Peer-to-peer learning: Indigenous peoples share solutions

Forty-two representatives of indigenous organisations from around the world recently met in Tecpan, Guatemala to share experiences and learn from one another on environmental, business and social issues – taking another step toward a common understanding.

people posing in front of Maya ruin

The Tecpan learning exchange in Guatemala arose through a request from indigenous organisations for a series of capacity building and knowledge sharing activities. Specifically, these groups sought to understand and strategise on global environmental policy such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention of Biological Diversity. They discussed, among other things, how these and other mechanisms support their rights and ways of life. During the course of the exchange, they also weighed in on financing mechanisms, land tenure and business endeavours.

Ramiro Batzin, Director of Sotzil and the global focal point for IUCN indigenous member organisations said, “the Tecpan learning exchange was a unique opportunity for indigenous peoples to share their knowledge with other indigenous peoples.  The exchange comes at a critical time when indigenous peoples need to consolidate a joint vision and agenda for the coming decade.”

The exchange provided the opportunity to enhance institutional capacities, including sharing information on funding sources such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and private foundations.

Jenny Springer, Director of the IUCN Global Programme on Governance and Rights, provided an overview of the funding landscape – including multilateral, bilateral and private funding – that is available for indigenous peoples and environmental issues. A panel of indigenous experts then weighed in, sharing their experiences with funding institutions including the GEF, the GCF and several foundations. Participants concluded that the current funding landscape is quite complex and requires organisations to strengthen their internal  administration for supporting the application and reporting processes. Ultimately, they expressed their desire to have a more streamlined approach to ensure more equitble access to funding.

Several indigenous entrepreneurs shared their business plans and experience in developing enterprises around cacao, honey, timber, wayusa, textiles and other products. Some of the main challenges identified were quality control, best practices and marketing/brand development. Participants also discussed the importance of diversification – both in products and markets – for sustainable indigenous economies. 

Regardless of enterprise or topic, one theme that rang true for many was the issue of securing land rights. According to recent estimates, indigenous peoples manage or have tenure rights over a quarter of the world’s land surface, and this intersects about 40% of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes. But preserving these lands and territories is not easy when many communities lack titles to their lands or are not permitted to effectively participate in discussions that directly affect them and their lands or territories. This is viewed as a fundamental issue.

Focusing on the positives, Kevin Chang, Director of KUA – a community based initiative for protecting, restoring and caring for the ‘aina (land in Hawai’i) summed up the general feeling from the exchange when he remarked that, “the Tecpan learning exchange created an opportunity for [indigenous peoples] to build a common language.”

Others echoed that a common language or understanding of the issues surrounding indigenous peoples is essential, especially as development pressures on their lands and territories is ever increasing. Opportunities like the Tecpan learning exchange are crucial for indigenous peoples to collaboratively strategise and assert their voices to sustain natural and cultural diversity now and into the future.

–Web story by Ameyali Ramos, IUCN Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy


The Tecpan learning exchange was organised by the IUCN Global Programme on Governance and Rights and the IUCN Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy, and with support from the Forest and Farm Facility.

Go to top