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In Project Amazônia 2.0, communities and technology team up for nature

  • Since 2017, Project Amazônia 2.0 has used the latest developments in information technology to strengthen monitoring and conservation of Indigenous territories and traditional communities in six countries in the Amazon region.
  • Community members work as monitors to report on any violations or changes in the environment, and the reports and data are entered into the online platform GeoVisor in near-real-time.
  • In Brazil, the project began operating in 2019 in two Indigenous territories and a state park, where a total of 16 Indigenous monitors use a cellphone app to report threats to the forest.
  • In Peru, Amazônia 2.0 is already acknowledged by the government as a management and governance model for forests and indigenous lands.

That Indigenous peoples and traditional populations are the most important forest guardians in Latin America and the Caribbean is an established fact. A report released in March by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes as much. They are often the first people to spot illegal loggers, illegal miners, land grabbers, drug traffickers and other hostile actors encroaching on the forest. With their knowledge, Indigenous peoples can also perceive changes that point to imbalances in the environment, such as those caused by climate change. To strengthen and value the work of these populations, the FAO report suggests transforming it through social technology.

Project Amazônia 2.0 is an initiative by global conservation authority the IUCN with funding from the European Union, and has worked on this issue since 2017. Using the latest developments in information technology, the project works to strengthen forest governance models in Indigenous and community-controlled territories in six Amazonian countries: Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname and, since 2019, Brazil. A look back at the project, which is scheduled to end in the second half of 2021, provides insights into how these guardians have brought greater visibility to their role and the different challenges that each community faces across the Amazon.

“The project respects the autonomy of traditional and Indigenous populations and their self-determination,” says Braulio Buendía from Ecuador, the regional coordinator for Amazônia 2.0. “Working in coordination with their organizations, it provides them with help and assistance to safeguard their territories, strengthen governance and improve their livelihoods.

“We can’t impose anything, but we join the struggles for rights in the Amazon regions where the project operates,” he adds.

In each territory covered by the forest, the challenges differ: illegal logging in Peru; threats against community leaders by drug traffickers in Colombia; violations of environmental rules by oil companies in Ecuador.

In practice, the project promotes mobilization in each territory and choses monitors from among well-known community leaders. They undergo training in field monitoring and the importance of strengthening community mobilization and organization. This is the basis for the use of new technology, which varies from one area to the other but shares the purpose of pointing out changes and violations as soon as possible and feeding the information into the online platform GeoVisor.

The information is also processed by the project’s coordinators, who, depending on each case, facilitate dialogue with local authorities in search of solutions.

“Everything is based on a bottom-up logic,” Buendía says.

Coordinators and monitors from different Amazonian areas meet regularly (online only since the COVID-19 outbreak) to share their struggles and achievements, as well as to support local livelihoods based on, for instance, products harvested from the forest.

Indigenous monitors use a drone during field work in Ecuador. Image courtesy of Amazônia 2.0/IUCN.

Preparing communities to deal with threats

In Brazilian, the project covers three territories in the state of Acre: the Mamoadate and Alto Purus Indigenous territories, and Chandless State Park.

“These areas are close to the border with Bolivia and Peru, so it follows the project’s regional integration logic,” says Carolle Alarcon, coordinator of Amazônia 2.0 in Brazil.

Arrangements for the project started in 2019 and its execution on the ground with Indigenous and riverine communities was planned for 2020. But the process was interrupted by the pandemic.

“It was very frustrating because we were preparing to be with them in the territories. So we continued it, even from a distance, keeping in touch with the monitors and the community, consolidating information and working with local authorities,” Alarcon says.

Naides Peres was one of the local agents chosen by Amazônia 2.0. He attended the training sessions, and says that in addition to wanting be part of an initiative covering different Amazonian territories, the opportunity to earn an income from doing it is also important.

“I’m now a member of Monitora, so I leave home every morning and come back in the early afternoon, and I’m doing this job of monitoring and learning about nature, always paying attention to any kind of change,” he says.

Monitora is the territory-monitoring program that follows protocols established by ICMBio, the Brazilian environment ministry’s administrative arm. In Acre, the program is administered by the state environmental department, or Sema, in Chandless State Park. Peres joined the program as a paid forest guardian.

“It’s very important because there is almost no option to support one’s family around here,” he says.

“Amazônia 2.0 aims to monitor threats and pressures against the park, which not only complement biodiversity monitoring, but also support management decision-making, as any threats and pressures directly reflect on preservation of biodiversity,” says Ricardo Plácido, the Sema manager in charge of the park. He says that paying community members to serve as agents is essential since it compensates for the traditional activities they have to stop in order to do the monitoring work.

While the pandemic has kept the project from going as expected, the knowledge acquired by the monitors enables them to have at least some immediate influence. For their work, they’re supplied with cellphones with internet access so they can learn to use the GeoVisor platform.

