The Defenders of Darién

The Defenders of Darién

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Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Smartphones and Satellite Imagery

Smartphones and Satellite Imagery

This article is the third of a series of blog posts produced with Global Forest Watch. The series covers a training initiative for more than 36 indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon to use Rainforest Foundation’s tech-based monitoring strategies and Global Forest Watch’s satellite technologies for combating deforestation. Read the previous post here.

For the community monitors of Buen Jardin de Callaru, a remote community deep in the Peruvian Amazon, the day began early. They had been coordinating with Peruvian enforcement authorities for weeks. The objective: to arrest the culprits of illegal deforestation. To make such an arrest in Peru, authorities have to catch the culprits in the act, which is why it was crucial the group set out as soon as the sun rose.

Pablo Garcia, Miguel Riviera and Maria Montoya were selected by their village to be on the frontlines of forest defense. Using smartphones programmed with maps showing recent GLAD deforestation alerts from Global Forest Watch (GFW), they conduct frequent patrols of their ancestral and titled territory to document evidence of illegal deforestation. In September of 2018, they discovered a large clearing. Investigating a recent GLAD alert in the southwest corner of the community territory, the monitors found almost seven hectares of recently burned forest. In place of the trees they found nascent coca plants, illegal in this area of Peru.

At the crossroads of deforestation

Buen Jardín de Callaru is an indigenous Ticuna community the Bajo Amazonas, a region in northern Peru. The community settled on the Callaru River in the 19th century after rubber industry interests pushed them off their original territory. The village has no formal source of income and survives on subsistence hunting, fishing and farming, gathering other resources they need from the forest around them.

The region has historically had to deal with illegal activity. The Bajo Amazonas sits at the nexus of Peru’s borders with both Brazil and Colombia. The boundaries of the three countries are exceptionally porous, making it difficult to track who is traveling in and out of the country and for what purpose. As a result, the forest surrounding the village has been neglected by law enforcement. Until recently, no investigation had been carried out by the national government in the area surrounding Buen Jardín de Callaru.

Because of this, crimes like deforestation — especially to make way for coca production — are rarely reported for fear of retaliation from growers and related criminal networks. This time however, the community of Buen Jardín de Callaru was determined to engage the authorities. After a community meeting, the village voted unanimously to file a denuncia —or official complaint — becoming the first indigenous community in the Bajo Amazonas region to do so.

For Garcia, the decision was a simple one.

“When I saw that they had just burned our forest I said, ‘this is enough,’” Garcia said, adding, “We are the ones here in the forest.”

From Alert to Investigation

While verifying the alert, they took georeferenced photos and measurements of the area, and recorded the names of suspected culprits who had invaded from a neighboring territory. The official report was sent to the Regional Environmental Prosecutor (FEMA). Upon receiving the report, FEMA agreed to accompany the community to the site of the alert for an investigation.

It was December by the time the authorities were able to travel out to Buen Jardín de Callaru. Six representatives of FEMA, Peru’s special environmental prosecution, and 10 police officers hiked with the monitors to the site of the GLAD alerts in the early morning, hoping to surprise the culprit. The group was also accompanied by a documentary crew from Vice News, hoping to catch the arrests on camera.

When the group arrived at the field, there was no one to catch in the act, but the monitors knew their territory and suggested traveling to a house just beyond the cleared field to confront the people likely responsible.

The FEMA prosecutors claimed that they could not investigate further at the time, because Peruvian legal protocols didn’t grant them the authority. The monitors, accompanied by Rainforest Foundation US representatives and two Peruvian environmental police, decided to go on without them. They set off down another trail through a narrow strip of forest and emerged a few moments later to find the suspect’s house standing in the middle of a vast 30-hectare sea of growing coca plants. With no back-up from the FEMA, the monitors simply had to turn away from the devastation and return home.

The Future of the Ticuna’s forest

Although there was no further government action that day, FEMA did issue a summons to the suspects for them to appear at a hearing, marking the first step towards halting further illegal activity. The area in question is now under official investigation, which could take eight months or more to complete.

While they wait, the monitors of Buen Jardin de Callaru continue to conduct patrols with GLAD deforestation alerts and satellite imagery as their guide. No further deforestation has been detected since the intervention. Garcia later told RFUS that the government action had helped, and that the coca growers had been leaving the community alone.

“We have to protect ourselves,” Garcia said.

This article was first published by our partners, Global Forest Watch. The Rainforest Foundation is using Global Forest Watch’s satellite data along with the Peruvian government’s satellite information to identify the areas the monitors investigate.

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Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Training Indigenous Communities in Tech-Based Monitoring Saves Rainforest

Training Indigenous Communities in Tech-Based Monitoring Saves Rainforest

This article is the first of a series of blog posts produced with Global Forest Watch. The series covers a training initiative for more than 36 indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon to use Rainforest Foundation’s tech-based monitoring strategies and Global Forest Watch’s satellite technologies for combating deforestation.

