Is it Just Conservation? 

Outcome of equitable governance in conservation

A blog entry by Anna-Lena Mieke

“Indigenous communities in Africa hold deep ecological knowledge and cultural wisdom that are essential for the sustainable management and conservation of our natural resources.”

— Wangari Maathai


Conservation biology is an important field that aims to protect the planet’s biodiversity and ensure the sustainability of ecosystems that are crucial to life on the planet. Traditionally, conservation efforts have often been driven by external organizations such as government agencies and international non-governmental organizations, mostly overlooking the essential role that indigenous peoples and local communities (IPs and LCs) have in these ecosystems1. Nevertheless, the involvement of local communities in conservation biology has proven to be a key factor in the success and sustainability of conservation initiatives2.

The recent study by Dawson et al. (2024) provides a comprehensive analysis of the ecological and social outcomes associated with varying levels of involvement of IPs and LCs in conservation governance. The findings emphasize that the degree of equitable governance—where IPs and LCs are actively involved and empowered—has a profound impact on the success of conservation efforts.

Ecological Outcomes


The study reveals a clear trend: conservation projects that adopt more equitable governance models, wherein IPs and LCs have significant control or are equal partners, tend to yield more positive ecological outcomes.

In contrast, conservation initiatives with less equitable governance structures – where IPs and LCs were either consulted with no decision-making power or treated as one of many stakeholders with limited influence – displayed significantly poorer ecological outcomes.

Social Outcomes


The social outcomes associated with conservation governance also highlight the importance of equitable approaches. Projects that involve IPs and LCs as autonomous leaders or primary controllers not only benefit the environment but also enhance the well-being of these communities.

Conversely, the less inclusive governance models often led to adverse social consequences. In cases where IPs and LCs were merely consulted or treated as stakeholders, negative social outcomes were prevalent. These negative outcomes often stem from inadequate recognition of local rights, minimal inclusion in decision-making, and insufficient benefit-sharing mechanisms.



The results of this study carry significant implications for conservation policies and practices. They highlight the necessity of shifting towards more equitable governance models that empower IPs and LCs not just as participants but as leaders and decision-makers. By integrating the values, knowledge, and leadership of IPs and LCs into conservation strategies, we can create more sustainable and effective conservation initiatives. This alignment with principles of equity and justice is essential for meeting global biodiversity targets and ensuring the long-term health of both natural ecosystems and the communities that depend on them


  1. Dawson, N. M. et al. Is it just conservation? A typology of Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ roles in conserving biodiversity. One Earth Preprint at (2024).
  2. Schreckenberg, K., Franks, P., Martin, A. & Lang, B. Unpacking equity for protected area conservation. Parks 22, 11–26 (2016).

Image: Sierra Leon, Annie Sprat
Quote: Wangari Maathai