired by the Hitler Youth and Mussolini’s Black Brigades.

The social and cultural dimensions of the Hindu right’s authoritarianism underwrite its unabashedly neoliberal economic agenda. Modi rose to national prominence by implementing the “Gujarat Model” of politics in his home state, which essentially promotes economic growth by any and all means necessary, including extreme violence. Modi’s ruthlessness earned him the support of India’s foremost corporate dynasties, from the Tatas and the Ambanis to the Adanis. In exchange for bankrolling his political ascendancy, Modi has rewarded his corporate backers handsomely throughout his time in office: the annexation of Kashmir, for instance, has created a prime investment opportunity for Reliance Industries, the gargantuan conglomerate owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

In September of 2020, Modi and the BJP made perhaps their most profound corporate overture to date when they pushed through three agricultural bills that stand to “virtually kill the rights and entitlements of the agricultural population,” according to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. As Peoples Dispatch explains, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 would prevent farmers from getting guaranteed prices for their crops by forcing them into an unregulated market space known as a “trade area.” Furthermore, the Essential Commodities Bill, 2020 would remove various items such as cereals, pulses, edible oils, onions and potatoes from the list of essential commodities, allowing large corporations to hoard these necessities.

Finally, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 would allow for contract farming in India, which, given that 86 percent of India’s farmers own less than two hectares of land, would further shift the balance of agricultural power in favor of large corporations. Ambani’s Reliance Industries and the Adani Group of fellow billionaire industrialist Gautam Adani rank among the foremost prospective corporate beneficiaries of these bills.


Why have the aforementioned farm laws brought millions of protesters into the streets of Delhi and many other parts of India? How have farmers sustained their protest for over two months? How have the Indian and international media covered the farmers’ actions, and how have movement participants sought to combat misconceptions often propagated by this coverage? What are the deeper roots of the ongoing struggle? What do these protests mean for India and the wider world?

Seeking answers to these pressing questions, I spoke to Mukesh Kulriya, a third-year PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Music who has been on the front-lines of the farmer-led mobilization at the borders of Delhi since it first began. Mukesh is a longtime member of the All India Students Association (AISA), the collegiate wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.

Sarang Narasimhaiah: Could you describe the basis for the ongoing political action staged by farmers from Punjab, Haryana and other surrounding areas of Delhi, as well as so many other parts of the country?

Mukesh Kulriya: The immediate cause for this protest is that the Modi government passed three agricultural bills in a very undemocratic manner: these bills became laws under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Indian Parliament was not even in session. The way the bills were passed was also unconstitutional: agriculture is a state matter in India, not a federal one, so how can the federal government rule on it? Moreover, even if you take a cursory look at these bills, you can see that they are totally pro-market. We need to remember that this government also carried out labor reforms that snatched away essential labor rights from organized sector workers, allowing them to be hired and fired as their employers please and placing their right to unionization under threat. The largest working population of the country — the workers and farmers who make up 80-90 percent of India’s workforce — have been hammered by both these sets of bills.

There was a lot of uproar when these laws were first proposed, and people quickly started to mobilize against them in Punjab. For a couple of months, they were organizing at the village level, but by the end of August and early September, protests started to erupt in cities across Punjab. What distinguished these protests was that they recognized the laws as a neoliberal attack on agriculture, and so they began to target the corporations responsible. The Adanis and Ambanis run the largest conglomerates in India: they are heavily invested in the privatization of agriculture and also very close to the current regime. As such, the slogans raised at the protests have opposed Prime Minister Modi but have also declared that he is nothing but a puppet in the hands of these corporations. This is not some academic writing a paper that criticizes neoliberalization: rather, corporations are being named and shamed by the common people. Farmers have shut down virtually all stores owned by the Adanis and Ambanis, hitting these corporations where it hurts. They have also taken out toll plazas across the state and refused to pay their toll taxes. In these ways, a mass popular movement has emerged addressing the questions of livelihood, land and labor: the classic issues of India’s feudal system [which continue to indelibly shape its capitalist present].

Corporations are being named and shamed by the common people.

On November 26, 2020, Indian laborers opposed to the above-mentioned labor reforms as well as the farm bills called for an all-India strike, and this was hugely successful. 250 million workers participated in that strike [making it the largest labor action in recorded human history]. On that same day, farmers from Punjab decided that they should march to Delhi. When they reached the borders of the city, they were stopped by the police and other government forces, who dug 15-meter wide holes in the road, put up ten layers of barricades and barbed wire, and used tear gas and lathi charges against the farmers.

When videos of these attacks showing the brutality of this government started to circulate, many people were moved to take action. The next day, more people from Punjab and Haryana started coming to the borders of Delhi, and the state couldn’t do anything to stop them. The farmers and their supporters wanted to occupy a central space in Delhi, but the government tried to force them into a remote corner of the city; the protesters refused to use this site and decided to block the city instead. Incredibly, by now, the capital of India has been blocked by protesters for almost two months. Some of these protests are almost 15 kilometers long; you can see one to two hundred thousand people at one protest site alone.

This protest is significant to no small extent because Punjab is one of India’s more well-off states, largely due to agriculture. Punjab has been suffering as a result of India’s agricultural crisis in a very different way from the rest of the country. Punjab was basically a laboratory for the Green Revolution in India, along with Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. This makes it the only agricultural belt in the country where small farmers have a little money. However, because of pesticides and other chemicals used in industrial farming, this area has also become a cancer belt. There is actually a train that goes from Punjab toward my hometown in Rajasthan which is known as the “Cancer Express.” People see the money that agriculture brought to Punjab, but not the cancer, the huge indebtedness and the institutionalized drug racket that has been very active in the state.

Punjab has a long revolutionary history; the powers that be know that this state could be dangerous to them, and so they have sought to undermine its people while pocketing the wealth it generates. For that reason, it’s incredible to see young people who have been demonized as drug addicts come to the protest to show that they can be much more. They aspire for a better life that does not involve going abroad but rather fighting for better conditions in their homeland. You’re seeing the revitalization of a radical political consciousness in Punjab, in terms of poetry, in terms of music, in terms of the whole culture of organizing.

It is important to recognize that this is a mass movement by people who are not the poorest of the poor in the sense that the state believes. The state is used to looking at the farmer as someone who is worn and torn, who is very poor, who is very hungry, who is spreading their arms towards the state for some sort of help. However, these farmers, who are suffering even though they are relatively well-off, are very much challenging that image.

What does the day-to-day business of organizing the protests look like? And why have these protests been so effective?

