How 5% of the world’s population conserve over 80% of the earth’s biodiversity

Posted September 21, 2020 from India

“5% of the world’s population conserve over 80% of the earth’s biodiversity”(Can Indigenous Land Stewardship Protect Biodiversity?, 2018) The following are the findings of the world banks report on “The role of Indigenous people (IP) in biodiversity conservation” Engaging IPs more effectively in biodiversity conservation represents a win-win situation because:

- Traditional Indigenous Territories encompass up to 22 % (31% is forest)  of the world’s land surface and they coincide with areas that hold 80 % of the planet’s biodiversity.  But ONLY 11% of world forest lands are legally owned by Indigenous Peoples 

- Indigenous Peoples are carriers of ancestral knowledge and wisdom about this biodiversity.

- Indigenous Peoples have played a key role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The territories of indigenous groups who have been given the rights to their lands have been better conserved than the adjacent lands (i.e., Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, etc.). Preserving large extensions of forests would not only support the climate change objectives, but it would respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and conserve biodiversity as well.(Sobrevila, n.d.)

And then they go on about how working with IPs is a good idea etc. This is a serious problem with the colonial mindset, they act like they own the earth.

Sacred groves are patches of the primaeval forest that some rural communities protect as abodes of deities. Such “ecosystem people” draw their livelihoods from nearby resources and value nature for the ecological services it provides.


Some examples in India are:

Orans of Rajasthan

 In arid Rajasthan, where summer temperatures regularly go up to 50°C, Orans provide shade, fuelwood, fodder and even food and livelihood for humans and animals. They are controlled by local communities in a complex management system that has played an important role in the ecology, politics and history of Rajasthan.

There are about 25,000 Orans in Rajasthan covering an area of about 600,000 hectares. Nearly 5,370 sq. kilometres are Orans in the Thar Desert.  (ORANS OF RAJASTHAN | Heritage Online, n.d.)

Kavu of Kerala 

The state boasts of more than 10,000 groves at the time of its formation in 1956, only around 1,200 exist(Sacred Groves of Kerala, n.d.) 

The land, religion, myth, culture and civilisation harmoniously blend in here. A specific gene pool gets preserved here. Indigenous people believe in the existence of the soul in all animate and inanimate things. They worshipped all elements and the phenomena of nature like tree goddess, mountain gods and forest goddess. In Kavu there is a group of medicinal plants called Naalppamaram. 

Gumpa of Sikhim 

56 sacred groves spread over four districts have been documented in the state(Sacred Groves in Sikkim, n.d.)


Sacred groves in India have a temple in which the deity is the spirit of the forest. The Indigenous people’s rituals and work and lifestyle are all about coexisting and protecting the nature that they live in with utmost care, religiousness and love.  Even though there is a global understanding of how important Indigenous people living in their land is crucial to protecting our forests, combating climate change and in turn saving our planet: around the world governments are selling off land to private corporations and companies to make profits. Profits for who is a whole different question, it involves a whole nexus of corrupt officials and businessmen. Beneath all of this, I see that our whole approach of modern society is flawed: we see everything as separate- The “story of separation”(Separation vs Interbeing | Charles Eisenstein, n.d.). Unlike Indigenous people who see and know that everything is interconnected and they have a very deep and beautiful relationship with mother earth.  

Some examples from around the world and their struggles 


20,000 hectares of the Sápara’s sacred Naku, or rain forest—a mere 8% of their historical range—as the Traditional Sápara Settlement Area. “The government of Ecuador continues to view peoples as an obstacle to economic growth,” says Koeing. “It is pushing for oil development in the region by auctioning off blocks of the Sápara’s Naku that it considers under-populated and under-utilized wilderness that must be tamed.(Can Indigenous Land Stewardship Protect Biodiversity?, 2018)

Maasai in Tanzania

Government officials and foreign companies in Tanzania are using ecotourism and conservation laws to displace indigenous Maasai people, evicting them and denying them access to watering holes and vital grazing for their livestock. (Dahir, n.d.)

Some more examples around the world: 

Sengwer and Ogiek peoples in Kenya. Indigenous peoples have had to abandon their livelihoods and ancestral lands because of large-scale development projects, such as Gibe III dam along Ethiopia’s Omo River; and, more recently, they have become climate refugees, like the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe in Louisiana or the Inupiaq whaling community of Kivalina.(Can Indigenous Land Stewardship Protect Biodiversity?, 2018)

It’s not a faraway thing, this problem is very real and in our country as well and below I have shared 3 examples from the last 2 years: 

The struggle and campaign of people from Niyamgiri to close the aluminium refinery in ecologically sensitive Niyamgiri has been continuing since 2003 (‘We Will Die For Niyamgiri,’ 2018)

Dilution of the Forst Rights Act 2006

In February this year, India's Supreme Court ordered the eviction of more than a million forest dwellers after their land claims were rejected and directed 21 states to file affidavits with details on how they had processed those claims. More than 2,500 indigenous people and forest dwellers held a demonstration in the Indian capital on Thursday, days before the Supreme Court is due to begin a final hearing of their case to evict them from their lands.(Fearing Eviction, Thousands of Forest Dwellers Protest in India, n.d.)

