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Help or Hindrance? The Global Environment Facility, Biodiversity Conservation,and Indigenous Peoples

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an international financial mechanism that provides grants and concessional funding to governments for activities that aim to protect the global environment in six areas: biodiversity, climate change, international waters, ozone layer depletion, land degradation, and persistent organic pollutants. The GEF is the financing mechanism for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.GEF funding was replenished for the 2002-to-2006 period with nearly $3 billion from donor countries. Since its inception, GEF financing has been limited to covering only the costs of operations with global objectives and will not finance local or national benefits. Within its focal areas, the GEF allocates three types of grants: small grants of $50,000 or less, medium grants of $1 million or less, and full project grants of over $1 million.

The GEF allocates a substantial amount of its funds to projects under its biodiversity focal area. Some of this funding has been directed toward “enabling activities” for national biodiversity studies, conservation trust funds, and the formulation of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). A great deal of GEF funding has also been channelled to the establishment and management of protected areas—for individual protected areas; National Systems of Protected Areas in Guyana, Belize, Bolivia, Amazonian Brazil, and the Philippines; and biological corridors in Panama, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. Between 1991 and 2001 the GEF spent $960 million on protected areas, making it one of the key international mechanisms for funding national parks, biosphere reserves, and other conservation areas.

Impact on Indigenous Peoples
Given that many of the traditional territories of indigenous peoples worldwide have been desigsnated as protected areas and that much of their ancestral lands contain biodiversity and biological corridors of global importance, it follows that GEF policies, projects, and programs have major implications for indigenous peoples. But surprisingly there is little official information on how GEF activities have influenced the welfare and rights of indigenous peoples affected by its projects over the last 10 years. Indigenous communities and their organizations have undertaken their own independent and critical evaluations of GEF projects. When the World Bank has been the implementing agency, some indigenous groups have launched complaints to the bank’s accountability mechanism. Many of these grievances by indigenous peoples are confirmed in recent GEF and evaluation reports.

Indigenous peoples complain that they are often not even advised of GEF projects until the projects have already been approved and implementation has begun—when the major decisions about project design and budget allocations have already been made by government officials and consultants and staff of implementing agencies like the World Bank. In many other cases, indigenous involvement is restricted to passive “functional participation” as forest guards or in the preparation of micro-plans for community development—where basic aims and assumptions have already been set in stone by project authorities. One prime example is the Meso-American Biological Corridor Project in Panama, where the Kuna General Congress was not involved in project design despite the fact that, according to a September 2000 Forest Peoples Programme report, much of the project would affect traditional Kuna Comarcas. In the same way, the Philippines Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project (CPPAP) did not involve local indigenous communities until the project had already begun.1

GEF documents are full of jargon and are rarely translated from English into the main U.N. languages, let alone local languages. Ironically, the GEF’s 1996 policy on public involvement is only available in English. More disturbing is the fact that some implementing agencies’ policies violate the GEF’s progressive standards for transparency and public participation. For example, despite being one of the GEF’s main implementing agencies and even though the GEF requires that end-of-project evaluations be made public for all of its projects, the World Bank refuses to disclose its Implementation Completion Report for the GEF projects it manages.

Budget allocations for local participation are also often relatively small in GEF projects. Budgets for local workshops and community meetings are typically less than 10 percent of the total project budget. It is also noteworthy that these “participation” costs include the fees of international consultants who may receive more than three quarters of the total project budget for “public participation”—one example being the GEF-assisted project for Support to National Forest and Environment Sector Development in Cameroon.2

Even where projects are specifically intended to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in protected area planning and management, it is clear that ensuring effective and empowering participation is far from straightforward. For example, in Peru, indigenous peoples so far feel they have been unable to shape the implementation and priorities of the GEF-assisted Indigenous Management of Protected Areas in the Amazon (PIMA) project. Indigenous organizations report that ironically their “participation” in the PIMA project has been seriously limited; the project has so far brought few local benefits, and has mostly benefited external consultants in Lima, while funds for the local participation of indigenous communities have not been disbursed. These criticisms are affirmed in the project’s evaluation report that shows in 2002 only seven percent of the budget for field operations had been spent while 87.5 percent of the budget for the administrative activities in the project office in Lima was disbursed. Although the president of the indigenous peoples’ organization AIDESEP sits on the governing body of the project, he complains in a Forest Peoples Programme field report that his priorities are sidelined by non-indigenous members who form the majority of the directorate.3

The failure to deal adequately with participation and support for restrictive protected areas regimes means that, according to the GEF’s own evaluations, 80 percent of GEF protected area projects do not properly involve local communities.4

Policies and Operations
Examination of GEF policies and operational programs in support of biodiversity conservation exposes an arguably self-contradictory approach to indigenous peoples and local communities. On one hand, the GEF policy on public involvement and its operational programs require that GEF-funded activities ensure local participation and address the needs and interests of affected communities. Many of its other policies also address this issue. Yet the organization will only finance projects in park buffer zones—ignoring the indigenous communities and issues inside the protected areas.

