Delay in Trial for Murder of Four Indigenous Rainforest Activists

Diana Ríos, daughter of slain Saweto environmental defender Jorge Ríos Pérez, protests the Peruvian government at the UN Headquarters in New York City for failing to prosecute the killing of the four indigenous activists from her community.

Diana Ríos (second from left), daughter of slain Saweto environmental defender Jorge Ríos Pérez, protests the Peruvian government at the UN Headquarters in New York City in 2016, for failing to prosecute the killing of the four indigenous activists from her community. IMAGE CREDIT: If Not Us Then Who?

Delay in Trial for Murder of Four Indigenous Rainforest Activists

The murder trial of Amazon loggers who allegedly killed four indigenous environmental activists from the village of Saweto was postponed at the last moment on Monday, April 4th, when three of the five accused failed to show up to court for opening statements at the Superior Court of Ucayali in Pucallpa, Peru. 

Defendants Eurico Mapes Gomez, Josimar Atachi Felix, and Segundo Euclides Atachi all failed to show up to their murder trial, depsite the fact that they were permitted to attend via Skype—an idea that would’ve been unfathomable before the pandemic, and still stretches credulity today given the seriousness of the charges. 

Hugo Soria Flores, José Carlos Estrada Huayta, and the three aforementioned defendents—all from the logging company Ecofusac—are accused of murdering Saweto villagers Edwin Chota Valera, Leoncio Quintisima Meléndez, Jorge Ríos Pérez, and Francisco Pinedo Ramírez in 2014. Each defendant faces up to 35 years’ imprisonment and liability for up to one million Peruvian soles (approximately $250,000) civil compensation to the victims’ families.

In the years since the 2014 murders, Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) has worked diligently to bring the case to justice. We’ve successfully: lobbied to have the case prosecuted as an organized crime, ensuring that those who ordered the murders are held accountable; lobbied the federal courts to dismiss the lead prosecutor, who had undisclosed conflicts of interest in the case and was maneuvering to throw the charges out; advocated to have a prosecutor from outside the jurisdiction try the case, so as to avoid other potential conflicts of interest; and provided a safe house to the family members of the murder victims while they await the trial.

The judge was legally permitted to declare the defendants guilty of contempt and issue an arrest warrant because they did not show up, but she instead postponed opening statements to June 20th. 



Four of the five defendants have never been arrested for their alleged roles in the murders, and await their trial as free men. The fifth, Mapes Gomez, was detained in 2016, but was released without bail after 18 months when continued delays in the trial exceeded the maximum legally-permissible detainment period.

The case is an unprecedented legal effort by a Peruvian prosecutor’s office to extend criminal accountability in the murder of indigenous environmental defenders: not just to the triggermen, but also to those who ordered the murders. 

Loggers and other extractive industrialists throughout the Amazon basin regularly perpetrate organized violent crime against indigenous peoples who resist their efforts. In 2020, more than one hundred indigenous environmental activists were murdered for standing up against deforestation on their lands.

Prior to the murders, the activists had lodged a complaint against Ecofusac with the provincial government for illegally logging on Saweto territory. Estrada and Soria are Ecofusac executives who allegedly planned and ordered the assassinations that the other defendants allegedly carried out.

That the trial has yet to take place eight years after the murders illustrates just how vulnerable indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon are. From the beginning, the investigation and prosecution of the homicides were mired by systemic indifference and localized corruption. The federal police took eight days to report to the crime scene, causing the degradation of valuable evidence. The district attorney of Ucayali initially signaled that he was going to end the investigation without bringing charges, and had to be removed from his post when a subsequent investigation by Rainforest Foundation US Legal & Policy Analyst Margoth Quispe revealed that he had direct family ties to the logging company implicated in the murders. The case only gained momentum after the prosecutor in the Specialized Supranational Organized Crime Coordination unit  assigned the case in 2018 to a prosecutor from outside the region, eventually culminating in this trial.

Learn more about the case here.

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Indigenous Leaders in Ucayali, Peru Launch New Satellite Information Center “Imenko Tsiroti” to Address Deforestation and Threats to their People

Indigenous Leaders in Ucayali, Peru Launch New Satellite Information Center “Imenko Tsiroti” to Address Deforestation and Threats to their People

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Maryka Paquette: gro.y1656274844nffr@1656274844etteu1656274844qapm1656274844
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THE INAUGURATION OF THE HUB HOLDS PROMISE FOR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES TO STRENGTHEN LAND SECURITY AMIDST RISING RISKS AND INVASIONS

Pucallpa, PeruIn recent years, the dangers faced by indigenous communities of the Ucayali region of Peru have worsened, putting the lives of leaders and community members at risk. 

Activities such as logging, illegal mining, territorial invasion, and deforestation have generated great concern among the region’s communities. Peru’s Ministry of Environment reported that Ucayali saw the highest percentage increase in deforestation of all Amazonian regions at 32% between 2019-2020 and, worse, 81% over the period 2018-2020. 

