For millennia, indigenous and local communities around the world have upheld the responsibilities of their great-great grandparents and their ancestors as the Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories. Elders within the community play a vital role in upholding the ecological knowledge and customs practiced over generations which maintain the well-being of Sacred Natural Sites, ecosystems, territories and local communities. These customary governance systems recognise Sacred Natural Sites and Territories as places where the laws of Earth can be read, and from which customs, spiritual practices and governance systems are derived to protect the territory as a whole. Therefore, Sacred Natural Sites and Territories are at the heart of ecological, spiritual and cultural practices, and governance systems of indigenous and local communities. However, irrespective of their importance, Sacred Natural Sites and Territories across Africa are faced with increasing threats of destruction from economic and other developments which have also eroded the customary governance systems of their custodial communities.
Custodians of sacred ecosystems and elders who hold vital indigenous knowledge are also disappearing. The failure to respect sacred ecosystems has a direct impact on the lives and well-being of communities of present and future generations of all life. Since 2009, ABN has supported five partners to consolidate, integrate and further evolve innovative strategies of working with communities on Sacred Natural Sites & Territories and supporting governance systems. The ABN core methodologies include: community dialogues to analyse and strengthen relevant traditional ecological knowledge and practices, and build community ecological governance capacity; the creation and use of eco-maps and calendars to facilitate agreement of land and biodiversity management and control, first within communities, and then with local and national governments. These methods promote dialogue, analysis, and negotiation to identify, agree, and implement local solutions that increase local control and protection of ecosystems and community rights and responsibilities.