On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Delfin Ganapin, WWF Governance Practice Leader, emphasises that recognising the rights, territories and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples around the world is key to delivering inclusive and sustainable development. Followed by stories from Ramata Yaya Buba, a member of the Mbororo community and Winnie Kodi, a member of the Nuba community of Sudan.
Losing languages impoverishes us all
Our linguistic diversity is extraordinary, and around the world, we speak more than 7,000 languages — yet alarmingly, a full 40% of these are in danger of being lost.
Every two weeks, a language disappears, forever — because the people that speak them, the majority of whom are indigenous, are ignored, excluded, displaced or marginalised.
The world’s 370 million indigenous people embody 5,000 different cultures across 90 countries. And their languages convey complex systems of knowledge developed over millennia, playing a crucial role in identity, history and memory.
When we lose a language, we lose unique and irreplaceable culture and knowledge.
That’s why the UN proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and why this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples highlights the urgent need to preserve, revitalise and promote indigenous languages.
The fate of people and nature are inextricably linked
From the Amazon to the Arctic, people and nature have evolved together for thousands of years, creating unique and interdependent cultures and landscapes. And where we find natural diversity, we also encounter cultural diversity.
Similarly, factors like migration, urbanisation and globalisation that drive linguistic and cultural homogenisation, also drive habitat loss, over-exploitation of natural resources, global heating and species decline.
It is no surprise then that natural and linguistic diversity are simultaneously in decline — but this biocultural loss is something we can ill afford as we breach planetary boundaries and endeavour to tackle global social and environmental challenges.
Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the primary custodians of much of the world’s most valuable remaining forest, grassland, savannah, wetland and ocean. Yet while they customarily own over 50% of the world’s land, they have secure legal rights to only 10%.
In failing Indigenous Peoples and local communities, we weaken our planet’s resilience and reduce our ability to deliver well-being and prosperity for all.
Indigenous knowledge and achievements need recognition
Recent research shows that Indigenous Peoples and local communities manage nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon in forestlands, and invest up to $1.71 billion in conserving forests in the developing world alone.
Yet Indigenous Peoples and local communities remain one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in the world, and their achievements, concerns and voices, together with their ancestral knowledge and ability to live in balance with nature, are conspicuously absent from many national and international agendas.
As noted by this year’s UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, indigenous knowledge remains threatened by misuse and marginalisation, and still needs recognition in international fora as an equal and valuable source of information in dialogue and decision-making.
A New Deal must strike the right balance
The Forum also underlined the importance of recognising indigenous knowledge and the indigenous relationship with nature in negotiating what has been dubbed the post-2020 global biodiversity framework under the Convention on Biodiversity.
As WWF and other conservation organisations make the call for an ambitious New Deal for Nature and People, including scientific targets that reverses nature loss, address the climate crisis, and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to consider new approaches to conservation that promote radical equity, structural transformation and environmental justice.
Through WWF’s global People Protecting Landscapes and Seascapes initiative, our network, together with partners and allies, will support Indigenous Peoples and local communities to secure rights to their collective lands and territories, as well as recognition of traditional governance systems over these lands and territories.
Combining work on the ground with advocacy for equity and justice, we aim to galvanise a new approach, one of inclusive conservation that empowers people and restores the vibrant cultural and natural diversity of our planet.
This is not just about WWF supporting conservation by Indigenous Peoples and local communities but critically about recognising their right to decide how to manage their lands and waters, as well as how, when and if to involve others.
In their immense diversity, indigenous people are speaking with one voice, saying simply, ‘We are here’.
We must listen.
“I believe that in 2035, the Indigenous Peoples will be leaders in Cameroon.”
Ramata Yaya Buba, vice chairperson of the Bangem Conservation Cooperative, a green Cooperative in Cameroon and member of the Mbororo community.
I am a native of Muanenguba. I was born in Muanenguba village in Bangem Sub Division. I attended the Government Primary school Muanenguba where I obtained the First School Leaving Certificate.
The first day I went to enrol in secondary school I felt so intimidated. The principal of the school was surprised to see me. He looked at me with disbelief. He had no idea a primary school existed at Muanenguba village. More frustrating was the fact that while in primary school we spoke only our local dialect except when the teacher was speaking to us. To start conversing in English with my peers was not easy at all. In school I looked different and everyone looked at me strangely. No student (all Bantu) sat on the same desk as me in class. I was isolated by all, until one day I complained to the principal and he ordered the teachers to always make sure I sit in the middle of two students. What turned everybody’s attention towards me was when I performed best during the first term examination. I was first out of over 60 students in class.
Then I enrolled in Government Technical College Bangem where I was the only successful candidate in the Probatoire examination. Pleased with my performance, the principal admitted me into Government Technical High School Kumba where I obtained the Baccalaureate Technique. Presently, I am looking forward to writing the competitive examination into the Higher Technical Teacher Training College.
My passion for development and conservation started growing during my interaction with WWF in the Mbororo Women’s group which WWF started working with in my village in 2009. At that time I was still in school.
This organic food crop group is exclusively made up of our mothers. Despite their shy and secluded nature, WWF continuously visited and sensitized them on basic conservation issues, reorganised their Common Initiative Group, provided them with basic farm tools, didactic materials for the primary school and involved them in many capacity building workshops. Though children were not allowed to attend their meetings, during one of WWF meetings with them, I stubbornly stood by the side to follow their discussion. One of the things that caught my attention and which later made me shed tears is the fact that apart from the communication difficulty that I noticed, I also realized that it was more as a result of illiteracy. All our mothers (32 in number) are illiterate; they can neither read nor write. This made me feel so sad. From that time and even more than ever before, I resolved to further my education. I proposed to my mother to assist the group in their future deliberations with WWF; at least to play the role of a translator. My mother, Mary Atin Hamidou who happened to be the President of the group sold the idea to her group members and from that time, whenever I was in the village, I was allowed to attend their meetings.
A turning point in this growth came when this group asked me to represent them in a workshop on green cooperative formation and business planning organised by WWF in 2014. The different common initiative groups with same objectives and businesses that were attending the workshop agreed to amalgamate into bigger structures, cooperatives, to align with government policy of compliance with the OHADA Act that favoured bigger to smaller groups. The result was that six green cooperatives were formed from the over 60 groups that attended this workshop.
The group I was representing became one of the groups that formed the Bangem Conservation Cooperative (BACCOOP) that chose poultry farming, as its main business. I called my mother’s group and informed them about this development and also briefed them on the elections of the newly formed cooperative executive that was to take place. Surprisingly, I was elected vice chairperson.
In the management team of the Cooperative, I am the youngest, the most educated and the only indigenous person. There is some minimum respect, but most often I have to insist before my opinion is taken into consideration. My only disappointment is that members of the cooperative are not very committed and do not respect the rules and regulations of the cooperative. I and the other Mbororo members are already getting discouraged because the cooperative activities and proceeds are not up to expectation. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as some reforms aimed at revamping the cooperative are underway. Thanks to our interactions in the cooperative have taught other members how to cultivate Irish potatoes. We live 9 KM away from Bangem, but each time meetings are called we are the first to arrive. This has made others to be time conscious. The Mbororo community through its two Common Initiative Groups has bought over 35 shares in the Bangem Conservation Cooperative.
Meanwhile, all the Mbororo children of my age and below in Muanenguba village now go to school. Many of them have emulated my example. In my family as well, all of us are educated; even those who are now married. However, braving the odds and getting enough resources to go to school remain a major challenge. Every Mbororo, Baka and Bagyeli parent should endeavour to send their children to school. I believe that in 2035, the Indigenous Peoples will be leaders in Cameroon.