Biocultural Community Protocols are tools for livestock-keeping communities to document and showcase their role in the management of animal genetic resources and agro-ecosystems. They offer insights into the all-important socio-cultural dimensions of livestock diversity that have remained invisible during standard livestock research on animal genetic resources. They provide an opportunity for communities to tell the story from their perspective and bring to light issues that researchers and development workers have not paid attention to so far. They describe the ritual and ceremonial meaning of livestock, they document traditional resource management and drought adaption strategies, they identify the factors that may have led to the decline of a breed, and they make specific requests to outsiders for recognition of their role as custodians of biological diversity.

Establishment of a biocultural community protocol involves a facilitated process in which a community or group of livestock keepers reflects about the meaning of their breeds, their own role in maintaining it and their vision and concerns for and about the future. The reflections are put on paper, and the community is informed about existing national rules and international legal frameworks that support its role in biodiversity conservation. Although the number of biocultural community protocols that has been established by livestock keepers is still limited, they have already validated the concept and there is an enormous interest among other communities in developing their protocols.

Biocultural community protocols contribute to the implementation of several international frameworks. The most important of these are the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources. They also correspond to and implement the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as well as the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security.

Furthermore, they may provide an answer to the increasingly debated question of how to protect the rights of small-scale livestock keepers in a global scenario in which Intellectual Property Rights become ever more prevalent in animal breeding. At community level, the development of biocultural community protocols strengthens interest in the conservation of indigenous livestock breeds and initiates a discussion about how to deal with factors undermining conservation.

A biocultural community protocol is a document that is developed after a community undertakes a consultative process to outline their core cultural and spiritual values and customary laws relating to their traditional knowledge and resources. In this they provide clear terms and conditions regulating access to their knowledge and resources.” (Natural Justice. 2009. Biocultural community protocols: A community approach to ensuring the integrity of environmental law and policy. UN Environment Programme and Natural Justice)