Biocultural Community Protocols

Biocultural Community Protocols

Biocultural community protocols are a response to the challenges and opportunities set out above. Although each is adapted to its local context, a biocultural community protocol is generally a community-led instrument that promotes participatory advocacy for the recognition of and support for ways of life that are based on the customary sustainable use of biodiversity, according to standards and procedures set out in customary, national, and international laws and policies. In this sense, biocultural community protocols are community-specific declarations of the right to diversity. Their value and integrity lie in the process that communities undertake to develop them, in what they represent to the community, and in their future uses and impacts.

The process of developing and using a biocultural community protocol is an opportunity for communities to reflect on their ways of life, values, customary laws, and priorities and to engage with a variety of supporting legal frameworks and rights. A biocultural approach to the law empowers communities to challenge the fragmentary nature of State law and to instead engage with it from a more nuanced and integrated perspective and assess how certain laws may assist or hinder their plans for the future. A wide variety of community members are involved by integrating legal empowerment processes with endogenous development and communication methodologies such as group discussions, written documentation, various types of mapping and illustrations, participatory video and photography, performing arts, and locally appropriate monitoring and evaluation. Biocultural community protocols vary in how they are documented, shared, and utilized and have been highlighted as something meaningful and affirmative that a community can be proud of. The approach is intended to mobilize and empower communities to use international and national laws to support the local manifestation of the right to self-determination.

Communities establish a firm foundation upon which to develop the future management of their natural resources by setting out their values and customary procedures that govern the management of their natural resources, as well as their procedural and substantive rights to, among other things, be involved in decision-making according to the principle of free, prior and informed consent, develop the specific elements of projects that affect their lands, and ensure that they are involved in the monitoring and evaluation of such projects. This provides clarity to the drivers of external interventions such as protected areas, ABS deals, REDD projects, and payment for ecosystem services schemes, and can help communities gain recognition for, among other things, their territorial sovereignty, community-based natural resource management systems and community conserved areas, sui generis laws, sacred natural sites, and globally important agricultural heritage systems. In this regard, biocultural community protocols enable communities to bridge the gap between the customary management of their biocultural heritage and the external management of their resources, as mandated by positive legal frameworks. They also help communities to minimize the power asymmetries that often characterize government-community relations and promote a more participatory and endogenous approach to the future governance of their territories, natural resources, and biodiversity. By enabling a community to be proactive in relation to agencies and frameworks to which they have normally been reactive, protocols have the potential to shift the dynamic of conservation initiatives from merely attempting to ‘ensure’ communities’ participation to becoming inclusive, locally appropriate processes driven by legally empowered communities.

Natural Justice and our partners have developed a dedicated website on community protocols. We welcome you to visit the site and provide any feedback or contributions.



Biocultural Community Protocols for Livestock Keepers (LIFE Network, LPP, and LPPS, 2010)
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Endogenous Development Magazine
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Bio-cultural Community Protocols: A Community Approach to Ensuring the Integrity of Environmental Law and Policy (Natural Justice and UNEP, 2009)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: A Toolkit for Community Facilitators (Natural Justice, 2012)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating Stewardship, Asserting Rights, Affirming Responsibilities
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Biodiversity and Culture: Exploring community protocols, rights and consent (IIED Participatory Learning and Action 65, 2012)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating and Asserting Stewardship (Moving Images & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Recognising Customary Rights (LPP, LPPS and Moving Images, 2009)
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Maldhari Biocultural Community Protocol Photo Story (Sahjeevan & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Latest Publication

Biocultural Community Protocols: A Toolkit for Community Facilitators
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Community Protocols

Images from our work in Africa, Asia, and the Americas
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