Mapping the Presence, Lands, and Territories of Afro-descendant Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean

Findings and Challenges for the Climate Debate and Collective Tenure Rights

Author: Rights and Resources Initiative, Process of Black Communities (PCN), and the Pontifical Universidad Javeriana’s Observatory of Ethnic and Campesino Territories (OTEC)

Date: November 1, 2022

In coordination with 20 grassroots organizations and researchers of Afro-descendant Peoples, RRI, PNC, and OTEC carried out a joint investigation to identify the presence, lands, and territories of the Afro-descendant People in Latin America and the Caribbean. For the first time, a freely accessible cartographic viewer gathers decisive data in the region on the territorial presence and the significant relationship between these territories and areas of great importance for the conservation and stability of the terrestrial and oceanic climate.
  • Key Findings
  • Graphics

Key Findings

  • This is the first tool to visualize the population, territorial, and ecosystem data at a regional scale of the territorial presence of Afro-descendant, Black, Maroon, Garífuna, and Creole peoples in 16 countries.4 The territorial presence of these Peoples intersects with areas of ecological and strategic importance for the regulation and mitigation of climate change. These are decisive ecosystems for the conservation of biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Nearly 145.8 million hectares of land has been mapped in the 16 countries with the presence of Afro-descendant Peoples. It is estimated that at least 403 protected areas overlap and/ or connect the cartographically identified territories with the presence of Afro-descendant Peoples.
  • The Afro-descendant territories in countries such as Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Suriname, and Belize have a percentage of tropical rainforest that exceeds 60 percent. In Guatemala and Nicaragua, this percentage exceeds 40 percent of the territories with an Afro-descendant presence.
  • Only four countries analyzed in the study have legal frameworks for the protection of the collective tenure rights of Afro-descendant Peoples (Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua). In the case of Suriname and Honduras, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has urged them to protect the territorial rights of Afro-descendant Peoples, but to date, they do not have an established procedure for recognition and titling. In the other countries, ancestral lands and areas of current occupation do not have solid protection systems for collective tenure rights over lands and territories.
  • The most representative ecosystems inhabited by Afro-descendant People in the countries analyzed are tropical rainforests, dry forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves, sandy beaches, soft bottoms, salt marshes, estuaries, coastal lagoons, seagrass beds, rocky bottoms, coral reefs, macroalgae forests, and coastal plains in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic.
  • Thirteen of the 16 countries analyzed have a significant presence of Afro-descendant Peoples in marine-coastal areas that are characterized by a clear marine influence up to the open sea. These ecosystems have supported Afro-descendant Peoples’ way of life and have natural capacities to regulate and mitigate the impacts of storms and floods, phenomena that are becoming more frequent and intense in climate change scenarios.
  • The results of the study show that for the effective protection of strategic ecosystems for adaptation to climate change, the recognition and protection of the tenure rights of Afro- descendant Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean must be prioritized. Therefore, Afro- descendant Peoples should be a fundamental actor in regional and global discussions on climate change and conservation.


The cartographic viewer can be seen through this link.