The protest sites are basically temporary cities: you can get everything you need here. The protesters are running langars [traditional Sikh food services], medical services and many other kinds of services by themselves: they take shifts, and they do the monetary and physical labor to provide these services. People have realized that, when you fight against one kind of oppression, you also come to see other kinds of oppression that you perpetuate, and this realization has shaped the sociocultural structure of the protests: men are now cooking food, and women are leading political actions. The protests have been led by elders who have experience with mass movements, and they are striving to share this experience with younger generations like mine, who are seeing something like this for the first time in our lives; we are shouldering the logistics of the movement, learning as we go. We are learning that you can only save democracy if you take to the streets; you cannot expect democracy to work if you are sitting in your living room.

Many of the protesters are from rural agrarian communities, and so their day starts very early — around 5:00 or 5:30 am. They start cooking food, have breakfast and then head to their protest site’s central stage at 9:00 or 9:30 am. Every day, around 10 to 20 people go on a 24-hour hunger strike across all protest sites. In the daytime, people come from different parts of the country — or the world — to give speeches and show their solidarity.

We are learning that you can only save democracy if you take to the streets; you cannot expect democracy to work if you are sitting in your living room.

Every day, there is a meeting of the All India Kisan [Farmer] Coordination Committee, which is comprised of 32 different organizations. This movement does not have a single leader but rather a collective leadership. That’s also why it is so strong: “ordinary” people are so invested in the movement that no one has been able to hijack it. The Coordination Committee itself has been very clear that this is a people’s movement: if its leaders make any wrong decisions or unjustifiable compromises, they know that they will be thrown out the very same day.

The protesters are also saying that they are not in a hurry. They want the government to scrap the three laws, and they won’t settle for anything less. The kind of patience that they have is not conducive to settlement: they know that this is a long, drawn-out fight, and they are prepared to stay here for at least six months. The protesters are thus energetic but they’re also at ease, in a way; they know that they can’t be agitated and sloganeering all the time.

How have you and your AISA comrades endeavored to support the protesters?

Libraries are a key part of the temporary towns established by the protests. AISA is running an initiative known as the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Library at four protest sites. We open our library in the morning and a lot of people, from young students to older people, stop by and engage us.

We also started a newsletter, The Trolley Times. This newsletter was spurred at the initiative of a handful of independent individuals, and it is not associated with any single political organization. We realized that all recent social movements have relied almost solely on social media. Younger protesters had actually stopped considering fields of engagement beyond social media. As I said earlier, the people who are the backbone of these protests came to Delhi from their villages two months ago. They have been keeping their grounds while living about 10 kilometers away from their nearest stage; they know their responsibilities to the protests, and they are not looking for the limelight. Concerned that no one would talk to these people — or even acknowledge their presence — we wanted to ensure that they have a very clear sense of what is happening in the movement. These are older people, and so they are more likely to read newspapers and newsletters.

From the very first day that we published The Trolley Times, we got an amazing response. The vast majority of the Indian media is pro-corporate and owned by the same companies that want to privatize agriculture; these media are also pro-state, and so they demonize protesters with their propaganda. People realized that, to take ownership of this movement, they need their own voice. That’s what The Trolley Times aims to be. Becoming hugely popular within a day or two, The Trolley Times got a lot of media coverage, and it actually set a trend: now, there are three to four newsletters made by and for the movement. The Trolley Times gives a platform to first-time protesters, young protesters, elderly protesters and single women protesters. To a barber who came here to give massages to tired protesters. These are the small but important stories that we are able to cover. We have published eight editions so far; most of us are working over the phone — partly because we have no proper internet access here — and we are typing and editing the content for the newsletter as it is reported to us.

The Trolley Times gives a platform to first-time protesters, young protesters, elderly protesters and single women protesters.

We started another initiative called “Trolley Talkies,” which involves showing films about the farmers’ crisis as well as revolutionary movies about the Indian Independence Movement and other movements across the world. We show movies to energize people by entertaining them and educating them about the farm bills: we make connections across time and space by showing how neoliberalism builds upon the foundation established by British colonialism. First-time protesters in particular need to understand the historical nature of these protests: how are they linked to policies that were introduced in India in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s? How were these policies forced upon the people, and what are their implications? We have undertaken these and other artistic initiatives with the understanding that resistance is creative; you can also see this in the many songs that the protesters have composed and all of the artists from Punjab who have come out to support the protests. We need to employ all kinds of art forms to reach the masses.

Throughout our work, we’re trying to make intersectional connections across different issues and policies. When you oppose the privatization of agriculture, you must also oppose the privatization of education, healthcare and everything else. You can’t be selective: neoliberalism is a policy framework and mindset that’s basically doing the same thing to students, to farmers, to workers, to everyone. It has to be fought tooth and nail as a singular entity.

I’m sure you have many options to pick from, but who are some of the most interesting persons you have met in your time out there?

The most interesting person I have met is this 17-year-old girl who came to the protest on her own. Her parents have a small patch of land, and she saw that, if these farm bills stand, her land will not be safe. She won’t be able to continue her education or make a career for herself, thus sacrificing her independence. And so she took a train to Delhi and stayed here for a long time, participating in the protest and looking after the library.

Her case shows how the protesters understand the gravity of this situation: they know that this is a do-or-die scenario. It also shows how this movement is not just about agencies like Khalsa Aid [an international humanitarian NGO based on Sikh principles] that are setting up big stalls to help people. This is also a movement in which people are coming out and helping at an individual level. You can find a lot of other similarly powerful stories here: whole families have come to the protest and haven’t left for the past two months. Young students are taking their exams here. Young professionals have left their jobs to be here. You see activists coming from all spheres of life: this is a mass movement, not a student movement, which tends to draw upon a very select population of the country. You can find an 18-year-old truck driver protesting alongside a PhD student like me. These kinds of social connections would have been impossible to imagine in normal times. This movement is basically a school of democracy: you learn that this is the people in all its variety, and you need to figure out how to work with them. A kind of professionalization is taking place among all the activists here, whether this involves media work, domestic labor, or any other tasks we undertake.

You have already talked about how the pro-state and pro-corporate media has been covering and, in key respects, not covering these protests. Would you like to address any specific misconceptions intentionally or unintentionally propagated by the Indian and international media, be it mainstream, independent, or even progressive or leftist?

How much should we expect of the Indian media? Two companies own 80 percent of the media. Reliance alone owns 36 news channels. They basically peddle lies day and night. They show a 10-year-old video as evidence that the protesters are Khalistani separatists [demanding a Sikh homeland]. That’s why, when a lot of media come here, their reporters don’t show their name tags and even cover up the tags on their mics; they know that they have no credibility here.


