While growing up on Camiguin, an island in the southern Philippines known for its seven volcanoes and the lanzones fruit that grows only in that region, Nonette Royo would go to the forest with her father. “Often he would look me straight in the eye and say, ‘Spirits, forests, lanzones—they nurture us, you nurture them back. You work with the people who know how’,” she said, speaking at the recent 2022 TED Conference.

For thousands of years, Indigenous people have been doing just that: Nurturing the land that nurtures them. Indigenous people are the world’s biggest conservationists, and modern scientific reviews are proving that Indigenous people manage their environment and take care of their land better than others.

As the executive director of the Tenure Facility, Royo helps Indigenous peoples and local communities secure their land and forest rights, financing better mapping and funding legal services to Indigenous communities who fight for their land in court. With support from TED’s Audacious Project, a funding initiative that connects change makers with philanthropists, Royo announced last week they will expand their work, protecting up to 50 million hectares of land and forests across Amazonia, the Congo Basin, and tropical Asia over the next five years. That will not only benefit 15 million people who live and protect those regions, but prevent 140 million metric tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere over a decade.

Already, Indigenous people look after and protect more than 80% of the world’s biodiversity, but in many cases, their land rights aren’t legally recognized. Or, Royo tells Fast Company, the government will say it recognizes their rights, but it fails to put any resources behind that recognition—making it difficult to stave off threats like illegal logging.

Read the full article about Indigenous land rights by Kristin Toussaint at Fast Company.