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Peru’s Amarakaeri Indigenous People Win Conservation Prize To Ramp Up Sustainable Brazil Nut Harvesting

Kelli Barrett

All across Latin America, indigenous people are struggling to maintain their traditional way of life while also participating in the modern economy. In Peru, the Eca Amarakaeri indigenous organization has won the Innovative Experiences in Latin America Prize to scale up its sustainable Brazil nut extraction activities.

30 June 2016 | Lying within the Amazon jungle, in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, the Eca Amarakaeri indigenous organization combines conservation, sustainable land-use and management skills to maintain its ancestral dwellings. It was recently awarded the Innovative Experiences in Latin America Prize by Canopy Bridge, the online platform connecting environmentally-conscious consumers with sustainable producers, for its Brazil nut initiative that also promotes sustainable timber and is creating employment opportunities and empowering local communities, particularly women.

Canopy Bridge, together with environmental NGO Forest Trends (publisher of Ecosystem Marketplace), made the announcement today. The organization will receive $5,000 to spend either to attend a national or international commercial fair or hire a specialized service for capacity building. Eca-Amarakaeri plans to use the prize money for the latter, hiring technical support (tree identification, GPS reference, trail creation, mapping) required to expand the initiative and benefit more communities.

Eca Amarakaeri established the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, which provides a homeland for the Harakbut, Yine and Machiguenga indigenous peoples. Prior to becoming a reserve, it was under pressure from oil, gas and mining interests, but now Eca Amarakaeri acts as the reserve’s manager in conjunction with the government.

The sustainable timber and Brazil nut harvesting the group practices instead of extraction are complementary to each other, explained Karina Bautista, the Head of Outreach and Research at Canopy Bridge and the Contest Coordinator. The harvesting time for timber and Brazil nuts are different, so the two create income and employment opportunities throughout the year while also empowering families and local communities by incorporating them into decision-making.

“The Amarakaeri Community Reserve and their initiative for the sustainable harvest of Brazil nuts stands out for its prominence in the community and its entrepreneurship, having a significant impact on more than 400,000 hectares of forest in the Peruvian Amazon,” said Beto Borges, the Director of Forest Trends’ Communities Initiative.

A Movement of Conservation and Communities

The Eca Amarakaeri initiative is one of several innovative and conservation-focused ventures currently in operation across Latin America today, and Canopy Bridge created the contest to promote and enhance these often small, rural community or family-based initiatives, according to Bautista. The inclusive contest encompassed virtually any forest conservation initiative occurring in most Latin American countries directly in or related to tropical forest areas, which are Mexico, Central America, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Guyana, Ecuador, Surinam and Brazil.

Canopy Bridge operates in partnership with Forest Trends and USAID and is a part of the Accelerating Integration and Mitigating Emissions (AIME) project, of which Forest Trends is also a part and USAID is the funder. According to a project document, AIME’s focus is indigenous peoples and traditional forest-dependent communities, groups vulnerable to the myriad impacts of climate change. Based in Latin America, where the majority of the planet’s tropical forest lives, AIME supports large-scale conservation activities such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) that can protect these communities from climate change while preserving their cultures and livelihoods – and forests. The Forest-Based Livelihoods Consortium, which comprises of nine environmental and indigenous organizations that Forest Trends heads, administers the AIME project.

And this contest falls under the AIME umbrella.

“With this contest, we wanted to give a voice to innovative producers and initiatives in the region and to contribute to what they’re doing because you don’t usually see these initiatives unless you look for them,” said Bautista.

Communicating Value with a Contest

Because creators didn’t want to limit the contest’s scope, the requirements to participate were minimal. There were two rules:

  1. The initiative must contribute to the local economy or community while conserving forests or reducing deforestation
  2. The initiative must be active for at least one year

The minimal requirements made for a wide ranging group of entities entering the contest with majority of participants hailing from Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, though applicants came from across the region.

Bautista is careful to call the initiatives “initiatives” and not businesses or enterprises because of their diverse nature. Many of them are full-fledged companies, though some are community-organized associations or comparatives, she explained. Others are simply families. A family in Ecuador, for instance, sustainably manages their goat operation and entered it as a forest conserving initiative. But big consolidated companies that are pushing community-based activities also participated in the contest. And in between these two extremes were essential oil initiatives, adventure tourism ventures, traditional health tourism, chocolate bar making, REDD initiatives and many more.