I think the biggest misconceptions about these protests is that these are rich people protesting, that they are motivated by electoral politics, and, of course, that foreign powers are behind these protests and that they are “anti-national” and anti-constitutional. One thing is clear: all protesters are bad protesters to this government. Students are anti-national, women are anti-national, Dalits are anti-national, Muslims are anti-national, workers are anti-national, farmers are anti-national. This is a majoritarian government for whom only a minority of people are actually citizens: the rest are all anti-nationals. This narrative is not only promoted by the government: it has been repeated by the pro-state media, and it has seeped into the international media’s coverage as well.

This movement is basically a school of democracy: you learn that this is the people in all their variety, and you need to figure out how to work with them.

Another misconception is that these protesters do not know about the law. The government and the pro-corporate, pro-state media are saying that the privatization of agriculture is good because it promotes competition. Competition among whom?

One more major misconception is that this protest only involves the Sikh farmers of Punjab. The government and mainstream media are trying to give the protests a religious angle, because that’s very easy, right? When minorities go against the majority and the majoritarian state, they are terrorists, right? We are trying to counter the idea that these are just some Punjabi Sikh men protesting against the Indian state through all our initiatives and activities. Protests are happening in virtually every part of India: Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and even Kashmir. Just because all of these protesters are not at the Delhi border does not mean that they are not protesting.

We have also said again and again that we are here to peacefully protest and so, if anything goes wrong, the state is responsible. If anything unruly happens, we make sure we record it, so that we can provide those recordings to any media we contact and say, “Look at what we have witnessed.” We know that, when it comes to violence, no one can beat the state: it is the ultimate agent of violence, sometimes through the law and sometimes more directly through the police.

Why should people of conscience, especially progressives and leftists, across the world care about these protests and the issues that the farmers are addressing? How are these issues and the corresponding protests globally interconnected? And how have people of conscience from outside of India been showing meaningful solidarity with the farmers and how can they continue to do so?

Solidarity protests have been happening across the world; the mass support that these protests have received extends to the South Asian diaspora. The Trolley Times has further been translated into several languages and distributed not only in different parts of India but in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States as well.

At a foundational level, I’d desist from saying that this is a “farmers’ protest.” I’d only say that farmers are leading the protest. India is a poor country with a few rich people. Between 70 and 80 percent of Indians suffer from malnutrition. The Essential Commodities Act allows private businessmen to hoard essential items such as food grains and oil. The de-regularization of prices allows for black markets in such a way that you might end up with godowns [warehouses] full of food grains and a huge population at threat of starvation. In that sense, these laws are an attack not just on farmers but on everyone who eats. This should be a concern for everyone across the world who believes that every human being has a right to eat.

India also accounts for one-sixth of the world’s population. These laws stand to affect the food security, nutrition and overall health and safety of a huge number of people, which in itself should make them everyone’s concern.

Privatization is also a global phenomenon. Raise your voice against privatization in your home country. We don’t just want you to stand with us: we want you to stand up for yourself. These multinational companies have to be defeated not only in India, but also Africa, America, Australia, Europe — everywhere. Everyone is on their radar, and, to counter multinational companies, we need multinational protest.

In addition, these laws rob farmers on the one hand and consumers on the other. I am not here just to support farmers; I am also here as a consumer. I know that I will have to pay so much more to have a basic meal if these laws are implemented. Why should consumers pay so much for food when farmers aren’t even getting a fair price for their agricultural products?

What are the most significant challenges that this struggle will have to overcome if it is to prevail?

Since Day One, the movement has been trying to build broader solidarity. The protesters have been very careful to cause as little inconvenience as possible to local residents. We have also been trying to get them on our side through our media initiatives, with quite a lot of success. Government authorities have not been able to dismiss these protests as a one-off, despite their best efforts.

I think the biggest challenge is the arrogance of this government. State authorities have a tendency to do what they say. They know that these farm laws are dangerous, but, because they have already passed them, they will open up space to address much of their previous wrongdoing if they back down.

But this is to be expected of a government run by proto-fascist strongmen, right? Strongmen can never afford to seem weak, by their very definition.

The myth of the strong leader has to be busted. In a way, I think that this protest has already been successful, because it has democratized a large part of the population, even in just this one small part of India. The protesters have decided that the republic belongs to the people, not to the government.

Every day is very challenging. Any small incident of violence that could be attributed to us, even if we’re not responsible, could threaten the entire movement. Every passing moment is a relief, but the very next moment is a threat. There is a constant threat of state-sponsored violence on both the smaller and larger scale: people have been caught here with small guns. We are basically on night duty right now, looking out for any suspicious persons till 5:00 in the morning. We have been protesting for two months, and we don’t want something spectacular to happen one day that makes everything erupt. In that sense, it’s good that people have not been joining the movement in the thousands; rather, they have consistently been joining in the hundreds.

The protesters have decided that the republic belongs to the people, not to the government.

As I said before, this is not a fight against one government but rather an entire policy framework. Even if we are able to scrap these laws for now — and the government has admitted that it can put them on hold for 18 months — they will undoubtedly be brought back, with a more shrewd design and more brute force behind them. This is a fight that requires us to be on the tips of our toes for the rest of our lifetimes. The good thing is that, when people fight against the government, they gain a muscle memory and a consciousness that is the essence of democracy. A big chunk of the country is remembering what actually brought us independence from the British.

If this movement succeeds, you will see a flurry of mass movements around different issues. If these protests are not able to achieve their concrete goals, however, there will be a large vacuum in the imagination of the people, because they will think that, if protests of this scale cannot force the hand of this government, then nothing can.

Would you like to add anything before we sign off?

I’d just say to people who read this interview that we can’t theorize this movement yet. This is history in the making, but we still don’t know what kind of history it will be. Many of the people who are protesting right now never imagined that they would have to protest for something like this. We have to realize that the neoliberal system is going to consume each and every one of us — not just the most dispossessed, but even those who are slightly well-off. If you have a hundred people sitting in a room, and someone comes in and says, “One of you has to die,” everyone feels the threat that they could be the one. Don’t wait until you get attacked: notice when people around you are getting attacked, and raise your voice.

Protest gives us life: it gives us a fighting spirit and a sense of ownership. This country is ruled by a fascist government right now, but protest brings us back to our roots by saying, “This is our land. This is our people.” I think that kind of organic rather than national chauvinist engagement with your geographical part of the world, as well as your engagement with your own community, is absolutely vital.

Protest gives us life: it gives us a fighting spirit and a sense of ownership.