The operational programs also establish that the GEF should support specific activities, including support for “capacity-building efforts that promote the preservation and maintenance of indigenous and local communities’ knowledge, innovation, and practices relevant to conservation of biological diversity, with their prior informed consent and participation.” Of particular importance in the operational programs is the assertion that the GEF applies the CBD Ecosystem Approach to its biodiversity portfolio. The rationale recognizes that “Indigenous peoples and other local communities living on the land are important stakeholders and their rights and interests should be recognized. Both cultural and biological diversity are central components of the ecosystem approach.”

According to the GEF Operational Strategy, all GEF-funded activities must also be in full conformity with the guidance provided by the Conference of the Parties of the CBD. The strategy sets out 10 operational principles that must be applied to all GEF-assisted operations, including the requirement that all projects “provide for consultation with, and participation as appropriate of, the beneficiaries and affected groups of people.”

In 1994, the GEF adopted an unofficial policy to not fund involuntary resettlement, although this crucial institutional safeguard has yet to be consolidated in official GEF policies.5 In the meantime, it is clear that GEF projects continue to include the relocation of indigenous peoples to areas outside protected areas. At the same time, its 1996 project cycle guidelines still allow for “resettlement” in GEF projects, although the type of resettlement permitted is not defined nor qualified in any way.

GEF-funded projects must also comply with the internal operational policies of the agencies implementing them. For World Bank projects, this requirement includes the bank’s policy on indigenous peoples. Projects inplemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) must follow that organization’s policy to “promote and support the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior informed consent with regard to development planning and decision making that may affect them.” Both organizations’ policies require action to address land tenure issues.

In addition to their policies meant to protect indigenous peoples, GEF operational programs establish some key objectives for biodiversity projects. These objectives sometimes have the potential to be at odds with the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities—particularly for those projects implemented within government frameworks that exclude indigenous peoples from their traditional lands. The GEF biodiversity program objectives are to:
• Establish and strengthen protected areas
• Ensure sustainable use through combinations of “strict protection” of reserves, multiple use, and full-scale use
• Remove “threats” to biodiversity —for example, through reduced “encroachment” and reduced human pressure
• Ensure that local communities “accept and respect” the boundaries of local conservation units (via participatory processes, community “development,” and money-based alternative livelihoods).

GEF funds for tenure reform and land titling as well as conservation and development projects in forest, marine, and freshwater ecosystems are restricted to buffer zones outside protected areas—indirectly indicating that the GEF does not support indigenous community development or land rights within protected areas, at least not in forests and coastal and aquatic environments.

Failure to Deal with Rights Issues
GEF projects systematically apply a mitigation focus rather than an avoidance approach. In other words, projects tend to assume protected areas will prohibit or apply restrictions on local resource use instead of establishing first whether or not such restrictions are just and valid. Indigenous and civil society organizations stress that conservation projects should seek to avoid negative impacts in the first place by carrying out prior participatory rights, risks and poverty assessments. Scrutiny of GEF project documents shows that few GEF projects employ social or poverty-risk assessments to evaluate the potential impact of projects and establish important social and cultural baseline data. Even if these tools or similar ones like “livelihood impact assessment” are used, it is not clear how they shape project design and implementation. Even where project documents do mention rights issues, there are few action components to deal with such issues—as evidenced by the Campo Ma’an case in Cameroon (see page 47 this issue). It is also surprising that recent UNDP Global Environment Facility projects dealing with indigenous and traditional knowledge fail to address the issue of prior informed consent.

Considerable evidence shows that GEF projects struggle to deal adequately with crucial land tenure and resource rights issues, though these issues may sometimes be mentioned in project documentation. Indigenous peoples have criticized the Philippines Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project, saying it does not seek to resolve Aeta claims to their ancestral territories.6 In the PIMA project, indigenous communities have likewise complained that the project design fails to address their land claims to traditional territories which have protected areas superimposed on them.

While projects like PIMA, though not without problems, are at least beginning to promote some degree of indigenous governance of conservation areas, most GEF funds for biodiversity continue to be directed toward the establishment of new government-run protected areas—which still tend to restrict the rights of local people. The GEF has made some efforts to direct assistance toward civil society via its Small-Grants Programme, but grants channeled through this window are modest and still only account for around 2.5 percent of GEF funds.7 Even so, indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations generally praise the Small Grants Programme and have called for its expansion.8 They point out, however, that eligibility and access to the funds is still difficult for smaller organizations and that implementation and benefit-sharing issues need to be improved.

