| Lelis Rivera © Joe Lowe
| Community feedback © CEDIA
| Rivera at planning session © CEDIA
March 26, 2014
Lelis Rivera, Executive Director of CEDIA, discusses the role native communities play in Amazon conservation.
Rainforest Trust has been working with its Peruvian conservation partner CEDIA (Center for the Development of an Indigenous Amazon) since November, 2013, to protect 5.9 million acres in Peru’s Sierra del Divisor range through the creation of protected areas and community-titled lands. Lelis Rivera, who leads CEDIA’s efforts, is not only a conservationist, but also an anthropologist and an expert on Amazon cultures. We spoke with him about the role indigenous communities play in conservation and how they will be involved in the Sierra del Divisor project.
What kind of role do native communities play in Amazonian conservation?
Indigenous communities throughout the Amazon, not just the Peruvian Amazon, are the only ones that have managed to keep rainforests intact. And this is despite the many threats they face from both the natural environment and other humans. Specifically, I’m thinking of people seeking to capitalize on their forest resources or colonize their territories as some national governments do.
These communities comprise the most important conservationists in the Amazon because only by preserving forest are they guaranteed the permanent supply of the flora and fauna they need to survive. Native communities also support conservation because undisturbed landscapes offer opportunities to maintain their cultural traditions.
What happens when native communities are not involved in conservation efforts?
This leads to a sense of alienation and disconnectedness in many communities. In this way, they can be easy prey for third parties hoping to illegally extract resources from within their territory.
Until the 1990’s, indigenous people were not part of protected area management plans. In fact, native communities were viewed as threats, potentially jeopardizing conservation. This management strategy resulted in many clashes between park guards and indigenous communities. But, beginning in 1993, new ideas emerged about the involvement of indigenous groups, and people began to realize the important role they could play in conservation.
Native communities adjacent to protected areas can benefit from the titling of their lands, by organizational and administrative training, and by the development of resource management plans that provide sustainable economic incentives. Likewise, they can offer much to protected areas.
What kind of conservation responsibilities do native communities typically adopt?
Native communities are involved in the management of protected areas in different ways. Members of these communities volunteer as park guards, they help patrol park borders, and they have developed ongoing relationships with the staff of protected areas in a many locations.
Large parts of indigenous territories have been incorporated into protected areas, so of course indigenous people living alongside these areas know perfectly well what happens inside them and distinguish themselves as excellent park guards. This happened in Manú National Park with Machiguenga indigenous park guards, in the Pacaya–Samira National Reserve with Cocama-Cocamilla guards, and in the Matsés National Reserve with Matsés guards. I could go on.
How do you plan on engaging local communities to participate in the creation and protection of the Sierra del Divisor National Park?
We have already developed a strategy intended to directly involve the native communities in the process of creating the national park, and it involves a number of benefits. These include the titling of indigenous lands, on-site training for native communities to improve their administrative and organizational skills, and the identification of natural resources that can be incorporated into sustainable management plans for the communities.
We intend to involve native communities in the development of all park management tools through participatory meetings. For example, local communities will help design the park’s management, control, and monitoring plans.
What kind of outcome will this participation have in protecting the Sierra del Divisor?
The communal lands that we title will work as a barrier around the park, making it necessary for illegal immigrants, or anyone attempting to access the park, to pass through these lands. In this way, the land titling of the surrounding communities will be of immediate benefit. The reason is simple. We have been helping to establish parks and reserves for several decades and are absolutely convinced that control and surveillance within protected areas is not very important. Instead, this needs to be done outside of protected areas, along their edges.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
A good strategy for the success of protected areas is one that aligns native communities with the objectives of protected areas, one that promotes the development of sustainable economic activities, and one that helps organize native communities neighboring protected areas.
The project we have begun in the Sierra del Divisor builds on more than 30 years of experience that CEDIA has developed in building relationships between native communities and protected areas. We strongly believe that the involvement of native communities in the management, control, and monitoring of the Sierra del Divisor will result in a well-managed national park. Likewise, this involvement will keep indigenous communities surrounding the park engaged and vigilant, ready to meet any threat that puts these lands at risk.