Mukesh’s intimate, nuanced insights into India’s ongoing farmers’ rebellion stimulate as many questions as they answer. In spite of our lengthy conversation, we could not possibly cover the protests in all their complexity. Dalit — caste-oppressed — rights advocates both in India and the United States have inquired as to how the protesters intend to address the caste hierarchies that persist in agricultural communities across Punjab and the country as a whole, at the same time as a significant number of landless Dalits have declared their solidarity with the protesting farmers. Contradictions of this kind are almost bound to emerge within protests of the scale at hand, especially in a society that has yet to fully break out of the shackles of feudalism. The inevitability of these contradictions, should, of course not naturalize them and prevent their interrogation, not least of all because of their potential to weaken the movement in question overall.

However, perhaps the most pertinent question for politically engaged people of conscience outside of India is whether they will answer the farmers’ call to action, as Mukesh incisively and provocatively frames it. The neoliberal Hindu nationalist project is a profoundly transnational one, as I have argued elsewhere, and it necessitates transnational opposition, not just from South Asian diasporic communities but from all anti-fascists, anti-capitalists, anti-authoritarians and politically engaged people of conscience everywhere. The Modi regime’s corporate backers, political lackeys and cultural instruments must be identified, exposed and shut down wherever and whenever they attempt to implement their poisonous agenda.


Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

Featured image: Wangan and Jagalingou cultural leader Adrian Burragubba visits Doongmabulla Springs in Australia. The Wangan and Jagalingou are fighting a proposed coal mine that would likely destroy the springs, which are sacred to the Indigenous Australian group.

     by Noni Austin / Ecowatch

For tens of thousands of years, the Wangan and Jagalingou people have lived in the flat arid lands of central Queensland, Australia. But now they are fighting for their very existence. Earlier this month, they took their fight to the United Nations after years of Australia’s failure to protect their fundamental human rights.

A company called Adani Mining Pty Ltd, part of the Adani Group of companies founded by an Indian billionaire named Gautam Adani, is determined to build the massive Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project on the Wangan and Jagalingou’s ancestral homelands. If built, the Carmichael Coal Mine would be among the largest coal mines in the world, with six open-cut pits and five underground mines, as well as associated infrastructure like rail lines, waste rock dumps and an airstrip.

Coals mine are immensely destructive: The Carmichael mine would permanently destroy vast areas of the Wangan and Jagalingou’s ancestral homelands and waters, and everything on and in them—sacred sites, totems, plants and animals. It would also likely destroy the Wangan and Jagalingou’s most sacred site, Doongmabulla Springs, an oasis in the midst of a dry land. The development of the mine would also result in the permanent extinguishment under Australian law of the Wangan and Jagalingou’s rights in a part of their ancestral homelands.

The Wangan and Jagalingou’s lands and waters embody their culture and are the living source of their customs, laws and spiritual beliefs. Their spiritual ancestors—including the Mundunjudra (Rainbow Serpent), who travelled through Doongmabulla Springs to shape the land—live on their lands.

As Wangan and Jagalingou authorized spokesperson and cultural leader Adrian Burragubba said, “Our land is our life. It is the place we come from, and it is who we are. Plants, animals and waterholes all have a special place in our land and culture and are connected to it.”

Consequently, the destruction of the Wangan and Jagalingou’s lands and waters is the destruction of their culture. If their lands are destroyed, they will be unable to pass their culture on to their children and grandchildren, and their identity as Wangan and Jagalingou will be erased.

Murrawah Johnson, authorised youth spokesperson of the Wangan and Jagalingou, said, “In our tribe, women teach our stories to our young people. I want my children and their children to know who they are. And if this mine proceeds and destroys our land and waters, and with it our culture, our future generations will not know who they are. Our people and our culture have survived for thousands of years, and I cannot allow the Carmichael mine to destroy us. I will not allow myself to be the link in the chain that breaks.”

The Wangan and Jagalingou have consistently and vehemently opposed the Carmichael mine, rejecting an agreement with Adani Mining on four occasions since 2012. Throughout its dealings with the Wangan and Jagalingou, Adani Mining has used the coercive power of Australian legislation and acted in bad faithholding fraudulent meetings and manipulating the Wangan and Jagalingou’s internal decision-making processes.

In these circumstances, the development of the Carmichael mine violates the Wangan and Jagalingou’s internationally protected human rights, including the right to continue practicing their culture and to use and control their ancestral homelands, as well as the right to be consulted in good faith and to give or withhold their consent to mining projects on their lands.

Despite the Wangan and Jagalingou’s persistent objections and their pleas to the Australian and Queensland governments to protect their human rights, both governments have approved the mine and publicly support it, and Adani Mining remains steadfastly determined to develop the project as soon as possible. The Wangan and Jagalingou have also brought litigation in Australia to protect their homelands, but have been unsuccessful to date because Australian law allows private companies and the government to override the Wangan and Jagalingou’s rights in their ancestral lands.

Now, to protect their fundamental human rights, the Wangan and Jagalingou have been forced to seek help from a United Nations human rights watchdog. Recently, the Wangan and Jagalingou asked the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to urgently ensure Australia protects their homelands and culture. The committee is the enforcement body of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty Australia has signed. The convention is one of the core international treaties among the world’s nations that protect our most basic human rights, including Indigenous peoples’ rights to culture and land.

If Australia will not listen to its own people, the Wangan and Jagalingou hope it will listen to international community and cease prioritizing the profits of a foreign company over the permanent loss of a people who have been connected to the land since time immemorial.

Earthjustice assisted the Wangan and Jagalingou to prepare their request for urgent action to the UN.

Landmark Victory for the Ogiek Delivered by the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights

Landmark Victory for the Ogiek Delivered by the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights

Featured image: The Ogiek preparing to receive the African Court’s landmark decision after awaiting close to a decade. Photo: Andrew Songa on twitter @drewfremen

     by  / ECOTERRA Intl. via Intercontinental Cry

The African Court on Human and Peoples Rights, at its 45th session on May 26, 2017 in Arusha, Tanzania, delivered a long-awaited and unanimous judgment against the Kenya government in a case brought before it by the Ogiek Indigenous Peoples.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights had filed the case after the applicant proved consistent violations and the denial of the human and land rights of the Ogiek by the Republic of Kenya.

In November 2009, when the Kenyan Forest Service (KFS) delivered a potentially fatal blow against the Ogiek with the designation of an eviction order in October 2009 against the Ogiek and anyone else within the Mau Forest Complex–the ancestral homeland of the Ogiek–within 30 days, the African Court had issued an order to suspend the implementation of the eviction notice.

