- Partnering between park rangers and indigenous communities increases the oversight of the forest and creates a foundation for ongoing collaboration between government agencies and indigenous communities.
- Strengthening of indigenous identity through visits to spiritual and cultural sites, and through the collaborative development of sustainable management plans, helps to empower communities to challenge encroachment onto their lands.
The Amarakaeri Communal Reserve was established in 2002 to protect the headwaters of the Eori/Madre de Dios and Karene/Colorado rivers, and to secure the quality of the natural environment for the indigenous communities who depend upon the area. The reserve comprises part of the ancestral lands of the Harukmbut, Yine and Machiguenga people. Despite its protection, the Peruvian government granted a large oil concession in the reserve that comprises 90% of its area, with exploration beginning in 2014. Other threats include illegal gold-mining and logging, which have intensified in recent years and have expanded onto the reserve. Remote sensing by manned aircraft detected clearance by goldminers in the southeast section of the reserve beginning in 2013, and continuing through 2014 and 2015.
In response to these threats, the Executor of the Administrative Contract of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ECA-RCA) - representing ten indigenous communities surrounding the reserve - partnered with the national park department of the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment (SERNANP) to develop and co-manage a forest monitoring programme. The main objectives are to document and combat illegal extraction through monitoring and mapping of threatened areas, and to ensure that legal oil drilling takes place cleanly. The development of indigenous ‘communal life-plans’ are also intended to help strengthen the ability of communities to protect their territory and participate in decision making.
In addition to these core aims, outcomes are expected to include the strengthening of partnerships between communities and national organisations, and the reinforcement of the communities’ cultural identities. The knowledge and skills gained from this are in turn expected to feed back into environmental protection.
As part of its commitments under the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD), Peru aims to be a leader in securing benefits of biodiversity protection for its citizens by 2021. Indigenous communities rely directly on intact forests, and control and management by indigenous communities has been shown to be associated with stronger forest protection. In addition, the CBD requires participating countries to recognise and protect indigenous communities’ customary land use. However, the Pervian Government’s decision to grant major concessions within the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve suggests that these commitments are not being respected.
The community is involved designing the aims, vision and objectives of the project, as well as electing the community monitors, coordinated by ECA-RCA. Strategies for monitoring and confronting illegal activities in the area are also decided together, and participatory mapping is used to identify and validate threats in the area. Community monitors are trained through workshops in the skills needed to carry out the chosen strategy, including the use of drones for monitoring land-use change.
Communal protection of Amarakaeri Communal Reserve has also been encouraged through events that strengthen community identity. According to some members of the communities who depend on the reserve, young people are losing their connection to their indigenous identity, which could undermine the future protection of their communities and lands. During discussions about environmental degradation in their lands, elders discussed an important spiritual site they call 'El Rostro' or 'The Face'. A trip was organised to visit the site, helping to strengthen community identity and connection to their lands. This is recorded in this video, with If Not Us Then Who.
Together with official SERNANP park rangers, indigenous community monitors patrol the reserve on an agreed schedule. Environmental infractions such as illegal logging and mining are recorded, as well as poor practices in legal extractive activities. The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) also detected deforestation within the reserve using a manned aircraft.
The project uses drones to remotely monitor forest cover change, allowing larger tracts to be monitored than could be managed on foot, and providing high quality data. ‘Epicollect’ software is also used to compile data collected on multiple phones where it is accessible to others.
A separate project is also using technology to monitor illegal activities in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve: researchers from the Carnegie Institute, in collaboration with the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) used an aircraft to gain images of the reserve. They identified clearance from illegal gold-mining in the Southeastern part of the reserve, which would not have been picked up by publically available satellite imagery.
Achievements and challenges
Positive outcomes of the project have included creating a document on control, surveillance and monitoring of the forests that guide the joint management of the reserve, in accordance with the constitutional rights of the communities. Community monitors and SERNANP rangers have increased their skills and capacities to confront environmental infractions, especially in the use of digital technology, and community monitors' positions will be recognised and accredited through SERNANP. The research conducted by the Carnegie Institute and MAAP also was successful in identifying illegal deforestation by goldminers between 2013-2015, and small-scale deforestation by a legal oil and natural gas project. The researchers pointed out that clearance was limited because no access road was built.
Environmental outcomes of these projects are not yet clear. There are strong financial incentives for people living near the reserve, including members of the indigenous communities, to continue illegal mining and logging in the area. There is tension between the attitudes of the older and younger members of the community towards the forest, with many young people arguing that they cannot benefit from the reserve if they cannot extract resources from it. Monitoring could increase the possibility for conflict in this regard. As the project progresses, more information on the specific challenges and positive outcomes of this project can be expected.