David Kaimowitz describes his career as a “a 30-year quest to understand what causes deforestation,” one that has brought him full circle to where he started: at the issue of land rights. Kaimowitz, who heads the FAO’s Forest and Farm Facility, says the evidence shows that secure communal tenure rights is one of the most cost-effective ways to curb deforestation. In that time, he’s also seen the discourse around the drivers of deforestation change from blaming smallholders, to realizing that a handful of large commodities companies are responsible for the majority of tropical forest loss. In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Kaimowitz talks about why it took so long for Indigenous people to be recognized as guardians of the forest, the need for conservation NGOs to address social justice, and society’s capacity to effect meaningful change. Over the past 20 years, the conservation sector has increasingly recognized the contributions Indigenous communities have made toward achieving conservation goals, including protecting biodiversity and maintaining ecosystems that sustain us. Accordingly, some large conservation NGOs that a generation ago were heavily focused on establishing and fortifying protected areas are today advocating for Indigenous rights and helping communities secure land tenure. […]

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