In March 2013, the African Court issued additional provisional measures requiring the Kenyan Government to stop any land transactions in the Mau Forest and refrain from taking any action that would harm the case, until a decision had been reached. This order, however, has never been respected by the Kenyan state.

After dismissing the numerous objections of the government of Kenya, the African Court delivered in Arusha a comprehensive judgement and a very clear ruling, read out over almost 2 hours by Hon. Justice Agustino Ramadani, the former President of the African Court.

The court found that the government of the Republic of Kenya illegally evicted members of the Ogiek community from the Mau Forest and has continuously violated the rights of the Ogiek under Articles 1, 2, 8, 14, 17 (2/3), 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights.

The Republic of Kenya given 6 months to implement required remedies

Concerning the demand for reparations and compensation, the Ogiek have 90 days to file an application and the Kenya state has 90 days to respond to the demands. After this period, the African Court will rule on the reparations to be awarded to the Ogiek community and its victims of abusive state power.

The ruling has been widely welcomed as a fair and just decision by the Ogiek and ECOTERRA Intl., an organization that has stood by the Ogiek since 1986, as well as other important supporters including Friends of Peoples close to Nature (fPcN-interCultural), Minority Rights International and CEMIRIDE.

This article was originally published by ECOTERRA Intl. It has been edited for Intercontinental Cry under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike License.
Just Conservation?

Just Conservation?

“A theory, however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue. Likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.”
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
Echoing the pleas of illegally displaced tribal peoples in a number of countries, a leading human rights NGO has called the loss of home, livelihoods, culture and customary rights in the name of conservation, “one of the most urgent and horrific humanitarian crises of our time”[1]. Such concerns are often absent from the narratives of the international conservation establishment. When they are addressed, it tends to be at the fringes, the magnitude of the crisis not appreciated.

Instead, what we usually hear from international conservation organizations is that parks, game reserves and other kinds of protected areas are the most important conservation success story and should be extended, improved, and strengthened worldwide. Recent research that provided a preamble to the November 2014 World Parks Congress, for instance, argued similarly that “protected areas are core to the future of life on our planet”, requiring larger coverage, representation and better management and funding[2]. Such assertions require reflection.

Flamingos at Saadani National Park in Tanzania

It is true that, in many cases, protected areas are allowing critical species and ecosystems to persist, and in this way they provide a cushion of hope in our ability to preserve some of the world’s remaining natural wealth. Biodiversity is often higher inside of protected areas than outside[3]. They can provide opportunities for improving health and well-being, support human life through invaluable environmental services, and offer opportunities for new forms of economic development and financial mechanisms, including through tourism, payments for ecosystem services, offsets, and bioprospecting. Yet the strategy based on protected areas, which defines conservation success in terms of spatial control, fails to tackle the most significant challenges to preserving biodiversity.

The celebration of protected areas hides ways in which the perpetuation of exclusionary conservation in many countries does not protect against so-called “development” so much as it mirrors it, as extractive industries, agribusiness, and conservation alike encroach into community and indigenous lands, and hinder local people’s ability to manage and be sustained by their territories, and to play a role in fostering biodiversity.

The “Promise” of the World Parks Congress[4] has encouragingly identified the role and rights of aboriginal peoples within community-based systems. It also pledges to “seek to redress and remedy past and continuing injustices in accord with international agreements”. Yet, state- and privately-managed conservation pursuits undertaken within former and current aboriginal ancestral territories, exercise ever greater control over large, highly biodiverse landscapes, without the needed scrutiny and appropriate responses to rights violations. The Promise’s call “to ensure that protected areas do not regress but rather progress” demands that more attention be paid to territorial jurisdiction and stewardship by indigenous peoples and local communities.


The idea that state conservation agencies and large international conservation NGOs have pursued their agendas at the expense of indigenous and local communities is not new. In 2003 for instance, at the fifth World Parks Congress in Durban, issues of justice and human rights were put on the table.[5] The following year, an important paper by anthropologist Mac Chapin called the conservation establishment to account for how it had dealt with indigenous communities[6]. Since then, governments endorsed and adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and work has been underway to clarify, implement and uphold rights, including in the context of conservation standards[7].

However, what lasting effect this kind of attention to human rights issues has had on the practice of state conservation is not clear. Evidence of the negative social impact of state managed conservation continues to pile up. In 2009, Dowie’s Conservation Refugees exposed how conservation organizations have become one of the biggest threats to indigenous peoples all over the world[8]. Moreover, research efforts continue to document the trampling of community rights through the accumulation of land and resources by government conservation agencies, their international NGO partners[9], and corporate tourism. Dispossession, forced resettlement and violation of the rights of local communities in places targeted for conservation have recently been documented in India, Thailand, and Central and Eastern Africa[10].

Despite the sheer volume of cases of forced evictions and destroyed livelihoods, the prominent message from last year’s World Parks Congress was clear and simple: let there be no retreat; let every country play its part in the push to achieve protected area targets; let the park rangers have more support in their war against poachers! This trend once again compels an examination of a global conservation strategy which in many countries signifies the continuation of policies of forced resettlement in order to create, extend and strengthen state managed parks and game reserves.

Eviction attempt, Uvinje village, north of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania (Credit: Uvinje villagers)

Eviction attempt, Uvinje village, north of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania (Credit: Uvinje villagers)

To appreciate the impacts of current approaches to conservation, one only needs to take a quick look at some of the most park-friendly countries, such as Tanzania whose protected areas cover no less than one-third of the country’s territory. In Tanzania, a barrage of factors frustrate conservation efforts, including climate change, a growing human population, poverty, unsustainable resource use outside of protected areas, encroachment into park lands, and most notably an overwhelming poaching crisis. The steady expansion of the protected area network together with the need to combat the unprecedented level of organized poaching of iconic wildlife species such as elephants and rhinos have been accompanied by a relentless push for escalating security budgets[11].

Yet these challenges only partially describe the nature of the problem facing conservation in the country today. Tanzania’s pattern of forcibly displacing ancestral communities from their land and significantly hindering mobile people’s ability to seasonally access needed resources, while the tourism industry and the government conservation agencies continue to accumulate territory may be the most fundamental challenge to the conservation of biodiversity in the country[12].