Unjust Conservation Models
At the project level, social issues are routinely dealt with under an “eco-development model,” which aims to reduce pressure on biodiversity by providing “alternative” money-based livelihoods for indigenous communities and local people. These projects often involve the voluntary relocation of communities to sites outside conservation areas.9 Adavasi communities complained to researchers from Janara Budakattu Hakku Stapana Samithi (Committee for the Establishment of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of Nagarahole) during its work there that such relocation has been forced and that ecological development options do not properly compensate them for their loss of customary resource rights and subsistence benefits.10 Such support for alternative non-land and non-natural resource livelihoods remains a dominant theme in the GEF program priorities and in most GEF protected area projects—yet agreement by indigenous peoples to give up resource rights in return for development benefits and alternative income projects has repeatedly resulted in failed promises that leave them worse off. Indigenous activists complain that the eco-development model that aims to move people out of parks and limit their access violates their inherent rights. They also argue that the “alternative livelihood” approach is based on flawed assumptions that are not backed by scientific data, often because detailed baseline studies of local resource use have not been carried out prior to designing a project.

In trying to persuade indigenous and local communities to give up traditional livelihoods in return for income-based employment without credible scientific evidence to show that the traditional use is unsustainable, the GEF risks violating Article 10c of the CBD. This article requires government parties to “protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices.” More generally, such projects risk being in violation of the CBD’s ecosystem approach to conservation, under which the rights of indigenous and local communities should be “recognized and respected.”

Implementation Problem
These few cases alone show that GEF projects do not comply with the provisions of the GEF public involvement policy and have not implemented several of the progressive elements present in the operational programs. It is also a serious problem that some of the main implementing agencies, most notably the World Bank, routinely fail to properly implement their own internal social and environmental policies.11 The World Bank’s track record in implementing its Indigenous Peoples Policy, for example, is patchy.12 The bank treats safeguard issues in a superficial manner and designs projects in a mechanical way according to flawed templates such as alternative livelihoods and micro-planning. Even projects that do seek to take account of resource rights in the design phase often lose these priorities during implementation—as confirmed by the case of Campo Ma’an, where local Bagyeli communities have seen access and hunting rights restricted.

GEF Local Benefits Study
Responding to the serious lack of official data concerning the impact of GEF projects on indigenous livelihoods, indigenous representatives participating in the GEF Council called on the GEF in 2001 to review affects. Indigenous participants were pleased that the GEF responded in a timely manner in 2002 by launching a review of local benefits and GEF focal areas. The review has already validated many of the concerns expressed by indigenous peoples regarding the lack of proper treatment of social, rights, and poverty issues in GEF projects. The initial desk review of 84 projects in the GEF biodiversity focal area found that “few projects have yet developed explicit approaches to operationalize poverty-environment linkages at the field level” and that there is “little evidence to suggest projects are considering equity concerns.” The review also found: Projects do not seem to systematically consider possible negative social impacts, either at the design phase or during implementation. Given that many of the projects are creating and/or strengthening protected areas, partly through components which enforce restrictions on community access to and use of resources inside those areas, there is a significant possibility that negative impacts may be associated with such project activities.

New Directions in GEF Policies
There are signs that the GEF secretariat is aware of changing paradigms for resource conservation and recent GEF public relations documents at least acknowledge the importance of clarifying property rights and shifting the ownership of land and natural resources to communities.13 GEF publications also indicate that the organization is seeking to promote community involvement and at least limited community use of park resources, and that some community-based natural resource management and poverty-reduction projects are appearing in its portfolio.14 But these changes have not been institutionalized. The GEF does not have a policy on social or poverty risks assessment. Nor does it have a specific policy on indigenous peoples—something indigenous peoples have been advocating for at the GEF Council for several years.15 There are no indications that incentive structures and budgets have been modified to encourage GEF and implementing agency staff to better integrate social issues in project preparation and implementation. Nor is it clear whether the GEF is undertaking substantive reforms to ensure that it is applying the ecosystem approach and improved compliance with its existing policies on participation, monitoring, and the promotion of traditional knowledge in conservation.

In the meantime, GEF projects continue to be processed and approved in the old frame, often applying the outdated exclusionary model of conservation, which risks leaving more indigenous peoples further marginalized and impoverished as a result of GEF financing.

