COMMUNITY CONSERVED AREAS (CCAs) can be defined as natural and modified ecosystems with significant biodiversity, ecological and related cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities through customary laws or other effective means.
Conventionally, protected areas in Mesoamerica have upheld governmental and private models, where in most cases there is social exclusion of indigenous people or local communities. […] Scientists and technical people have published warnings, as early as 10 years ago, saying that even though [the sites classified since the 1980’s] may have legal status, in reality the areas are only protected on paper. When the Mesoamerican governments showed an interest in beginning a regional process to consolidate the national protected area systems and biological corridors, the dilemma about biodiversity living side by side with human beings was back on the table. At the Second Mesoamerican Congress on Protected Areas, held recently in Panama City, discussions on citizen participation, poverty, and the need to recognise the different forms of governance (including CCAs) reaffirmed the move towards more participatory paradigms. At this Congress the suggestion of a new regional policy called the ‘proposal for a Central American policy on shared protected area management’ was noteworthy. This effort reflects some level of political commitment to making progress, even though it is still far from ensuring and effectively recognising community rights and their contribution to biodiversity conservation ).
Based on our experience, there is an urgent need for the following:
? The communities in these CCAs and other biologically important areas need their lands and access rights to be recognised.
? Awareness of indigenous and traditional cultures must be incorporated into protected area management. Conservation that excludes people is much more burdensome in monetary terms and with regard to social stability, making it more difficult to sustain the region’s economies in the long run.
? Biodiversity conservation should be carried out using a broader ecosystem approach where trans-border efforts and diverse agricultural development systems are included as a basis for the people’s food sovereignty.
? Tourism’s role should be analysed in depth so it can help strengthen fundamental human rights and so its economic potential can benefit the most marginalised peoples.
Community conservation areas in Central America: recognising them for equity and good governance