Biocultural rights of indigenous forest communities

Indigenous people and traditional forest communities are important guardians of world’s biodiversity and cultures that maintain it. During past decades this role has been recognized and rights established for the communities to manage the forests and biodiversity, based on the ways how they understand the biodiversity and forest regeneration. ‘Biocultural rights’ denotes a community’s long established right to steward its land, waters and resources – such rights are being increasingly recognized in international environmental law.

Biocultural rights recognize community’s identity, culture, governance system, spirituality and way of life as embedded in a specific landscape. They can be seen as rights of life to its diversity, by which the life of human cultures and life of other living beings on Earth sustain each other. This diversity which the community wants to protect can be expressed through biocultural community protocols through which the communities can assert biocultural community rights as their internationally recognised traditional rights.


Even though the international UN agreements and declarations related to the rights of the indigenous people, including biocultural rights, have been widely recognised, and the principles been adopted to the corpus of state legislations, the practical implementation of the laws and commitments quite often turns out to be inadequate.

Without strong and coordinated pressure from the indigenous communities and the civil society the implementation of many relevant laws will remain inadequately resourced and slow. Civil society inputs are required in many fronts: in community capacity-building, in monitoring of the law implementation processes, and in advocacy and campaign work, among other things. Unfortunately the space for this kind of politically natured work of CSOs is steadily shrinking around the world.

The possibilities of the indigenous groups to defend their rights are often limited due to language and cultural reasons, among others. Due to these reasons and mostly peripheral physical locations of indigenous communities, the procedures and discourse of the legal and administrative institutions are not easily accessible for indigenous people, making them especially vulnerable for rights violations, like displacement, malnourishment and extreme poverty.

As the space of local activism around the rights of indigenous people narrows down, and the challenges are globally shared, the success of rights related work needs international support, cooperation, sharing and monitoring.

Documentation and claims on biocultural rights can set out terms and conditions on how states and other stakeholders need to engage with communities taking into account the customary, national and international laws on local rights of communities. To express communities’ life-heritages and to help external stakeholders to understand them better, biocultural community protocols need to be developed through culturally rooted, participatory processes by equal decision-making within the community based on its customary norms, laws and values.

To protect biocultural diversity we need to support the ways:

  • how diverse indigenous and local cultures have adapted the significance of life in their areas to local environment and its regeneration
  • how such cultures can continue sustaining Earth's diversity of life and how they would understand and express the diversity of Earth's life to sustain this diversity.



Siemenpuu’s aim is to strengthen the realisation of biocultural rights and forest management capabilities of the indigenous and other forest communities. Through the supported projects, the aim is to strengthen communities' rights to sustainable living with more equal rights to influence decisions which affect them and Earth's life. Aim is also to promote sharing of models for sustainable living nationally and internationally.  Funding is directed to projects concerning internationally and nationally recognised biocultural rights of indigenous and other forest communities as well as international cooperation to fulfil those rights.

You can download here an analysis of biocultural community protocols (pdf, 5.0 MB) of Adivasi forest communities under Siemenpuu Foundation coordinated projects 2017-2018, prepared by Ville-Veikko Hirvelä.


Read more in the introduction to Siemenpuu's development cooperation programme. Read here a background article about forests and their meanings. This funding theme is mainly based on the previous Adivasi programme.

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Siemenpuu Foundation will organize on 28 May a dialogue on land rights and biocultural heritages of indigenous people in Helsinki. The speakers are Executive Director Nonette Royo from the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, Chair of the Board Tapani Oksanen from the Rights and Resources Group, Council Member Aili Pyhälä from the ICCA Consortium and Board Member Tikli Loivaranta from the Siemenpuu Foundation.