Identifying the Key Challenges of Indigenous Economies

The FSC Indigenous Foundation convened a workshop with academics and experts in the field of Indigenous economies.

Indigenous economies comprise a large spectrum of activities – from producing açaí or quinoa to energy or tourism enterprises. In some regions economies are based on productive systems for self-consumption, hunting and fishing, the collection of leaves, fruits, and everything that the forest provides to meet basic needs. In other regions, Indigenous Peoples have developed sophisticated production models and are connected to markets with value chains based on forest products or tourism services highly valued by international markets.  

Traditional economic and social development indicators may not capture the value of Indigenous economies, however, Indigenous economies provide invaluable contributions to the environment, making them of vital importance to humanity, and providing not only basic goods, but also invaluable public goods to international markets. The FSC Indigenous Foundation (FSC-IF) is committed to gather the important lessons to be learned from Indigenous economies.

On September 20th, 2021, the FSC-IF convened a virtual workshop with academics, researchers and development practitioners to identify key challenges of Indigenous economies. The workshop also presented the opportunity to identify those interested in forming a working group on Indigenous economies – a group that will identify innovative Indigenous economic models and help fulfil one of the objectives of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) Program. 

Kim Carstensen, Director General of FSC, Luis Felipe Duchicela, Senior Advisor on Indigenous Peoples at USAID, and Francisco Souza, Managing Director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation opened the workshop, confirming the commitment of FSC, USAID and the FSC Indigenous Foundation to work to strengthen Indigenous economies. 

Stephen Cornell, Professor and Chair of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona, gave a presentation concluding that maximizing Indigenous decision-making responsibility and power, investing in Indigenous governing capacity, and respecting self-governing Indigenous nations and their approaches, increases the chances of achieving sustainable development not only for Indigenous Peoples but also for the global community. 

“Indigenous development is in fact in the interests of encompassing states, but it is unlikely to happen unless it is guided by Indigenous preferences and Indigenous decisions,” Cornell concluded. 

Carmen Albertos, Indigenous Peoples and Diversity Principal Specialist at Inter-American Development Bank gave a presentation on the definition of Indigenous economies and enumerated some challenges facing them, including gaps of public investment in Indigenous territories, absence of affirmative action policies and limited resources and capacities to conduct profitable business. 

“What we need is a new comprehensive policy framework with affirmative action activities, to create the enabling conditions for Indigenous Peoples to succeed in a higher scale and overcome a disadvantaged position,” she remarked. 

Next, participants discussed the key challenges of Indigenous economies in break-out rooms, sharing rich experiences from Latin America, Australia, Canada and beyond. 

The diverse expertise of the participants nevertheless converged on some central themes, including the importance of ensuring Indigenous Peoples’ land security and access to natural resources, the need for policies and programs aimed to promote businesses in areas where Indigenous Peoples have a clear competitive advantage, and the need to build capacity without breaking the link to traditional culture. 

Screenshot with the participants of the workshop Identifying the Key Challenges of Indigenous Economies.

Participants identified discrimination, systemic racism and lack of recognition of identity as signification challenges facing Indigenous economies, as well as logistic factors such as access to finance and cost of transport.  

At the end of the workshop, German Huanca, Program Lead on Business Partnerships and Indigenous Economy for the IPARD Program, underlined the importance of forming an Indigenous Economic Working Group to assess different economic models. These models will form the base for the partnerships and enterprises that IPARD will strengthen and promote. 

If you are interested in getting involved, please email 


Interview with Head of FSC Indigenous Foundation

“We will support indigenous communities in providing innovative solutions to global challenges through FSC's multi-stakeholder platform”.

Portrait of Francisco Souza Managing Director.

Francisco Souza, Director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation, shares his vision and expectations regarding this new body that will actively contribute to increase the level of engagement and communication between Indigenous Peoples, the FSC system and partner organizations.

How did the idea of creating the FSC Indigenous Foundation arise?

During the 2011 General Assembly, the Permanent Indigenous Peoples Committee (PIPC) was established as an advisory unit to the FSC Board of Directors, and in 2018 an operational unit was created for them, which would later be established as the Indigenous Foundation (FSC IF). 

How would you describe the Indigenous Foundation?

It is a multi-sectoral strategic and operative unit established to develop creative and innovative solutions to support Indigenous Peoples and enable them to build, guide and lead alternatives of sustainable management of the territories by means of the FSC certification scheme. All while respecting their cultures, rights, and traditional practices. The FSC IF is composed of indigenous leaders who will ensure that responsible forest management reflects their expertise and concerns. 

What is the scope and extent of the work you will be doing?

The FSC IF will have a global scope and work closely with indigenous organizations. Our scope and performance responds to the significance of Indigenous Peoples, who manage or own about a quarter of the earth’s surface. We will create opportunities for multi-sectoral partnerships and provide them with tools and instruments so that they can manage, maintain and use their territories in an effort to consolidate indigenous cultural landscapes. 

