Indigenous empowerment for climate-resilient solutions in Africa

At COP 28 side event Indigenous leaders discussed empowering Indigenous communities with financial resources and inclusive carbon markets to scale up climate solutions.

At COP 28, the FSC Indigenous Foundation, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC),  the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Inclusive Development Hub convened experts at an event on December 5 in the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion, Engaging Indigenous Peoples in Carbon Markets: Direct access to climate finance for Indigenous communities in Africa to increase awareness of the unique contributions of Indigenous communities to climate resilience and to discuss opportunities, challenges and solutions related to direct climate finance and carbon markets.

The need for direct and inclusive mechanisms

The global challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change require urgent and collaborative action. Indigenous communities, often the stewards of rich biodiversity, possess unique knowledge and sustainable practices that can significantly contribute to climate resilience. By fostering direct access for Indigenous Peoples to climate finance, we can empower Indigenous communities in Africa to implement sustainable solutions, contributing significantly to the broader goals of biodiversity conservation and climate resilience.

Carbon markets could be a way of empowering Indigenous Peoples by paying them for protecting the world’s forests. Indigenous and community lands hold at least 22% of the carbon stored in tropical and subtropical forests globally. These markets have the potential to create a unique opportunity for Indigenous communities to develop an economic sector aligned with Indigenous lifestyles, Indigenous Cultural Landscapes, and sustainable land management. It is also an opportunity for governments and industry to co-create meaningful partnerships and develop relevant policies with Indigenous Peoples.

On the other hand, some Indigenous communities fear that further development of carbon markets, even with the new rules agreed to at COP 27, will endanger local livelihoods and create loopholes for further emissions. Markets must be designed in a transparent way that responds to the needs and realities of Indigenous communities.

Perspectives from Indigenous leaders

We took the opportunity of COP28 to create an inclusive space to identify the key constraints, challenges, and opportunities of climate finance and carbon markets. 

To begin the event, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, FSC Indigenous Foundation Council Chair gave opening remarks. 

“What is the carbon market, and how is it going to respect the land and rights of Indigenous Peoples?” she asked.  “If governments are going engage in the carbon market, we are not going to let them do it without getting the benefit and we are not going to let them do it while harming our lives and our territories.”

A panel with Indigenous leaders and partner organizations shared perspectives and key insights on how we can engage stakeholders from the realms of climate finance, environmental policy, and Indigenous rights advocacy to ensure direct access to finance for Indigenous communities.

Panelists also discussed how Indigenous Peoples can benefit from carbon markets, and which concerns need to be addressed for more Indigenous Peoples to participate.

“There is a big debate that carbon is a false solution”, said Kanyinke Sena, Executive Director of IPACC. “We must understand that carbon in itself is not a bad thing, what is a bad thing is the people that use that to come and benefit – the carbon cowboys.” 

He also emphasized the importance of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) for communities engaging in the carbon market.

Elijah Toirai, Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) and Communities Lead at Conservation International discussed registration for carbon credits and the importance of carbon market reports remaining public. “We are seeing a shift towards Indigenous Peoples communities becoming the carbon credit entity. The Indigenous Peoples’ communities and organizations are registering the projects. That way, when it comes to benefit sharing, the buyers actually then pay to these Indigenous Peoples’ organizations,” he said.

Joseph Itongwa, Coordinator of REPALEAC and IPACC Great Lakes representative, posed an important question: “Where can we report the wrongdoers in the carbon credit equation?”

The question and answer section presented the opportunity to exchange knowledge and information from other regions. 

“We, the Indigenous Peoples, have organized ourselves and have proposed our own climate strategy, called the Amazon Indigenous Network, in the face of this challenge. We are looking for the rights of Indigenous Peoples to come first, and the right of access to the territories. We are implementing REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) with the guidelines of the Amazon Indigenous Network,” said Fermín Chimatani Tayori of the National Association of Contract Executors for the Administration of Communal Reserves of Peru.

Panelists concluded that it is vital to ensure the respect of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the development of carbon markets. Indigenous Peoples need to be included in the design of these mechanisms so they can engage in carbon markets, if they so choose, in favor of their communities, landscapes, and cosmovision.


The General Council of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di of Panama validates the draft of its Organic Charter

After eight months of work, the Naso Comarca has created an Organic Charter that reflects its cultural values and the protection of Mother Earth.

The cultural values of the Naso people of Panama are embodied in their Organic Charter. The Charter contains the methods that the Naso people use to preserve the cultural and biological biodiversity of their territory, methods to elect or dismiss their authorities and representatives, divide their lands by family and communities, and how they administer justice related to land and the development of the community economy.

The process to draft the Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca began when the Naso General Council approved the project to Strengthen the Indigenous Agenda of Panama (FAIP) in August 2022. Since then, three training workshops to draft and reach a consensus on the Organic Charter. The first workshop was held in October 2022 in the community of Sieyik, the capital of the comarca, a second workshop was held in the community of Drudi in February 2023, and a third in the community of Bonyik in May 2023.

In each of these workshops over 50 traditional authorities such as the Pjoshwega (traditional justice administrators) and Dboriaga (community representatives before the King) participated and explained to the technical commission of the comarca how the final document should be written.

 Second Training Workshop, collection and consensus of information to elaborate the Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di  Comarca, Drudi community.


The elaboration of a Charter is an open, participatory, and extensive process where authorities and community members must express their experiences, opinions, and suggestions so that The Charter reflects a democratic representation of the principles and ideals of the people who create it.

