Ecuadorian indigenous community takes forest conservation into own hands

The Shuar community is an indigenous group in the Ecuador Amazon Rainforest that is fiercely independent and has successfully kept mining and petroleum exploration off of its lands.  In that sense, the Shuar people have always been conservationists, and they’re now looking into how reducing deforestation can help them continue to conserve their homeland.

Indigenous community’s innovative conservation program goes national

Ecuador deforestation

Ecuador’s Shuar community developed its own program to prevent deforestation, a serious contributor to global warming pollution. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

A number of years ago, a Shuar community developed a conservation project in which the community could be compensated by the Ecuadorian government for conserving the group’s lands.

After successful implementation of this pilot program, Shaur leaders are now examining how this type of program might be translated into a larger project of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) for their entire territory.

The Shuar presented their pilot program to the Ecuadorian government, which then used it as a basis for the current Socio Bosque program that pays forest communities and individuals throughout the country to protect its forests.

Locals become leaders in protecting forests

Ecuador REDD training session

Workshop participants practice using a GPS device, which will be used, along with satellite imagery, to determine the density of the forest. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

A critical part of any REDD project is measuring the carbon in trees; that’s because the amount of compensation communities receive for conserving their forests is directly related to how much carbon the trees are estimated to hold.

In order to determine how much carbon the trees hold, certified technicians are sent into the forest to take necessary measurements, such as trees’ diameters and forest density.  Because the technicians generally are from urban areas, they often hire indigenous guides to help them find the specific locations required for measuring most efficiently.

But that’s changing, thanks to growing interest among indigenous communities in taking a greater role in conservation of their land, and the help of groups like Environmental Defense Fund and leaders like Juan Carlos Jintiach, a Shuar and the Chief of Economic Policy and International Cooperation for the Coordinating Organization for the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA).

Juan Carlos recognizes the opportunity for indigenous peoples to perform the measurements themselves.  Instead of having outsiders come in and measure the carbon in the community’s trees, indigenous communities can measure it themselves, earn good wages, and learn to value another resource in their forests: carbon.

Workshops offer paths to greater conservation, participation

Ecuador WHRC measuring trees

Workshop participants look on as Wayne Walker from Woods Hole Research Center (EDF’s partner) shows how to measure a tree’s diameter, which will help in estimating how much carbon the forest stores. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

Two weeks ago, EDF, with Woods Hole Research Center and COICA, co-hosted a workshop to train the Shuar on measuring carbon in forests.

The training workshop, which has been adapted for numerous other indigenous groups in the Amazon Basin, teaches and empowers indigenous peoples with technical skills needed for measuring carbon trapped in forests, like using a GPS to find specific coordinates; measuring out a 40 x 40 meter “parcel” of forest; and measuring the diameter of each tree in that area.

At the end of the three-day workshop, it was clear to me and all those involved that there is a great opportunity for indigenous peoples to use forest carbon measuring to contribute to REDD.

The indigenous leaders at our training left with a solid understanding that there are also opportunities for indigenous peoples to play a key role in and gain economically through conservation.  We hope this can, in turn, act as a catalyst for more indigenous participation in REDD, and potentially increase input by indigenous peoples into the development of government REDD policies.

But most importantly, indigenous peoples with forest carbon measuring skills will be able to generate not only good jobs for locals based on conservation, but also generate important information regarding the amount of carbon in their lands that will help them make better land management – and conservation – decisions for the future.

Learn more about our work with indigenous peoples protecting forests and livelihoods in the Amazon Basin.

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