How are you going to coordinate with the different instances and areas of FSC?

At the internal governance level, we will support the PIPC in its advisory role to the Board of Directors and seek to improve the level of engagement and communication with members on indigenous issues. The PIPC regional meetings will also help us increase the visibility of equitable governance and establish shared risk management with positive effects on expanding the number of certified communities with access to the markets. Technical coordination will be aligned with the Strategic Plan 2021-2026. Moreover, it is important for us to consider the Indigenous Cultural Landscapes (ICP) forest development framework and approach as an opportunity for the integration of multiple benefits provided by forests that are linked to region-specific indigenous livelihoods and practices.

What are the objectives of the Indigenous Foundation in the short and medium term?

Our priority in this first quarter is the preparation of the annual Strategic Plan of the Foundation and the PIPC. Also, we will develop a plan to improve communication internally with and between FSC, the PIPC and the FSC IF, as well as a platform to give visibility and make known the positions of Indigenous peoples on market certification and FPIC, preventing risks to the communities’ customary rights. We will then develop our fund raising strategy for the implementation of programs and projects and during the General Assembly, we will present the first version of our five-year Strategic Plan, which should be aligned with the final version of FSC Global Strategic Plan for the same period. 

What are your expectations regarding the relationship between FSC and the communities now that the Indigenous Foundation exists?

We expect to increase the degree of engagement of Indigenous Peoples in the FSC certification system in a more strategic way. We hope to create indigenous community models with safeguards for their rights and also to develop tools to improve forest management and income in certified indigenous territories. The launch of the Foundation should expand and create opportunities to implement initiatives led by local and regional indigenous organizations, with greater impact on peoples’ priority issues. The results of the initiatives and projects will strengthen the mission and long-term objectives of FSC.

How do you feel about having been chosen to lead this initiative?

For me, as part of the Apurinã Indigenous People of the Brazilian Amazon, it is an honor to join the efforts of indigenous brothers and sisters of the planet in establishing the FSC Indigenous Foundation with the aim of increasing the relevance of our peoples. From this position, I will be able to contribute to the transformation of indigenous territories into providers of innovative solutions to global challenges such as climate change and the unsustainable use of forests and natural resources. To achieve this, we will need to work closely with businesses, financial institutions, governments and civil society. FSC multi-sectoral platform is perfect for building this global alliance. 

What do you want to contribute with your expertise?

I wish to support the strengthening of the Indigenous Foundation and the FSC in three strategic areas: consolidation of the FSC IF vision based on a holistic and comprehensive perspective of Indigenous Peoples, their territorial governance and natural resource management strategies (currently, communities manage multiple products and services that could be linked to the certification system). The second strategic area covers long-term cooperation with different sectors to build a network of alliances in support of Indigenous Peoples, so that the market can be positively influenced towards large-scale sustainable chains. The latter focuses on fund raising and development with companies, foundations, multilateral agencies and development banks to support programs and projects with indigenous organizations in different countries.

Who is going to make up your team?

At this stage of the FSC IF, I am accompanied by Daniel Rosas – FSC Indigenous Affairs Officer. He is a key person supporting us with the coordination and communication with the indigenous organizations of the world through the PIPC and FSC. He has an important role in facilitating and planning PIPC regional meetings and regularly updating FSC members and staff on progress and outcomes. An Executive Assistant should also join the team in the coming weeks.

What message would you like to send to the indigenous communities of Latin America?

Indigenous peoples in Latin America own or manage a natural forest area of nearly 220 million hectares, storing large amounts of carbon that could increase the effects of climate change if deforested. They also provide invaluable environmental services to the well-being of society and different economic sectors. They have the natural resources to become the world’s largest producers of sustainable goods and services. The FSC Indigenous Foundation was created and is managed directly by and for you. We are at your disposal to make you “Guardians of the Forest”, benefiting your communities while recognizing your rights and traditional ways of life.


FSC Indigenous Foundation Launches Global Development Alliance for Indigenous Peoples

The Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Rights and Development aims to create solutions to empower world’s Indigenous Peoples with long-term capacity to manage, develop, and govern their territories based on the principles of self-determined development, traditional practices, environmental conservation, and respect to their customary rights.

Portrait  tribal woman - shaman, with traditional tattoos, at his rainforest home Uma, during the traditional ceremony for the protection of the clan

The FSC Indigenous Foundation is launching the Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD), a five-year, $13 million partnership to support the world’s Indigenous Peoples. The IPARD is part of a Global Development Alliance (GDA), a unique partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and FSC International. The Foundation signed a cooperative agreement with USAID on August 12. The Foundation is the proud recipient of a $6.5 million award from USAID, while the remaining amount will be matched by private sector partners in the GDA, including FSC International.  

