The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) throws its support to efforts of the country’s indigenous communities in conserving key biodiversity areas within their ancestral domains.

Dubbed as “Indigenous Community Conserved Areas” or ICCA, these include mountains, lakes, burial grounds, places of rituals which the IPs hold sacred and important to their culture and traditions. These areas are reportedly thriving with wide array of threatened plants and animals and provide stable ecosystem services to upland communities.

“The ICCA is a traditional conservation model which we, including the international community, have come to recognize its critical role in the global and local effort to decentralize and diversify the governance of key biodiversity areas. The DENR supports ICCA because it sustains culture and biodiversity through the voluntary management practices and decisions of IPs,” DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said.

Paje made the statement in light of the on-going two-day national conference on ICCA (March 29-30, 2012) at the University of the Philippines – National College of Public Administration ad Governance (UP-NCPAG) in Quezon City.

On hand to participate in the conference which seeks to map out a national strategy framework and direction for ICCAs in the country are representatives from the local and international development partners such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Global Environment Facility (GEF), International ICCA Consortium and the UN Environment Program-World Conservation Monitoring Center; local non-government organizations, DENR and other government agencies, including representatives of indigenous communities.

Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau Director Theresa Mundita Lim stressed that the conference was the first to be convened to enable key leaders from various sectors not only to appreciate the scope and types of ICCA in the country but also to agree on the principles for engagement to strengthen ICCA recognition and declaration.

“It should be emphasized that the Philippine experience on ICCA recognition has attracted a strong interest from the international community as one of DENR’s pioneering efforts, through its New Conservation Areas of the Philippines Project (NewCAPP), that is supportive of the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which the country is signatory,” Lim explained.

Meanwhile, Dave de Vera of the Philippine Association for Intercultural Development (PAFID), a non-government organization working for the welfare and development of indigenous communities, said that the estimated ICCA coverage in the country is “comparable to the government’s protected areas”. He also said most of these areas are located within critical watersheds and protected areas, which provide water to downstream communities. “ICCA are sources of livelihoods for millions of people, securing resources and income for survival,” he stressed.

With the theme “Nature Conservation in the Footsteps of our Ancestors”, the conference is organized by the DENR-NewCAPP, with support from GEF through UNDP, in collaboration with the University of the Philippines and partner NGOs such as PAFID and the Coalition of IP Organizations in the Philippines (KASAPI), as well as the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).