In total, 63 initiatives filled out pre-registration forms for their initiatives and 34 went on to complete the application in its entirety. Bautista mostly credits Canopy Bridge’s strong contact list and networking efforts –emailing campaigns – for getting the word out about the contest, though social media helped too.

The contest didn’t reach sectors not particularly linked to conservation, which Bautista regrets. She said she would have liked to involve these groups and perhaps inspire them to adopt more sustainable practices.

Canopy Bridge chose eight out of the 34 applications to proceed to the next phase. A larger jury panel comprised of Environmental Defense Fund, Forest Trends and agroforestry and participating systems’ experts from Brazil, along with Canopy Bridge, whittled the number down to three and then determined the victor.

The Finalists

Marcio Halla, an agronomist and the Founder of Ecotore Environmental and Social Services in Brazil, noted that while Eca Amarakaeri won the contest, all eight initiatives are brilliant, saying they all deserve recognition and prizes.

ACOFOP is a Guatemalan community-based association that supports social, ecological and economic sustainability in the Maya Biosphere Reserve that made it to the final round with Eca Amarakaeri. According to Canopy Bridge contest documents, the group practices community forest management on a large swath of forestland and in 2012 began promoting non-timber forest products, particularly a nutritious and abundant seed known as the ramón nut (or Maya nut in the US). ACOFOP’s work in this area includes a committee that sustainably manages the nut’s production, initiating community groups that involve women and help to secure steady employment for locals.

The other finalist is AIDER, a Peruvian NGO working with the Shipibo-Conibo indigenous group living in the Amazon rainforest. AIDER provides technical assistance for sustainable timber management, which has led to certification under the Forest Stewardship Council. Moreover, AIDER helped create an enterprise where the indigenous communities can process the certified wood and then sell to the government and export it to outside markets.

Choosing a Winner

Choosing a winner was difficult, Bautista said. “We had to judge something that has more support, money and experience with something that is family based and small, but still a good initiative. We’ve done the best we can but it hasn’t been easy,” she said.

In terms of determining the champ, Bautista said the judges focused on innovation and social benefits as all the contestants were avoiding deforestation. Bautista perhaps explained it best when she said all the initiatives are making great strides and worthy of an award, though the finalists and winner were the most remarkable.

Judges zeroed in on those making the biggest impacts, she said. Questions they asked included: how involved is the community and how empowered are people as a result of this initiative? How are women, children and youths incorporated? They looked for entities implementing brand new conservation models but also those trying a strategy or approach that is new to the region, Bautista said. For instance, the judging panel considered a sustainable hotel venture in Putumayo, Colombia an innovative initiative because it’s the only one in the vicinity.

Some of the main reasons they chose Eca Amarakaeri included its strong innovation, prominent role in the community and legal and institutional establishment.

“While it may be in its initial phases and harvests, the initiative’s impacts are very positive, and the amount of people and the area of the reserve that’s involved will certainly increase considerably,” Halla said.

He also mentioned the initiative’s potential to be replicated.

Win, Lose or Draw

The competition has multiple winners when considering the contest’s ultimate goal, which is to promote and communicate the value of conservation and community-empowering initiatives, Bautista said. “The world needs more initiatives like these,” she said.

Borges agreed and noted that there is still a great need to identify economic alternatives that can strengthen the conservation and management of Latin America’s tropical forests. The contest is one method to help get the word out on what’s happening on the ground.

“The contest is an excellent initiative to identify and recognize community-based, economic experiences working to support indigenous communities and sustainable producers,” he added.

And there’s a critical other side to these efforts, which is the conscious consumer in national and international markets that must purchase sustainable and fair products in order for such conservation and community-empowering initiatives to survive.

“It’s important that we continue to support them either by our consumer choices, donations or getting more directly involved,” Bautista said.

Kelli Barrett is a freelance writer and Editorial Assistant at Ecosystem Marketplace. She can be reached at kbarrett@ecosystemmarketplace.com. 

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