On one side, disillusioned communities surrounding parks and game reserves, once stewards of their own environments, have been divested of all but tiny remnants of their ancestral lands or have been fully dispossessed, leading to destroyed livelihoods, out-migration and social conflict. Peoples integrally connected to their natural environment, such as the Maasai of Loliondo[13], and communities who in the past proactively reached out to seek a partnership with the government to implement conservation, such as Uvinje on Tanzania’s northern coast[14], have been stripped of their tenure rights and their ability to properly care for themselves and the wildlife, and portrayed as enemies of conservation. On the other side, there are the comparatively well-funded activities of an entrenched conservation machinery. Under their watch, wildlife has been imperilled by organized criminal poaching taking advantage of corruption[15] and by ill-managed trophy hunting[16].

Similar stories can be told about other countries[17], with poaching ironically reaching alarming and critical levels inside protected areas[18]. Yet overall, protected areas have come to be widely regarded as the best or even the only hope for nature’s survival.

To what extent this is a response to increased opportunities for international assistance and investment in tourism, a defensive reaction against mining and other forms of economic development that result in destruction of habitat, or a result of skepticism about the ability of human beings to live in harmony with nature, is unclear. Probably all of these factors are playing a role.

Regardless, protected areas are — under the premise the ends justify the means— being pursued at any price and by any means possible. For indigenous and rural communities who live on land targeted for conservation by the state or by conservation NGOs, even when they have been stalwart stewards of the ecosystems they inhabit, the result is devastating.

Coast line of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (Canada). Unilaterally established on Nuu-cha-nulth First Nations traditional territory. Credit: Aleja Orozco.


Unfortunately, as long as we remain resigned to a culture of conservation that treats human beings as the enemy and that turns a blind eye to violations of human rights, the approach will be self-defeating. Current declines in biodiversity are not primarily a result of gaps in the number, extent and representation of parks and other kinds of protected areas, nor is the decline of iconic species caused by insufficiently strict exclusion of poor rural people from their traditional territories. What we are seeing are the consequences of a fundamentally misguided strategy being pursued by global and national conservation establishments. There are three essential problems with this strategy.

First, the pursuit of conservation through the creation of boundaries and enclosures which divide communities and nature and place nature under the strict control of powerful, unaccountable non-local institutions can only work to the extent that protected areas can be buffered from social discontent beyond their boundaries—an essentially impossible task. The marginalization and dispossession of indigenous peoples and rural communities in the name of conservation, the capturing of the tourism dollars and other economic benefits of conservation by local and national elites and by international investors, and the militarization of protected areas can only lead to increasing social conflict and disillusionment with the very idea of conservation and with the organizations promoting it. Cash payouts as a part of “benefit sharing”, even when they do actually materialize, even when they do amount to something more than crumbs, cannot compensate for losing one’s livelihood, cultural bearings, land and home.

In contrast to this trend is the growing recognition from both researchers and practitioners that biological diversity is intrinsically connected to cultural diversity, and that indigenous peoples and local communities enrich the practice of conservation. Indeed, where indigenous and local communities have been able to secure their rights to govern their territories as well as implement their values and outlook on protected areas and conservation, positive conservation outcomes have been achieved, and productive partnerships and new forms of collaboration have developed.[19] Conversely, the failure to acknowledge this has prevented national governments and the conservation establishment from benefiting from traditional ecological knowledge, from grassroots social and institutional experience in sustainably managing ecosystems, and from the home-grown, heartfelt conservation ethic which people who live on and from the land so often possess. We cannot expect to achieve conservation when the means of doing so violate the welfare of those who have fostered biodiversity.

Second, the dominant approach seems to ignore the fact that we live in an interconnected world, where local processes have global consequences and vice versa. What happens beyond parks is as critical as what happens within them, often more so. The international trade in engendered species, climate change, and the destruction of habitat by conflicts and by industrial resource extraction all affect indigenous and rural communities whose traditional territories lie within and adjacent to parks, but are not caused by them.

This problem was identified at the recent World Parks Congress:

The failure of the IUCN and the conservation sector to take seriously the surge in mining, extractive industries and other forms of development has put into question the integrity of protected and conserved areas, the maintenance of livelihoods for Indigenous peoples and local communities, and possible solutions to climate change and instability.[20]

Even when these communities are, in some places, contributing to the loss of biodiversity, as through the expansion of agriculture into ever more marginal lands and wildlife habitats, it must be recognized that these activities are intricately connected to conditions of poverty, failings of governance, and social injustice. Addressing environmental challenges in a fragmented way that does not account for these deeper drivers and that does not take into account the need to engage with a broader range of custodians of territories who could help to counter these drivers will not shield us from serious environmental consequences either within or outside of protected areas. Often, it is communities members’ practices we blame, as well as communities’ territories we turn our attention to, and in doing so, we fail to see what happens in the more industrialized and geopoliticized landscapes.

The third problem is more fundamental. It relates to the thinking underlying a culture and approach to conservation which divides people and nature. This fragmented worldview produces solutions based on fragmentation.  It leads either to the belief that nature is a resource, something to be dominated and used, or to the conviction that it must be defended from human beings. Most state-led conservation approaches are based on a dualistic separation between people and the environment, in many cases leading to displacement, resettlement and to loss not only of rich biological, but also of cultural, diversity.[21]

Indigenous worldviews, on the other hand, see human beings as part of the world of nature and recognize an interconnectedness which runs deeper than simply acknowledging that our material survival depends on healthy ecosystems. In a worldview founded on interconnectedness, nature shapes who we are as human beings. And it is shaped by us—not as engineers fabricating a machine to chosen specifications, but as creatures that move within and help to make up the world of nature. Small parts called “protected areas” cannot be healthy apart from the whole.

From this perspective, the very phrase “protected area” reveals misguided thinking.  Protected from what? The answer—protected from us—reveals the imbalance that calls out for correction. Indigenous worldviews suggest that it is interconnectedness that allows diversity to thrive. These views have been, more often than not, persistently disregarded in state-managed conservation and the mainstream conservation paradigm whose worldview is one of reducing the world and ways of thinking down to their component parts. Another question—protected for whom?—calls into question who it is that really benefits. As protected areas increasingly become linked to economic ventures, through payment for ecosystem services and offsets, bioprospecting and tourism, the people who benefit most are seldom those who live in or adjacent to the actual sites of conservation.


Setting conservation on a different path will require thorough changes in institutions and institutional culture, the challenging of vested interests, and new ways of thinking about human beings’ relationship with nature, all of which will be long term undertakings. Yet, there are some steps that could be taken immediately to help reframe conservation in a way that respects human rights, protects cultural diversity, and mobilizes local communities as allies in environmental conservation efforts.