The GEF needs to expand and update its policies and operational programs to ensure its projects respect the rights of indigenous peoples and apply the principles of the CBD more effectively. Reforms in GEF policies and activities are necessary to promote the new paradigm on protected areas adopted in the WPC, under which protected area laws, policies, governance, and management are integrated, according to the IUCN, “equitably with the interests of all affected people.”18 Specifically the GEF should:

• Adopt a rights-based approach in GEF projects and programs, including measures to more effectively implement the ecosystem approach and Articles 8j and 10c of the CBD
• Replace the concept of “alternative livelihoods” with a sustainable livelihood approach
• Formulate and adopt a specific policy on indigenous peoples with provisions and standards that are acceptable to the rights-holders and intended beneficiaries of the policy
• Formalize the prohibition of involuntary resettlement in GEF projects
• Adopt new mandatory operational requirements for pre-project participatory social and poverty-risk evaluation and cultural-impact assessments;
• Develop a specific formal and binding public policy on accountability and appeals standards for GEF operations
• Update its operational programs on biodiversity to properly address land and resource rights, livelihood security, and poverty-alleviation issues
• Support the implementation of the Durban Action Plan of the WPC as it relates to indigenous peoples and local communities
• Take measures to return land and resources taken without the consent of indigenous peoples as part of past and present GEF-assisted projects
• Reform incentive structures to ensure better integration of social and rights issues in GEF projects and more effective implementation of GEF-revised and expanded policies

1. Rovillos, R., Cadiogan, A. & Alangui W. (2000). See also Gadgil, M (2001).
2. Caruso, E (2003) GEF Biodiversity Projects in Central Africa – an overview internal FPP report.
3. FPP (2003) Field Trip Report: Peru (July 2003) internal FPP report
4. Singh, S. & Volonte, C (2001).
5. Horta K, Round X and Young, Z (2002), p 21.
6. Rovillos et al (2000) op. cit. Gadgil (2001) op.cit. at page 5 and page10.
7. Young, Z (2002). Pp 166-169.
8. Wells, M.P., Hosain, M., Ogunseye, B. & Tresierra, J.C. (2003).
9. Griffiths, T. & Colchester, M. (2000).
10. Janara Budakattu Hakku Stapana Samithi (2000) “Nagarahole: Adivasi Peoples’ Rights and Ecodevelopment” Case Study presented to a workshop on Indigenous peoples, forests and the World Bank, Washington, DC, May 2000.
11. Operations Evaluation Department (2002).
12. Colchester, M (2003). Pp 103-106. See also Operations Evaluation Department (2003).…
13. GEF (2002) The Challenge of Sustainability: an action agenda for the global environment GEF, Washington, DC
14. Granzow, S. (2002).
15. It is also significant that indigenous peoples reject some of the policies of the implementing agencies as inadequate to protect their rights, particularly the World Bank’s proposed new draft policy (OP/BP4.10) on Indigenous Peoples.

Thomas Griffiths is a freelance social and economic anthropologist and coordinator of the International Financial Institutions Programme of the Forest Peoples Programme. His work involves advocacy on international standard-setting in development and the environment, as well as local-level community mapping, land tenure studies, and participatory field assessments of conservation, forestry, and social development projects.

References and further reading
Colchester, M. (2003). Salvaging Nature: Indigenous peoples, protected areas and biodiversity conservation Second Edition. Montevideo and Moreton-in-Marsh: WRM. Pp 103-106.

Gadgil, M. (2001). Report of the STAP Selective Review of the “Philippines: Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project” Report of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility.

Granzow, S. (2002). Picturing the GEF: a decade of action for the global environment Washington, D.C.: GEF.

Griffiths, T. & Colchester, M. (2000). Indigenous Peoples, Forests and the World Bank. Moreton-in-Marsh, U.K.: Forest Peoples Programme.

Horta, K., Round, X. & Young, Z. (2002). The Global Environment Facility: the first ten years —growing pains for inherent flaws? Environmental Defense, Halifax Initiative

Lusthaus, C., Adrien, M-H. & Morgan, P. (2000). Integrating capacity development into project design and evaluation: approach and frameworks, Monitoring and Evaluation Working Paper 5. Washington, D.C.: GEF.

Operations Evaluation Department. (2002). Promoting Environmental Sustainability in Development – an evaluation of the World Bank’s performance. Washington, D.C.: OED.…

Operations Evaluation Department (2003, January 10). Implementation of Operational Directive 4.20 on Indigenous Peoples: an independent desk. Washington, D.C.: Country Evaluation and Regional Relations, OED.…

Rovillos, R., Cadiogan, A. & Alangui, W. (2000). The World Bank Policy on Indigenous Peoples: the Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project (CPPAP) in Bataan, Philippines. Baguio City: Tebtebba Foundation. Singh, S. & Volonte, C (2001). Biodiversity Program Study Washington D.C.: GEF M&E Unit, Global Environment Facility.

Wells, M.P., Hosain, M., Ogunseye, B. & Tresierra, J.C. (2003, April). Report of the Third Independent Evaluation of the GEF Small Grants Programme 1999-2002 Report Commissioned by the Global Environment Facility and U.N. Development Programme.

Young, Z. (2002). A New Green Order: the World Bank and the politics of the Global Environment Facility. London & Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press.

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