For this purpose, the Naso King, Reynaldo Santana, summoned the technical commission of the Organic Charter, the Naso General Council, and representatives of the 16 communities of the comarca to the workshops to draft  the Organic Charter. The representatives agreed upon the organization chart, the administrative and political body of the territory, and designated  functions to each organizational group.

 The Naso palace, home of King Renaldo Santana, where his royal throne is located. Sieyik community.

Although the Organic Charter had not been written until now, its procedures, methods, and structures have been in place for centuries through the way the Naso people live in harmony with their land.


The technician of the Organic Charter Commission, Adolfo Villagra, clarified that, although there should be a close relationship between local authorities, the No Daga (community police) must comply with the requests of the Pjoshwega, meaning the No Daga  is subordinate to the Pjoshwega and they do not have the same powers to administer justice.

Currently, even though Panamanian law recognizes the right of Indigenous traditional authorities to apply justice, the Naso people still use Western justice to resolve community cases, which takes power away from the Pjoshwega and gives those responsibilities to the State.

 Technician Adolfo Villagra addresses the audience during the second workshop in the community of Drudi.


The Organic Charter also opened new political spaces for women, youth, and the elderly, such as the Women’s Council, the Youth Council, and the Council of Elders. These institutions proposed by the community and the authorities will ensure the representation of these populations in the General Council, which is the comarca’s body for consultation, consensus, coordination, and administration.

Some of the women who supported the creation of the Women’s Council belong to the United Women’s Organization of Bonyik (OMUB), including Rosibel Quintero, entrepreneur of the Posada Media Luna, and teachers Yeraldin Villagra and Gerardina Hooker.

(From left to right) Leaders Rosibel Quintero, Yeraldin Villagra, Omayra Casamá, president of AMARIE, and Gerardina Hooker during the validation of the draft Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca in the community of Bonyik.


From the beginning, King Reynaldo Santana has always defended the conservation efforts of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca. The Organic Charter establishes various mechanisms and projects to protect the environment, such as recycling projects, reforestation, and the creation of nurseries, herbariums, and sanctuaries for different native species.

In addition, he says the Charter also creates a “double shield” of protection for the goddess Tjër, sovereign of the Naso territory who gives her name to the region, because the Naso people are the true guardians of nature.

 For the Naso people, the river is a goddess called Tjër, which also gives the name to the comarca.

One mechanism that strengthens the Organic Charter is the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent of the Naso people before projects that national or international institutions wish to execute within the comarca. This returns decision-making power back to the traditional authorities.


The approval of the draft Charter of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di by the General Council was celebrated in the community of Bonyik on May 2, 2023, in the presence of the King, the technical commission of the Charter, the Pjoshwega and Dboriaga and special guests such as the presidential advisor Andrés Wong and the advisor of the Vice-Ministry of Indigenous Affairs Emir Miranda.

King Reynaldo Santana addresses the public at the closing of the act of validation of the draft of the Organic Charter.

During the last eight months, the authorities, technical commission and residents of different communities worked on 180 articles of the Organic Charter.

According to the president of the General Council, Ignacio Bonilla, the effort to generate the Organic Charter has gone through several setbacks related to the economic capacity of the region to support visitors and supply their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, in addition to convincing its population of the historical importance of the project.

Ignacio Bonilla, president of the General Council of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di, gives instructions on how the methodology for the validation of the draft Organic Charter will be developed.

Partners were also invited to the validation ceremony including the director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation, Francisco Souza, the coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), Levi Sucre, the president of the Mesoamerican Coordinating Committee of Women Territorial Leaders (CMLT), Sara Omi, and the president of the Association of Emberá Women Artisans (AMARIE), Omayra Casamá.

On the value of this process, Francisco Souza of the FSC Indigenous Foundation commented, “Recognizing governance is a recognition of the ancestry of the Naso people. Our commitment to share is to start with the Organic Charter as a first step, the second step is the development of Naso culture and self-determination.”

Francisco Souza, director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation addresses the General Council of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di, to his left are Levi Sucre, Coordinator of AMPB, Omayra Casamá, President of AMARIE, King Reynaldo Santana and second King Ardinteo Santana.

Omayra Casamá, President of AMARIE shared, “The Organic Charter is a guide, it is a method of legality, of security, of telling the government that we Indigenous Peoples are organized, we just had to write it down.”

Omayra Casamá, President of AMARIE, addresses the General Council.


In addition to the Naso Tjër Di Comarca, FAIP covers three additional Indigenous territories and aims to strengthen their political structures by  drafting and publication of their organic charters or internal regulations.

The Kuna Comarca of Madungandi drafted the Internal Regulations of the General Congress and in this process, spaces were created for women and youth to share  their opinions on the decisions made by the General Congress, which is mostly composed of men.

The drafting of the Internal Regulations of the Tuira Region of the Emberá and Wounaan Collective Lands of Darién has demonstrated, among other things, that there is another Indigenous People in Panama, the Eyabida people who migrated from Colombia due to the armed conflict between guerrillas and drug trafficking. This process also proved that coordination between transboundary communities is possible and necessary for democratic territorial governance.

As for the Organic Charter of the National Congress of the Wounaan People, the only political structure that uses the term “nation” and therefore encompasses all Wounaan communities in the Panamanian territory and the only one led by a woman, Cacica Aulina Ismare Opua, has demonstrated the importance of women participating in these political processes.

FAIP is funded by USAID and FSC, implemented by FSC Indigenous Foundation and framed within the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) program, executed in coordination with AMPB, CMLT and AMARIE.