As communities seek to protect their lands from illegal invasions, threats to environmental defenders are on the rise. One report noted that although the National Registry of Human Rights Defenders of Ucayali’s Ministry of Justice has 21 defenders registered, the count should be at 113 defenders.  

Until recently, options for how communities can detect the location of territorial threats and report them to state authorities have been limited. 

For this reason, the Regional Organization of AIDESEP in Ucayali (ORAU), the region’s indigenous peoples’ representative organization, established its first indigenous-led satellite information center and data hub “Imenko Tsiroti” with the support of Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS). 

Led and managed by indigenous leaders and trainers from ORAU, the center will process territorial data collected by indigenous communities, which will be used to substantiate thematic reports enabling the early response of authorities to threats and opportunities in indigenous peoples’ territories. In this way, Ucayali’s indigenous peoples will become the managers of their own territorial information.

“The name ‘Tsiroti’ is an Asháninka word referring to a forest bird that sings so loudly, the entire community knows where it is. It is our messenger bird that protects us, just like our satellite information center will. Thanks to this center, we will have maps and data that can alert the entire community of the threats they face so that they can protect themselves,” said Berlin Diques, president of ORAU. In English, Imenko Tsiroti means ‘the nest of the paucar,’ or yellow-rumped cacique.

The center was inaugurated by ORAU’s board of directors with much fanfare at ORAU headquarters in Pucallpa on Saturday, March 12th, 2022. The ceremony was attended by Jorge Perez Rubio, president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP); Suzanne Pelletier, executive director of RFUS; and various indigenous community leaders from across the region, including leaders of the Federation of Native Communities of Iparia District (known by their acronym FECONADIP) and the Indigenous Development Organization of the Masisea District (ORDIM)—two among many federations represented by ORAU.

“For us, having this indigenous-led satellite information center in ORAU will be a great help. We will no longer have to wait a long time or pay large sums of money to obtain location maps of our own communal territory,” commented Judith Nuntha, an indigenous Shipibo member of ORAU’s Board of Directors who will serve as the indigenous coordinator of the Rainforest Alert network in Ucayali.

“We’re encouraged because we know that Tsiroti is going to equip the communities of Ucayali with the tools and knowledge needed to keep their families safe and their forests secure. We hope your success helps expand this work to all communities across the Peruvian Amazon,” offered Jorge Perez Rubio, president of AIDESEP, a national indigenous peoples’ organization representing indigenous peoples across all regions of the Peruvian Amazon. 

“We’re honored to join ORAU in launching this new center. We’ve seen from our experience with ORPIO in Loreto that when communities have access to the right tools and support from partners and law enforcement authorities, they defend their rights and effectively reduce deforestation—sometimes halting it altogether,” commented Suzanne Pelletier.

During the inauguration, ORAU representatives unveiled maps indicating threats experienced by ORAU’s federation members and the violence against indigenous defenders of their territories. They also showed maps tracking roads that are illegally encroaching on and allowing greater access for deforestation of their communities’ territories in the Amazon. The mapping tools and high-tech equipment will also allow for the registration of ORAU’s federation members’ territories currently awaiting recognition and titling.  

The center will meet the demand for satellite-derived data and other territorial data from the indigenous peoples of Ucayali, including communities that have adopted the Rainforest Alert system of community-led territorial monitoring. Co-developed by the Organization of the Indigenous People of the Eastern Amazon (ORPIO)—ORAU’s counterpart in Peru’s Loreto region—and Rainforest Foundation US, that system was examined in a peer-reviewed study in a 2021 special edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Results from that study showed that, in the first year alone, the Rainforest Alert system allowed communities to successfully reduce forest loss on their lands by 52 percent.

The inauguration of the indigenous-led satellite information center “Imenko Tsiroti” in Ucayali marks the first major expansion of the program beyond Loreto. Miriam Sanchez, an indigenous Shipibo from the region, who serves as the hub’s trainer bringing the technology and capacity to the region’s communities, will be responsible for analyzing the deforestation of indigenous peoples’ territories with tools such as Global Forest Watch.

Rainforest Foundation US was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories.

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Members of the Regional Organization of AIDESEP in Ucayali (ORAU) at the Imenko Tsiroti launch. IMAGE CREDIT: Katya Zevallos

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Política de Denuncia de Irregularidades

POLÍTICA DE DENUNCIA DE IRREGULARIDADES

Whistleblower Policy (Español)

Si RFUS recibe informes de sospechas bien fundadas de corrupción y otras faltas de conducta, ya sea dentro de la organización o fuera de ella, el personal del programa correspondiente se encargará de investigar la denuncia. Si el caso lo requiere, se llevará a cabo una investigación en profundidad, y, si fuese necesario, con apoyo externo (por ejemplo, un auditor local).  Si un denunciante no está en condiciones de informar al Coordinador del Programa, o decide permanecer en el anonimato, por motivos explícitos y razonables, él/ ella puede dirigir su/ su informe al buzón de correo: gro.y1656274844nffr@1656274844stnia1656274844lpmoc1656274844 y su mensaje será dirigido directamente al Director Ejecutivo de la organización.

