ISSJ - N° 178 - NGOs in the Governance of Biodiversity

December 2003

Since the traditional ecological knowledge of local and indigenous peoples was written into Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biodiversity, their role in management of their natural resources has achieved international recognition. However, it is as difficult for people far removed from centres of power to be heard in national and international arenas as it is for the arenas themselves to relate to them and to grasp their knowledge.

The role of environmental NGOs and some of their power as mediators of local knowledge derive, no doubt, from precisely this paradoxical situation: recognition by national and international bodies of a knowledge that lies beyond their direct reach. However, mediation in the exchange of traditional knowledge also reveals the tensions and ambiguities in the relation between the interests of biodiversity and of indigenous peoples. When they share a place with NGOs, developers and other interested parties, profoundly different views and practices with respect to nature are deployed. The governance of biodiversity raises difficult and inescapable issues of participation and accountability. This issue sketches some paths for future research by comparing encounters between the indigenous and the ecological that have taken place in a wide range of countries and contexts over the past thirty years.

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