Once remote and virtually inaccessible, much of the Peruvian Amazon is confronting intensifying pressure from land invasions, coca growing, illegal logging, mining and infrastructure projects that threaten Peru’s dense and pristine forests. Despite these mounting threats, the entire country of Peru has fewer park rangers than work in Yellowstone National Park, which is the equivalent size of five percent of Peru’s protected areas. The government lacks adequate resources to monitor illegal deforestation in the rainforest and enforce national forest law, let alone comply with forest components in their National Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Indigenous communities, however, are on the frontlines confronting deforestation on a regular basis. Globally, indigenous communities have legal rights to or control nearly one third of the world’s tropical forests, which positions them as key actors in preserving forests to mitigate climate change. A growing body of research demonstrates that tropical forests managed by indigenous communities are far more likely to remain intact than those managed or monitored by other legal classifications. The opportunity for community forest protection in Peru is significant – satellite-based measurements estimate Peru’s forests store eight times more carbon than the US energy industry emitted in 2016.

As forest threats intensify, indigenous communities are complementing ancestral forest protection methods with new technology and satellite information systems. Recently, communities in the Peruvian Amazon province of Ucayali, near the Sierra Divisor National Park, successfully used smart phones with incorporated satellite data and maps to locate and confront deforestation. This indigenous-led initiative halted invasions by illegal loggers and cocoa growers, reducing the deforestation rate from five-percent annually to nearly zero.

Map
Our pilot program Loreto, Peru is protecting some of the most biodiverse areas in the Amazon rainforest. We are working close to the border of Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador–an area that is particularly at risk.

Using tech to scale action

Modeling this success, the Rainforest Foundation and the Indigenous Organization of the Eastern Peruvian Amazon (ORPIO-AIDESEP), with support from Columbia University and the World Resources Institute, have partnered to implement and measure an initiative that uses the Global Forest Watch’s GLAD deforestation alert system in indigenous communities in Peru. This is the first project of its kind to put GLAD alerts into action on a large scale.

Through this scaling initiative, RFUS and ORPIO program base maps and GLAD alerts into smart phones that are distributed to community-elected forest monitors. The maps enable the monitors to visualize deforestation alerts and legal boundaries of their territories, details they’ve experienced on the ground but never seen from a satellite perspective. Using GFW’s Forest Watcher and Locus Pro smart phone applications, community-elected monitors can interpret, verify and document deforestation alerts on-site. The apps provide geo-referenced images of the deforestation, which can then be converted into official complaints that prompt a government response and action by law enforcement.

Indigenous communities in Peru have historically protected their forests through traditional governance and routine patrols of their territories (ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 hectares). But as threats of illegal encroachment and invasion at the periphery of collective territories increase, satellite deforestation alerts are important for prompt and effective responses. Analyses of deforestation alerts from the GFW platform illustrate exponentially rapacious invasions and land use change throughout the Peruvian provinces of Ucayali and Loreto. This cutting-edge technology allows for indigenous communities to efficiently detect and document deforestation, while simultaneously generating accurate and compelling visual evidence of illegal activities in their territories.

The RFUS team has now trained more than 110 community monitors in 36 indigenous communities in Loreto, Peru to use the Peruvian Ministry of Environment’s Geobosques Global Land Use and Discovery (GLAD) satellite alert system. Communities are using weekly GLAD deforestation alerts transmitted to their smartphones to monitor, verify and respond to deforestation in their collective territories. Armed with the knowledge to interpret these satellite alerts and use smartphones and apps like Forest Watcher, monitors can quickly put the information into action. More than 250,000 hectares of threatened rainforests along the Napo and Amazon rivers in Loreto are currently being protected using this system.

Stories of Success from the Field

Indigenous communities have proven their capacity to successfully implement these technologies. In many cases, the communities are remotely located and have never used a smart phone, yet successfully learn how to convert phones into geo-referencing cameras after just a few days of training. In several communities, monitors are also flying drones and documenting other illegality on their map-equipped smart phones. Already communities have used the smart phone mapping system to document and resolve land disputes, remove illegal invading hunters and fishers and develop internal land governance zoning plans.

These tools and trainings enabling vulnerable communities to improve governance and effectively protect ancestral forests and natural resources. RFUS will continue to document unique cases of indigenous monitors making an impact in their communities over the next year. Check back for updates on community actions and indigenous monitors using satellite information and technology to collaborate with the Peruvian government and confront deforestation threats.
This article was first published by our partners, Global Forest Watch. The Rainforest Foundation is using Global Forest Watch’s satellite data along with the Peruvian government’s satellite information to identify the areas the monitors investigate.  

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Support Our Work

Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Daniela supports the overall administration of Rainforest Foundation US’s work in Peru, with a recent focus on supporting the program’s COVID-19 response. Prior to joining Rainforest Foundation, Formerly, Daniela administered the Casa Andina hotel network in Peru. She holds a degree in Business Administration and is a native Spanish language speaker.