Despite managing nearly one quarter of the earth’s surface, Indigenous Peoples face an immense range of challenges—challenges which limit their capacity to secure their rights, strengthen their livelihoods practices, and consolidate sustainable development and governance within their territories.

The GDA aims to change that. Enhancing and diversifying the capacities of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and communities will set Indigenous Peoples on the path to self-sufficiency and will be a key component to create positive and long-lasting impacts for their communities.

Led by the FSC Indigenous Foundation, IPARD will center Indigenous Peoples in the continued management and preservation of the world’s forests. By bringing national governments, private sectors, CSOs and other key stakeholders, this new GDA will develop and implement nation-level actions driven by Indigenous Peoples’ vision and priorities aimed to achieve three systematic and interlinked objectives:

  1. To organize and convene a Capacity Development Program for Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and stakeholders;
  2. To foster an enabling environment for Indigenous Peoples’ recognition, effective participation, and joint decision-making in matters affecting them, and;
  3. To promote Indigenous Peoples’ sustainable development based on self-determined economic models.

The IPARD envisions that if Indigenous Peoples are provided with increased access to capacity-building training, spaces for inclusive decision-making, and support for Indigenous-led business enterprises, then they will be better equipped to influence public-private decision-making to secure self-governance of their territories, catalyze an enabling environment that recognizes and incorporates Indigenous Peoples’ interests into policies and investments, and partner with the private sector to create opportunities to strengthen their economies.

Francisco Souza, FSC Indigenous Foundation Managing Director, says that

IPARD has the potential to build a new generation of Indigenous leaders, prepared to transform the owners of one quarter of the planet’s land mass into providers of global solutions to better protect nature, rights, and self-determined development, through more responsible and inclusive policies, development, partnerships, and investment models.

Throughout this process, Indigenous Peoples will be the protagonists, building innovative ways to implement strategies on the ground. The partnership is driven by and for Indigenous Peoples to create the underlying conditions necessary to achieve long-term impacts for Indigenous communities worldwide.


FSC Launches Indigenous Foundation

To give a voice to Indigenous Peoples on the continued management and preservation of the world’s forests, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has established the FSC Indigenous Foundation.

Masai in traditional clothes joining hands in unity (Zanzibar, Tanzania).

The FSC Indigenous Foundation is an extension of FSC’s commitment to working with Indigenous Peoples to find solutions for the sustainable management of forests. It is a strategic and operative unit established to develop creative and innovative solutions to support Indigenous communities and enable them to build and guide the sustainable management of their land.

For supporting Indigenous Peoples, the Foundation will adapt an Indigenous cultural landscapes approach. This approach was developed by FSC in 2016, to acknowledge the social, cultural and economic value of Indigenous land. The approach appreciates the enduring relationship of Indigenous Peoples with the land, water, fauna and flora, and their spiritual significance to cultural identify, knowledge and livelihoods.

FSC’s commitment to working with Indigenous Communities is part of its DNA and has always been central to its work. This commitment became explicit in 2011, with the establishment of the FSC Permanent Indigenous Peoples Committee, an advisory unit to the FSC board of directors, to ensure the voice of Indigenous Peoples is heard at FSC’s decision-making level.

FSC Director General, Kim Carstensen explained that FSC’s decades of experience were proof that Indigenous communities were one of the most important factors for the sustainable management of forests.

“I’m delighted that FSC’s Indigenous members have wanted to come together with us to facilitate the establishment of this unique Foundation. It is Indigenous led and Indigenous governed and has a very strong link with FSC. For me, this is a major opportunity for forest-dependent Indigenous Peoples worldwide, and is a breakthrough for FSC’s mission and our global strategic plan, which is deliberately designed with Indigenous input at its core,” Carstensen said.

The Indigenous Foundation is headed by Francisco Souza, who is an Indigenous person himself with decades of experience working with environmental and Indigenous organizations particularly in Latin America. Souza aims to use his experience working with Indigenous communities across over 70 million hectares of Amazon rainforest to ensure increased Indigenous engagement in creating and leading sustainable forest-based solutions across the globe.

“We expect to increase the degree of engagement of Indigenous Peoples in the FSC certification system in a more strategic way by creating Indigenous community models with long-term safeguards for their rights and improved access to markets. At the same time, we will develop tools and promote business partnerships to improve forest management and income in indigenous cultural landscapes” said Souza.

The results of the initiatives and projects carried out by the Foundation will strengthen the mission and long-term objectives of FSC to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests.

The FSC Indigenous Foundation is headquartered in Panama. The Permanent Indigenous Peoples Committee will continue its role as advisor to FSC’s Board of Directors, and its activities will be serviced by the Indigenous Foundation.

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