Rights-Based Approaches to Endogenous Development

The authors of this article are Kabir Bavikatte and Harry Jonas (Natural Justice) and was originally published in Endogenous Development Magazine 6: ”Bio-cultural Community Protocols enforce Biodiversity Benefits”, pg 4-6. It can be found online at www.compasnet.org

Natural Justice (Lawyers for Communities and the Environment) is an NGO working with indigenous peoples and local communities to develop rights-based approaches to securing their continued management of their bio-cultural heritage. Bio-cultural community protocols are a novel type of rights based-approach that can support communities’ rights to self-determination and endogenous development and help communities to constructively engage with other stakeholders in accordance with locally defined priorities and procedures.

The Right to Endogenous Development

Endogenous development describes a community process of defining and working towards future plans according to local values. Endogenous development processes promote the use of existing resources, assets and values within communities to support the collective management of local traditions, cultures, spirituality, and natural resources. Endogenous development also stresses that external interventions and assistance must be undertaken only when the community grants free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Interventions aim to strengthen communities’ capacities for endogenous development by agreeing on a vision of success. The vision of success consists of community-endorsed changes in practices and behaviours that would occur after a certain time span within a locality as a result of strengthened endogenous development. These changes often relate to management of natural resources, diversity of livelihood strategies, local leadership and governance, intra- and inter-community dialogue, dignity, value attached to cultural and spiritual knowledge, and capacities to negotiate access to external knowledge and resources. Endogenous development is founded on the principle of self-determination, which is also reflected in international law. Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states that, “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The UNDRIP’s explicit recognition of the centrality of endogenous development to self-determination constitutes a political victory at the international level, but since compliance with UNDRIP is voluntary, its effective implementation often remains elusive at the local level.

Endogenous development is already present and active in all indigenous and local communities and reflected in their capacities for self-determination. However, many communities’ capacities are undermined by the complex series of social, cultural, spiritual, economic, political, and legal relationships in which they continue reading–>

The Biocultural Heritage of Mexico: an overview

Víctor M. Toledo, Eckart Boege and Narciso Barrera-Bassols


Studies from different disciplinary backgrounds are revealing the inextricable links between cultural, biological and agricultural diversity at global, national, regional and local scales (Maffi, 2005). These multidimensional and complex relations are named ‘biocultural diversity’. In some way, these links represent the (biocultural) memory of the human species, because they are the present-day expression of a long historical legacy of interrelations between humans and nature (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols, 2008). At the country level, the conjunction of these three dimensions represents the nation’s biocultural heritage, and it is revealed through the geographical analysis of wild plant and animal species, languages, domesticated organisms, and especially territories of indigenous and local peoples.

In this essay, we offer an overview of the biocultural heritage of Mexico, through the discussion of three main topics: (i) a brief description of biological, linguistic and agricultural diversities; (ii) the definition, identification and mapping of biocultural hotspots in the Mexican territory; and (iii) a rapid review of the main grassroots initiatives and projects engaged in the multiple defense of biotic resources, germplasm, language, cultural identity, local livelihoods and territory. Our national-scale review synthesizes decades of work carried out by Mexican researchers and foreign colleagues about the main components of biocultural richness of Mexico.

Mexico: The Third Biocultural Center of the World

The complex connections between dimensions of linguistic, biological, and agricultural diversity become evident when they are analyzed at a global scale. Such correlations reveal that, in general, the majority of languages and of plant and animal species are situated in countries that are located along the fringes of the tropics (Oviedo, Maffin and Larsen, 2000). The principal centers of domestic plant and animal dispersion are located in these countries, in addition to a majority of cultural centers and/or a majority of the birthplaces of civilizations (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols, 2008).

Mexico, a megadiverse (the country alone contains 10% of the biological diversity found on the planet) and megacultural country (11 linguistic families, 68 language groupings, and 364 language variants according to INALI, 2007) has provided a historical linkage of these two worlds through the generation of one of the most important and singular civilization poles of humanity: the Mesoamerican Civilization.

As a consequence, Mesoamerican peoples domesticated 15% of the plant species that make up the world’s food system (CONABIO, 2008). This feat of civilization was achieved through the manipulation of plant continue reading–>

Re-establishing the inextricable link: Mbyá culture and biological diversity in the Atlantic Rainforest in Southeast Brazil

Project Contributors: Márcia Gomes de Oliveira and Norbert Suchanek

The Mbyá are one of the last surviving indigenous peoples of the Atlantic Rainforest in the Southeast of Brazil, known as Mata Atlântica, which once covered part of Paraguay, Uruguay, the North of Argentina and the whole coastal areas all the way to the Brazilian Northeast. Missionaries and scientists generally label the Mbyá as Guaraní-Mbyá, a label that the Mbyá politely shrug off, as they do not identify themselves as Guaraní.

During the past 500 years, the Mbyá were able to keep their language and their culture alive, because  traditionally  they are nomads. As pressures on the Atlantic Rainforest region increased, the Mbyá could always retreat farther into the forest. By the second half of the 20th century, although most of their ecologically rich rainforest ecosystem was destroyed, a significant portion of it survived, especially in the Southeastern  Brazilian States of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Espirito Santo.  The Mbyá were still able to carry on their nomadic lifestyle, traveling on foot for hundreds of miles from one Mbyá village to another, hunting animals and collecting honey, fruits and herbs in the forest. That all changed in the 1970s, when funding from international agencies allowed the construction of the Transamazonian Highway of the Southeast, which opened the heart of that surviving remnant of the Mata Atlântica.

At that time, the international agencies that had funded the road construction also provided funding for the creation of nature reserves and national parks as compensation for the rainforest destruction caused by the road. Instead of being demarcated as indigenous territory, the rest of the Atlantic Rainforest was declared “uninhabited” and designated as a strict conservation area—being considered as one of the world’s “hotspots” of biodiversity, and Brazil’s most endangered ecosystem. As a consequence, since the 1980s the Mbyá have nearly totally lost access to their highly diverse environment, and their long-distance movements are no longer possible. For that reason, today most of the about 3000 Mbyá have become “conservation refugees”: they must live in small villages at the edge of cities or close to roads, without enough land to plant their traditional staple crops and without access to the rainforest. They depend on governmental food packages and the production and selling of handcraft to tourists. In this way, the situation in the Southeast of Brazil is completely different from that of indigenous peoples in continue reading–>