People and Communities

Overview

The Khata Corridor allows wildlife to travel safely between India and Nepal and creates economic opportunities for the people who live in the region.

People depend on the natural world--its forests, fisheries and wildlife--for their ways of life. Conserving species, protecting habitats, and keeping our climate and environment healthy is good for all of us—and WWF is committed to doing that work wherever there is need. That’s why we work in some of the most challenging places on Earth. Places where the protection of nature and it’s benefits for people can be an anchor for stability and opportunity. Though human activities are the greatest threat to nature, it’s also people who hold the solution.

WWF has long understood that people who live in the places we work are critical partners in conservation. Over time, our work with people has generated transformative social and environmental results.

Some of WWF’s most important successes have come from this inclusive approach to conservation, by finding practical and beneficial ways for people and nature to thrive together. Because conservation benefits when people benefit from conservation.

In the Colombian Amazon, a forest explorer catalogs a community’s resources

Marisela Silva Parra, 41, is the only female member of a WWF-supported group of local farmers and community leaders who are helping their community realize the value of its natural resources. The group calls themselves Los Exploradores—The Explorers.

Portrait of Marisela Silva Parra standing in the forest with a clipboard

Why It Matters

  • As the global population consumes more resources than the planet can sustain, it’s often the people who live closest to nature that suffer the greatest impacts.

  • Growing pressures from mining, oil exploration, large-scale agriculture, and industrial logging threaten the health of ecosystems all over the world, and often have grave impacts for Indigenous peoples’ ancestral and sacred lands.

  • Overfishing leaves coastal communities struggling to support their families. Climate change, water shortages and soil erosion mean smallholders’ crops fail.

  • Because these communities are so closely reliant on the natural environment for their livelihoods and their well-being, they often feel the brunt of environmental damage most directly. Yet when empowered, they are often the most effective stewards of their natural resources.

What WWF Is Doing

Environmental Assessment team in Amazon, Colombia with members from WWF and La Chorrera Indigenous tribe

Environmental Services Assessment team including members of the La Chorrera indigenous community, Amazonian Colombia

Around the world, WWF works directly with people to support community management of natural resources and to protect those resources against emerging threats. This collaborative conservation is grounded in the benefits nature provides to people—food, fresh water, shelter, and more—and the role of Indigenous people and local communities as stewards of their own lands.

Improve Livelihoods

In many of the places we work, people are directly reliant on nature for their health and economic well-being. WWF works to support sustainable livelihoods by advocating for policy, providing and fighting for traditional and vocational education, helping communities build their capacity to manage their needs and opportunities, and encouraging links between communities so they can learn from each other.

We also help find economic alternatives to unsustainable practices—like overfishing or unregulated logging—in order to benefit communities and incomes. In Zambia, for example, we teach smallholder farmers about sustainable practices that improve their yields while reducing impacts on vital rivers; in Thailand, we provided ecotourism training and developed an equitable program for taking tourists to see elephants in Kui Buri National Park; in Tanzania and Mozambique we helped establish a community savings and loan to help communities fund education and economic opportunities; and in Ecuador, we helped galvanize large coalitions of small fishing groups to advocate for better management of the fish in their seas.

weaving by village women in Mpelu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Empower Women

Harigala Almathir and son in Nepal

Girls and women often play a central role in natural resource management and use—collecting forest products for food, medicine and firewood, and water for their families. Yet they are often excluded from participating in community decisions about resources, due cultural, legal and other barriers. We help them gain better access to education and economic opportunities so they can improve their lives and help lead environmental change in their families and communities. We also ensure women have leadership roles in community and natural resource management. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, we successfully joined rural women in advocating for and securing dedicated roles on local leadership committees, and the right to manage their own land.

Support sustainable development

Only when people’s basic needs are met can they effectively steward nature. By securing health services such as improved drinking water, sanitation, and access to medical attention, we bolster conservation. This includes building community health centers in Nepal and the Central African Republic, where a mobile clinic delivers regular medical care to remote Indigenous communities in Dzanga-Sangha National Park. We promote energy security, including by providing villages in Nepal with small, local dams to provide clean energy, eliminating the need to cut down wildlife-rich forests for fuel. In Guatemala and Honduras, we work to protect natural water reserves—high altitude forests and waterways—that provide reliable water sources for drinking and agriculture downstream. And we try to make sure all people where we work have enough to eat—both by protecting people’s right to harvest subsistence food from forests and farmed lands, and through direct agricultural guidance, such as through our alliance with CARE.

Advocate for inclusion

WWF supports collaborative conservation approaches that affirm and secure customary land and legal rights of local communities and Indigenous peoples. In places like the Congo Basin, Zambia and Peru for instance, we work to secure land rights for local people. We also we work ensure people keep or regain access to their land, including through a historic government policy in Cameroon. We ensure Indigenous people are heard through processes like Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). And we ensure they’re granted their rights as citizens by helping to secure legal documentation such as birth certificates. In Colombia, where WWF helped broker a commitment to vastly expand the country’s protected areas, we made the peace process, and community input, central to that plan.

Promote community-led conservation

Nelson Sabata, a guide at Camp Chobe, outside his home in Katounyana.

WWF addresses governance and ensures Indigenous peoples and local communities have a meaningful seat at the table that enables them to benefit directly from conservation efforts. Conservation approaches designed in collaboration with communities can help mitigate negative social impacts while providing lasting incentives – and benefits – for sustainable management of natural resources. This includes the establishment of Communal Conservancies in Namibia, where communities set their own economic, cultural, and environmental priorities—with guarantees of leadership roles for women and direct economic benefits from the tourists coming to see the wildlife they protect.

Projects

  • Conserving Wildlife and Enabling Communities in Namibia

    Namibia is home to an array of wildlife, from ostriches and zebras roaming the gravel plains to penguins and seals chilling in the Atlantic currents. It was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution. With WWF’s help, the government has reinforced this conservation philosophy by empowering its communities with rights to manage and benefit from the country’s wildlife through communal conservancies.

  • The Natural Capital Project

    Centered at Stanford University, the Natural Capital Project is a partnership among WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Minnesota, and Stockholm Resilience Centre. Through pioneering science, cutting-edge technology, and collaborative partnerships worldwide, the Natural Capital Project works to integrate the value nature provides to people into all major decisions.

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Experts