Through the Convention on Biological Diversity, the countries of the world have agreed to targets for the establishment of protected areas: at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas.[22]

The guidelines for achieving these targets allow for protected areas with differing management objectives, including sustainable use of resources, and allow for different forms of governance, including governance by local communities and indigenous groups. However, in their implementation the targets have provided a perfect excuse for land grabs and other unjust practices in the name of conservation. The single-minded push to create national parks and game reserves has undermined the role of people who are connected with and care about nature, and in so doing it undermines conservation.

The protected areas targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity also include a milestone that “all protected areas are effectively and equitably managed”. It is time for this milestone to be given some teeth. Unless it is aboriginal peoples specifically requesting for a park to be established on their territory, this might entail withdrawing support towards the establishment of national parks within territories inhabited by aboriginal peoples, and not counting these cases as contributing to protected area targets.

Ultimately, progress in conservation effectiveness needs to be defined also in terms of equity, shared or community-led jurisdiction and the cooperative engagement of local custodians rather than percentage of territories set aside as protected areas[23].


Currently, much of the assistance from international conservation organizations and aid agencies for conservation in developing countries supports, either directly or indirectly, the dominant strategy based on strong, state-governed protected areas.

An alternative approach would direct more resources to initiatives such as supporting ongoing but overlooked efforts of local communities[24], and building the capacity of community-based organizations and indigenous and local governments to engage in conservation and develop sustainable economies.[25] It would also facilitate equitable partnerships for conservation, which put communities on an equal footing with government, international conservation NGOs and the tourism industry in terms of participation in decision-making, access to training and certification, and access to employment.

Conservation dollars might also be expected to achieve a greater long term impact by monitoring and addressing drivers of environmental degradation beyond protected areas, the real culprit behind loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Support is needed for landscape-wide approaches which include communities as full partners, which recognize and protect their assets and tenure rights inside and outside protected areas, and which aim for protection of habitats as well as sustainable and just use of natural resources beyond protected area islands.

Where powerful interests cannot be expected to partner with communities in good faith, the financing of social justice initiatives is needed: funds to support community legal action in defence of human rights, and mechanisms to ensure meaningful engagement, informed collective consent, and compliance on the part of powerful states and non-state conservation actors.


Even in rural areas, people’s connection to their environment is changing. But this is a trend that could be reversed by taking a more socially conscious approach to conservation.

Countries that still have large areas of natural forest and savannah should not be building walls to keep people away from nature or slowly depriving areas of badly needed services and infrastructure as a way to push people away. Instead, they should support people to make decisions for the well-being of their children and grandchildren, provide requested extension services, and encourage local economies that protect biocultural diversity while also adding value to it.

The primary purpose of parks should not be to attract international tourists. Instead, more should be done to attract and assist local people to (re)connect with their territory. This is particularly true for rural people who live adjacent to protected areas. Rural people we have spoken to who live near Serengeti National Park Tanzania, for instance, miss the days when the Park regularly sent buses to take their children on trips into the park[26]. People living on the north-east side of Saadani National Park do not understand how government reclassification of their former village lands can be used to prevent them from visiting ancient sacred places.[27]

There is a need to recognize and support indigenous people’s and local communities’ ability to live well in their territories and to use their resources according to their values and knowledge. Indeed, there is growing evidence that indigenous peoples whose human rights are protected, e.g. their rights to their lands, territories and resources and right to self-determination, have ecosystems that are in much better shape than national parks and reserves managed by the State or other external actors.[28] The separation of communities from their ancestral territories undermines the interconnectedness that we so badly need and depend upon.


Beyond the specific necessities of reassessing protected areas targets as a policy tool and reorienting what conservation budgets are spent on, there is a broader, longer term need to re-examine existing global and national policies and governance mechanisms for conservation. At a moment when organized poaching and international trade in endangered species is threatening the survival of too many species, in some instances fuelling armed conflicts (…even within state-governed parks and game reserves! …even though conservation spending is the highest in history!), threats within and beyond protected areas surpass the ability of any one stakeholder, approach or institution to maintain biologically and culturally diverse landscapes.

The need to re-enlist local communities as allies in conservation is urgent. This need can be met, not through “awareness-raising” programs, but through tangible steps toward recognition of rights to territory, concrete redress of social justice infringements and participation in decision-making processes, as well as effective delivery of requested services and infrastructure in areas that are often impoverished and marginalized.

Meaningful institutional inclusion, shared jurisdiction and clear recognition of diverse values and knowledge systems guiding conservation, direct training and employment and sustainable economies can lead to multi-level cooperation and concerted collective action. Meager benefit-sharing programs and draconian restrictions on inhabitation, access and use of protected areas will not suffice.

In particular, enforceable mechanisms are needed for the defence of human rights and the preventing of evictions of local communities and indigenous peoples from targeted landscapes. This must include safeguarding and in many cases reinstating communities’ land tenure rights, as well as creating systems for meaningful engagement between local communities on the one hand and government conservation agencies and conservation NGOs on the other. Just conservation is effective conservation: it is time for tangible action to make it happen.


[1] Survival International, Parks Need Peoples.[2] Watson, J., Dudley, N., Segan, N. and Hockings. 2014. Theperformance and potential of protected areas. Nature, 515: 72.

[3] Coetzee, B., Gaston, K. and Chown, S. 2014. Local scale comparisons of biodiversity as a test for global protected area ecological performance: A meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 9(8): e105824.

[4] The “Promise of Sydney” was the official communiqué of the IUCN World Parks Congress, held in Sydney in November 2014. It rests on four pillars which collectively represent the outcomes of the World Parks Congress: the core Vision; twelve Innovative Approaches;Commitments, including pledges from countries, funders and organizations; and Solutions. The four pillars “collectively represent the direction and blueprint for a decade of change that emanate from the deliberations of this World Parks Congress”.

[5] Brosius, J. P. 2004. Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas at the World Parks Congress. Conservation Biology, 18: 609–612.

[6] Chapin, M. 2004. A challenge to conservationists. World Watch Magazine, (November/December), 17–31.

[7] United Nations, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security on 11 May 2012. Indian Law Resource Center and IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy. 2015. Conservation and Indigenous Peoples in Mesoamerica: A Guide; D. Roe, G. Oviedo, L. Pabon, M. Painter, K. Redford, L. Siegele, J. Springer, D. Thomas and K. Walker Painemilla. 2010. Conservation and human rights: the need for conservation standards. London: IIED; IIED, Conservation Initiative on Human Rights; IIED and Natural Justice, Human Rights Standards for Conservation; Campese, J., Sunderland, T., Greiber, T. and Oviedo, G. (eds.) 2009. Rights-based approaches: Exploring issues and opportunities for conservation. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR and IUCN.

