Masai tribe in Tanzania walking outside.

Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

Helping communities protect their lands and the many benefits they provide

This work is supported by the Equity Center and spans several programs and international offices. Contact Elisa Scalise for more details or media inquiries.

Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant groups, pastoralists, hunters and gathers, and other types of local communities have collectively held and managed their traditional lands for hundreds, even thousands of years. Many of these groups steward their land and natural resources sustainably, as they serve as primary sources of food, medicine, fuel and construction materials, as well as employment, income, welfare, security, culture and spirituality. Community land also provides a host of regional and global benefits, such as climate change mitigation, wildlife habitat, water purification, tourism and more.

Herding cattle with mountains in background.

Download Brochures on Community Land, Climate Mitigation and Biodiversity Conservation

Learn how the lands of Indigenous peoples and other local communities provide critical ecosystem services that generate local, regional and global benefits such as climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation.

Biodiversity Conservation

Climate Mitigation (English)

Climate Mitigation (Español)

Despite their value, few traditional lands are legally recognized as belonging to communities; even less is registered in a government cadaster or documented with an official certificate or title. As a result, most community land is vulnerable to being taken by governments, corporations, or well-connected local elites for development, such as commercial agriculture or mining.

When communities or their organizations take steps to protect their land, many face threats. At least 200 environmental defenders were killed in 2021 alone; more than 40% were Indigenous people.

WRI aims to raise awareness of the value of community lands and elevate the voices of the people who call them home.

Globally and through our international offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America, WRI conducts research and develops tools to help communities as well as their organizations and allies protect their lands. WRI documents the contributions of and threats to community land; helps people map, secure, monitor and defend their homes and resources; and promotes participatory policies and mechanisms that include communities in all decisions that affect them.

Cover image by Dreamstime Agency |

WRI works across a range of issues that affect local communities around the world:

Community Land Rights

Perhaps half the world’s land is community land, yet little of it is tenure secure. Most community land is held and managed only under customary tenure arrangements. WRI works with communities and their organizations to map, formalize, secure and protect the lands they occupy.


Community land is threatened by increasing global demand for food, fuels, minerals and other natural resources. WRI works to identify and document threats to community land and develops tools and other resources to help local communities monitor and protect their lands.

Gender and Land

Despite their contributions, women seldom hold land as individuals or groups. WRI works to raise awareness of women’s land rights and their role in sustainable land management. We promote policies and practices supportive of women’s land rights and their participation in decision-making processes.

Environmental Defenders

Land disputes between communities, governments and corporations are becoming more common and dangerous. WRI works to reduce risks to community defenders by strengthening laws that promote transparency, public participation and accountability in decision-making.

Climate Change Mitigation

Communities hold many of the world’s carbon-rich ecosystems, including forests, mangroves and peatlands. WRI conducts research on the climate mitigation contributions of community lands, helping support communities and their land management practices.

Mobilizing Finance

Communities make significant investments in protecting and managing their lands, ensuring they generate valuable ecosystem services that benefit both local populations and society at large. WRI designs and promotes mechanisms that support communities and their actions to protect and sustainable manage their lands.

Biodiversity and Restoration

Community land holds many of the world’s remaining natural areas and overlaps with the habitat of many species of wildlife. WRI conducts research on the role of communities and their land in biodiversity conservation and works to secure and protect community lands, including by working with businesses that restore degraded forests, farmlands and pasture.


Community lands hold considerable energy resources, including oil and natural gas reserves and hydropower potential, yet many rural people remain without power. WRI works to ensure that all communities have access to clean, affordable electricity and that energy development benefits local livelihoods and wellbeing.

Projects and Platforms

Media Contacts