The Territorial Governance Facility (MGT; “the Facility”) was born from the partnerships between Forest Trends and indigenous and local territorial organizations in Latin America in response to their demands for more technical assistance and climate and conservation funding channeled directly to territories. Forest stewards have great need for technical and financial assistance to protect their territories, implement local development planning, and otherwise carry out their Life Plans and other mechanisms for cultural preservation, livelihoods, and wellbeing for future generations.
The Facility’s mission is to promote indigenous and local community access to climate and conservation funds. By some estimates, less than 1% of climate finance directly reaches these territories on the front lines of climate change, despite increasing global recognition of their role in maintaining standing forests and mitigating climate change. Launched by Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative during COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, four organizations were invited to join the Facility: AIDESEP of Peru, CONFENIAE of Ecuador, and OPIAC of Colombia, representing Amazonian indigenous peoples, and AMPB, representing the peoples and communities of Mesoamerica. Representatives from each organization and Forest Trends gathered for the first time in person in Panama City, Panama in April 2022 to develop a strategy for the Facility, with the end goal for it to run independently of Forest Trends support in five years.
The Facility has spent the past year in a co-design phase with local communities and indigenous leaders to ensure it is meeting their needs and to identify territories interested in developing pilot projects. As of June 2023, the Facility has developed pilot projects, including providing seed funding, with six territories in the Amazon and Mesoamerica: Alto Urubamba in Cusco, Peru; the Florida Native Community in Pasco in the Peruvian Amazon; the Shuar Kiim Center and Puerto Bolivar, both in the Ecuadorian Amazon; Guna Yala in Panama; and Nairi Awari in Costa Rica. Indigenous and Local Technical Facilitators were selected to lead local efforts to identify priorities for each pilot territory, along with points of contact for each partner organization and communications.
Levi Sucre, Coordinator of AMPB, highlighted the importance of the Facility as a way to facilitate technical and financial assistance to local and indigenous peoples and channel investments for governance directly to communities, and support management and implementation of those investments.
Yovani Alvarado, coordinator of the Utz-Ché organization, a member of AMPB, noted the importance of tailoring that support to a community’s needs, which is not something funding mechanisms and donors are usually equipped to do: “There are communities where there is not much experience [with large climate and conservation investments], and this is a first access to resources. We will have to start with a small, very flexible fund that allows learning at the level of community control mechanisms. But there will be some communities that have much greater capacity and financing could be on a different scale. In those cases, communities can become more competitive for larger projects.”
The Facility works to build wide ranging capacities guided by three main pillars of territorial governance: political, cultural, and economic. While Forest Trends and its partners have proven strategies for strengthening each pillar, they are inseparable, and it is critical that they remain interconnected over the long term. Cultural preservation suffers without economic opportunities for all community members, especially youth and women, who will leave their traditional homes if they cannot support and feed themselves. Political processes and territorial protection will falter without connections between younger generations and elders.
Lola Piyahuaje, Vice President, political focal point for CONFENIAE, and member of the Facility Board of Directors, emphasized that building capacity is the foundation of long-term wellbeing and opportunities for communities: “The Facility facilitates [connections, flows of resources, and communication between territories, peoples, and nationalities]. We, the people, need to train our professionals; we want to bring together other leaders who can take that information to their territories. [The Facility] will allow us to facilitate that process, provide technical assistance and training to those partners who are qualified and have the skills to take on these responsibilities, and receive technical support and funding for their projects.”
Jorge Pérez, President of AIDESEP, reinforced the importance of opportunities for youth and women: “There must be technical assistance [to achieve territorial goals]. Young people, men and women, have to be trained in [governance] so that these skills can also be used in other initiatives.”
Political activities, like territorial border surveillance and using GPS technology to zone and georeference territories, allow communities to control, protect, and recover their lands. Cultural governance is strengthened through intergenerational exchanges, especially between youth and elders, to value revive, and preserve traditional knowledge. Together, communities are recording knowledge for future generations on ancestral territories, medicinal plant use, biodiversity, and native plant seed collection and exchanges with other communities. Economic governance capacity is aimed at strengthening food security and livelihoods, such as coconut cultivation in the Panamanian Caribbean and marketing strategies to increase value captured by communities for coffee and cacao in the Peruvian Amazon. Community-based tourism and ecotourism opportunities are being discussed and advanced in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The Facility pilot territories have also received funding from the BASE Initiative (Building Approaches to fund local Solutions with climate Evidence). Nairi Awari, Costa Rica and the Shuar Kiim Center, Ecuador applied, with Facility support, to complement planned activities and ensure more resources for local solutions over the long term. The Facility is honored to partner with two pilot territories that stood out in such a globally competitive process. Forest Trends is one of nine members of BASE, an AVINA Foundation-led coalition that aims to simplify access to climate funds for indigenous peoples and local communities by challenging traditional international funding models, like philanthropic giving, that have high barriers of access to low income or marginalized communities, especially in the Global South.
BASE’s goals complement the Facility’s mission to open local and indigenous access to climate finance and support their capacity to participate as equal partners. The world needs to directly support the communities on the front lines of human rights advocacy and climate change. The Facility looks forward to continuing to support and elevate local and indigenous communities to their rightful place as leaders in the stewardship of Earth’s most biodiverse landscapes and critical participants in climate mitigation efforts at all levels.