[8] Mark Dowie. 2009. Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[9] T.A. Benjaminsen, M. J. Goldman, M.Y. Minwary and F. P. Maganga. 2013. Wildlife management in Tanzania: State control, rent seeking and community resistance. Development and Change, 44(5): 1087–1109; T.A. Benjaminsen and I. Bryceson. 2012. Conservation, green/blue grabbing and accumulation by dispossession in Tanzania. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 39(2): 335-355; Kumar, K.J, 2008. Reserved Parking: Marine reserves and small-scale fishing communities.SAMUDRA Dossiers. International Collective in Support of Fishworkers. Chennai, India: Nagaraj and Company Pvt Ltd

[10] Survival International, 2015. World Wildlife Day: tribespeople denounce persecution in the name of ‘conservation’; Vidal, J. How the Kalahari bushmen and other tribes people are being evicted to make way for ‘wilderness’. The Guardian, 16 November 2014; Survival International, Parks Need People; Bennet, G., J. Woodman, J. Gakelebone, S. Pani, J. Lewis. 2015. Indigenous Peoples destroyed for misguided ‘conservation’. Lecture presented at the ‘Beyond Enforcement: Communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime’ conference, 26-28th February, Muldersdrift, South Africa; Bennett, O. and C. McDowell. 2012. Displaced: The Human Cost of Development and Resettlement. Palgrave Macmillan.

[11] (“We need a $77 million budget per year to be able to ensure all our national parks are sufficiently secured, while the current budget stands at $38 million annually,” Minister of Tourism (The East African, 28 April 2012); “[T]his includes additional millions of dollars to help countries across the region build their capacity to meet this challenge, because the entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations,” Barack Obama (Washington Times/The Global Animal, 8 August 2013).

[12] J. Friedman-Rudovsky. The ecotourism industry is saving Tanzania’s animals and threatening its Indigenous People. Vice Magazine, 12 May 2015.

[13] D. Smith. Tanzania accused of backtracking over sale of Masai’s ancestral land. The Guardian, 16 November 2014; N. Malilk. Rich Gulf Arabs using Tanzania as a playground? Someone opened the gate. The Guardian, 17 November 2014.

[14] Orozco, A., 2014. Uvinje Village and Saadani National Park, Research For Change; Minority Rights Group International, MRG warns community land rights are under threat in Uvinje, Tanzania, 18 February 2015; ICCA Consortium, Consortium appeal to the Tanzania authorities: NO eviction of Uvinje villagers, respect communities sensitive to conservation!

[15]K. Heath. New report shows corruption and abuse rife within Tanzania wildlife sector. Wildlife News, 10 March 2015.

[16] There is no question that trophy hunting is very lucrative; whether and under which conditions it is being carried out in a sustainable way and in partnership with local communities is another question, brought to center stage by the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe: see Cooney, R. What will Cecil the Lion’s legacy be? And who will decide? The Huffington Post, 2 August 2015. Packer, C., H. Brink, B.M. Kissui, H. Maliti, H. Kushnir and T. Karo. 2010. Effects of trophy hunting on lion and leopard populations in Tanzania. Conservation Biology, 21(1): 142-153

[17] G. Bennet, J. Woodman, J. Gakelebone, S. Pani, J. Lewis. 2015.Negative impacts of wildlife law enforcement in Botswana, Cameroon and India – How tribal peoples are evicted, arrested and imprisoned in the name of conservation. Survival International; Roe, D., S. Milledge, R. Cooney, M. ’t Sas-Rolfes, D. Biggs, M. Murphree and A. Kasterine. 2014. The elephant in the room: Sustainable use in the illegal wildlife trade debate. London: IIED; Duffy R., F.A.V. St John, B. Büscher, and D. Brockington. 2015. The militarization of anti-poaching: Undermining long-term goals? Environmental Conservation (in press). DOI:; D.W.S. Challender and D.C. MacMillan. 2014. Poaching is more than an enforcement problem.Conservation Letters, 7(5): 484-494.

[18] Duffy, R. 2014. Waging a war to save biodiversity: the rise of militarized conservation. International Affairs, 90: 819–834. Rhino poaching in South Africa at record levels following 18% rise in killings(The Guardian, 11 May 2015), with most taken in the Kruger National Park.

[19] Porter-Bolland, L., E.A. Ellis, M. R. Guariguata, I. Ruiz-Mallén, S. Negrete-Yankelevich, V. Reyes-García. 2015. Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics. Forest Ecology and Management, 268: 6-17; Ross, H., C. Grant, C. Robinson, A. Izurieta, D. Smyth and P. Rist. 2009. Co-management and Indigenous Protected Areas in Australia: achievements and ways forward. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 16(4): 242-252; Andrade, G. S. M., and J. R. Rhodes. 2012. Protected areas and local communities: an inevitable partnership toward successful conservation strategies? Ecology and Society 17(4): 14; Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCAs).

[20] World Parks Congress, A strategy of innovative approaches and recommendations to enhance implementation of a New Social Compactin the next decade. The vision of the new social compact that came out of the World Parks Congress is to inspire a movement towards effective and just conservation that increases the relevance and strength of protected and conserved areas by galvanizing diverse stakeholders to collectively commit to a new conservation ethic.

[21] See current stories of bans, evictions and resettlements in the sitesJust Conservation and Survival International.

[22] Aichi Biodiversity Targets

[23] “A common theme at the World Parks Congress was a recognition that the quality components of Aichi Target 11 are more important than the percentage targets” (A strategy of innovative approaches and recommendations to reach conservation goals in the next decade).

[24] Sheil, D., M. Boissière, and G. Beaudoin. 2015. Unseen sentinels: local monitoring and control in conservation’s blind spots. Ecology and Society 20(2): 39.

[25] Example of engaging communities in the wildlife trade: Roe, D (ed). 2015. Conservation, crime and communities: case studies of efforts to engage local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade. London: IIED.

[26] Robinson, L.W., N. Bennett, L.A. King, G. Murray. 2012. “We Want Our Children to Grow Up to See These Animals”: Values and Protected Areas Governance in Canada, Ghana and Tanzania. Human Ecology,40:571-581.

[27] Orozco, A. 2014. Uvinje village and Saadani National Park, Research for Change.

[28] Tauli-Corpuz, V. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Statement to the 14th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues  27 April 2015, New York; Springer, J., and F. Almeida. 2015. Protected areas and the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities: Current issues and future agendas. Washington: Rights and Resources Initiative.