Another local example

The protesters have been agitating against an alleged land deal between the Forest Department and a private company. According to them, the Department has given authority over this land, which could have been used to the Adivasi communities or the landless for agriculture, to Harrisons Malayalam Private Limited, which has plantations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Many scientists say it's abundantly clear that Earth is entering its Sixth Mass-Extinction event, meaning three-quarters of all species could disappear in the coming centuries.(CNN, n.d.)

Its high time we as a consciousness realize and prioritize the state of our planet and its biodiversity. We the “educated”, city dwellers and the policymakers not living sustainably is one issue but let us at least leave the indigenous people who want to both live sustainably and protect our nature for all of us be. But here is the catch, it is all interconnected: if we chose to continue to consume at the rate we are right now, more forests will have to be cut down. I will say this without thinking twice: most of the things (stuff) that we use came at the cost of some forest being destroyed or some indigenous person being displaced or some Adivasi kid being put to work. If we chose to be sustainability, there simply won’t be a need to destroy forests our forests and our indigenous people who are the only source of real knowledge about how to save our planet.  

Can indigenous land stewardship protect biodiversity? (2018, November 16). Environment.

CNN, J. D. S. (n.d.). The era of “biological annihilation.” CNN. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

Dahir, A. L. (n.d.). Ecotourism is being used to displace one of East Africa’s long-standing indigenous people. Quartz Africa. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

Fearing eviction, thousands of forest dwellers protest in India. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

ORANS OF RAJASTHAN | Heritage Online. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

Sacred Groves in Sikkim. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

Sacred groves of Kerala: Down from 10,000 to 1,200. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

Separation vs Interbeing | Charles Eisenstein. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

Sobrevila, C. (n.d.). The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation. 102.

‘We Will Die For Niyamgiri’: Tribes of Niyamgiri Protest Against Vedanta in Odisha. (2018, June 14). NewsClick.

Comments 6

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Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Sep 21, 2020
Sep 21, 2020

Hello, Lakshmi,

This is wonderful news! It's great to know that Indigenous Peoples are leading the way on biodiversity conservation. It's about time the world recognize their expertise and relationship with nature. Thank you for writing this post!

Nini Mappo
Sep 22, 2020
Sep 22, 2020

Hello Lakshmi,
There's a wealth of information in your well researched write up.
I was wondering whether these peoples conserve the biodiversity out of choice or own initiative, or because of existing government policies in those areas, or is it because since they live in those places then their governments have to conserve their habitations out of obligation?
Just wondering how things works that's all, and no pressure to respond.

It makes one think how much biodiversity the world would still boast of without rapid industrialisation.

Sep 22, 2020
Sep 22, 2020

Hi Nini,

As far as I understand, they do it because they know this is how the earth needs to be honoured. They have a very intimate relationship with the spirits of the forest and earth, and they claim that most of their ways of conservation was communicated to them by the earth spirits.

In fact most governments want to make a profit out of the forest resources, they are very short sighted.

Nini Mappo
Sep 30, 2020
Sep 30, 2020

I see, and agree. Here in Australia, the first people's /Aboriginal nations drive conservation activism too, citing the same connection with the ground/ earth. I also know a guy who speaks to trees, and they have a conversation, and he said that one time while in a vast area where all the trees are scrawny and twisted, they told him there some oppressive spirits in the ground. Anyway, your reply made all these things come to the surface.

Sabiha Hasan
Sep 24, 2020
Sep 24, 2020

This is quiet knowledgeable, thanks for sharing

Paulina Nayra
Dec 26, 2020
Dec 26, 2020

Dear Lakshmi,
We have examples in the Philippines, too. Indigenous people being driven out of their ancestral domain in the name of infrastructure development and when they protest and are vocal about their opposition to the project, they are red-tagged. Some have sacrificed their lives defending the forests. Yes, we owe it to indigenous peoples for protecting biodiversity. Thus, it is imperative for lowlanders and city dwellers to defend and support the stewards and guardians of the forests. Thank you Lakshmi for writing about this.
Take care.