“We want to replicate knowledge, and that they realize their power to enforce their rights,” Alarcon says.

Chandless State Park, Acre. Image by Notícias do Acre.

In the Mamoadate and Alto Purus Indigenous territories, Amazônia 2.0 is folded into an existing program: the training of Indigenous agroforestry agents by the Pro-Indigenous Commission of Acre. Operating in 11 Indigenous territories between Bolivia and Peru, the program involves young people from five ethnic groups (Manchineri, Ashaninka, Yawanawá, Kaxinawá and Katukina) who, in addition to producing a variety of exotic and native seedlings, work on implementing and managing agroforestry systems in their communities while conducting environmental assessments, identifying management problems and proposing solutions. These agents are also paid for their work. The Amazônia 2.0 program also chose from among them when trying to recruit monitors.

A difference between how the Amazônia 2.0 program is implemented in Brazil and the other countries is that Brazilian indigenous peoples do not have a single and politically structured representative organization, which means the government is in charge of managing their territories. That makes cultivating a partnership with the authorities even more important.

While the internet is expected to arrive soon at the Mamoadate and Alto Purus Indigenous territories, monitors convey the information they gather directly to the project’s coordinators. As in Chandless State Park, the monitors are trained in management and assessment skills, which helps them better perceive pressures and threats in the field, in addition to encouraging mobilization to defend rights. All monitors in the three areas in Acre also receive a supplemental income from the project for four months, to help and incentivize their work as guardians.

Under the program, Brazil has 16 monitors with basic training, in addition to a mobile app created specifically to enable instant threat reporting. While the three participating areas have near-zero deforestation — just 0.3% — the idea is that the project will also prepare agents and communities for possible future threats, especially those that may result from construction of roads planned in the area, which is also home to uncontacted Indigenous peoples.

Acre’s Indigenous agroforestry agents in a hands-on organic gardening class. Image by Leilane Marinho/CPI-Acre.

Victory against illegal loggers

In Peru, the project operates in El Sira Communal Reserve in Atalaya province, covering 12 Ashaninka Indigenous communities near the Brazilian border.

“I believe community engagement to be important, even as a criterion for selection,” says Rebeca Dumet, the Peruvian coordinator for Amazônia 2.0.

Unlike in Brazil, where an estimated 70% of logging in the Amazon is illegal, Peruvian legislation allows traditional populations to harvest timber for their own economic benefit within established limits and determined areas. This is the source of income for 80% of the communities covered by the project in El Sira.

Monitors working with Amazônia 2.0, together with the community, became aware of a predatory scheme by loggers who, in some cases, pretended to be commercial partners of the community. Their actions meant that when deforestation rates exceeded legal levels, it was the forest dwellers, and not the loggers, who were punished by the authorities with heavy fines, creating a vicious cycle that undermined their social structure and encouraged even more illegal logging.

“One of the main avenues of action for Amazônia 2.0 is to follow up on issues raised by the community with the authorities,” Dumet says. “The threats notified are transformed into information capable of mobilizing competent institutions if necessary. That’s a tool for traditional populations to have a voice in defending their territories and their ways of life.”

In the case of El Sira, the monitoring process led to near-zero predatory logging in the reserve as a result of government action, in addition to the review of fines imposed on residents. That victory was a result of their reporting on threats using paper forms every month, which were processed and entered by the project’s coordinators on the GeoVisor platform. In Peru, Amazônia 2.0 is acknowledged by the government as a management and governance model for forests and Indigenous lands.

Groups that already work along the Brazil-Peru border were also mapped. A report was then published with analyses of collaborative initiatives such as the Brazil-Peru Cross-Border Protection Working Group, the Iñapari-Assis Brasil Local Border Committee, and cooperation between the Pro-Indian Commission (CPI-Acre) and the Native Federation of Madre de Dios River and Affluents (Fenamad), which work to protect isolated Indigenous people on the border.

Since it began in 2017, Amazônia 2.0 has racked up a list of achievements: 31 indigenous observatories or community monitoring systems, with 57 observers trained and empowered, who have already made more than 1,800 reports, not only on forest cover but also on forest governance and environmental monitoring. The program’s deepest impact, however, is in raising these populations’ awareness and bringing together the various needs, languages and challenges in the territories. It has become a way for forests guardians in Latin America to assert their rights and be recognized for the service they render to the planet by staying in the forest and practicing their way of life.

Indigenous monitors doing field work in Ecuador. Image courtesy of Amazônia 2.0/IUCN.

Banner image of Ashaninka Indigenous people on the Madre de Dios River in Peru, one of the communities included in project Amazon 2.0.

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Latam team and published here on our Brazil site on April 15, 2021.

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