La denuncia debería incluir:

  • El nombre completo y la posición del denunciante (a menos que él/ ella quiera permanecer en el anonimato – si es así, se deben dar motivos razonables);
  • La organización en que ocurrieron las circunstancias;
  • El lugar, fecha y hora de las circunstancias del caso;
  • La descripción precisa de las circunstancias (Ej., lo que se ha presenciado y dónde);
  • La identidad y los datos de contacto de otros testigos, si el caso fuera a proceder;
  • Cualquier circunstancia previa conocida que involucre a la misma persona(s).
  • El personal de una organización asociada tiene la obligación de reportar la sospecha de corrupción, y tiene la opción de eludir a los superiores inmediatos, incluso ir fuera de su unidad local, directamente al alto mando de RFUS.

El personal de RFUS tiene la obligación de informar la sospecha de corrupción a sus superiores inmediatos. El sistema de notificación de incidentes tiene como objetivo rastrear una gama más amplia de incidentes que un funcionario puede experimentar, como agresión, robo o que se le pida que pague un soborno, que no necesariamente requieren la protección o confidencialidad de los empleados. El registro de todos los incidentes es importante, ya que sirve no solo para dar cuenta de las posibles pérdidas financieras, sino también para aprender y mejorar las medidas de prevención y mitigación de riesgos existentes – y no sólo en relación con la corrupción.

La identidad del denunciante no será revelada, si así lo solicita explícitamente o en el caso de denuncias anónimas. Los informes se tratarán de forma confidencial. En caso de que se descubra la identidad de un denunciante, y si esa revelación conllevara graves riesgos de represalias, RFUS se compromete a adoptar las medidas apropiadas y, en la medida de lo posible, a garantizar la seguridad del denunciante.

Si el personal de RFUS enfrenta amenazas como resultado de un caso de corrupción, RFUS asegurará su protección y seguridad, incluyendo haciendo los ajustes necesarios a sus responsabilidades y tareas.

Todos las denuncias de sospechas (fundadas) de corrupción serán tratadas de inmediato. El denunciante recibirá la confirmación de la recepción de su informe en un plazo razonable. La dirección de RFUS decidirá quién debe participar en la tramitación del caso y qué medidas deberán adoptarse, según el tipo de caso y sus impactos. Todos los documentos relacionados con el caso serán registrados y archivados en los archivos electrónicos de RFUS, con acceso restringido a los miembros del personal involucrados en el caso.

La Política Anticorrupción de la RFUS será traducida al portugués y al español, y se adjuntará a los contratos con las organizaciones asociadas, se distribuirá dentro de las organizaciones asociadas y será explicada directamente por el personal de la RFUS a los miembros de las organizaciones técnicas y a los mandos del organismo para así garantizar que estos últimos estén informados sobre el mecanismo de denuncia de RFUS.

Significance of Community-Held Territories in 24 Countries to Global Climate

Map of Mexico, Central and South America

Significance of Community-Held Territories in 24 Countries to Global Climate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 6, 2021

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Coimbra Sirica: moc.s1656274844senru1656274844b@aci1656274844risc1656274844
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At UNFCCC COP 26, New Research Shows Indigenous Peoples and local Communities hold at least 958 million hectares of land spanning most of the world’s endangered tropical forests – yet have legal rights to less than half of their lands. Community-held lands sequester over 250 billion metric tonnes of carbon, and lack of secure rights threatens release of much of this carbon into the atmosphere through deforestation.

Click on the thumbnail to view the policy brief

Glasgow, UK – In new research released at the UNFCC COP, scientists mapped out 3.75 million square miles (958 million hectares) of indigenous and community territories as containing over 250 billion metric tonnes of carbon. However, these communities only have legally recognized rights to less than half of this area—1.7 million square miles (447 million hectares)—jeopardizing the landscapes they protect as well as the 130 billion metric tonnes of carbon contained therein.

These landscapes are held and managed by indigenous peoples (IPs), Afro-descendant peoples (ADPs), and local communities (LCs) in 24 of the world’s most forested countries and 60% of the planet’s tropical forest area. Failure to recognize their rights exposes them, their territories, and the carbon and biodiversity they hold to increasing threats of deforestation and degradation, potentially accelerating emissions from a carbon pool equivalent 15 times the world’s 2020 energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Beyond direct implications for global climate goals, inaction on this agenda will further accelerate the compounding effects of global social and environmental crises tied to biodiversity loss, increasing poverty, inequality and food insecurity, and rapidly diminishing social-ecological resilience.

The research, produced by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), Woodwell Climate Research Center (Woodwell) and Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS), focused on the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC)–an alliance of traditional communities in the 24 countries* which by their common interests and sheer terrestrial footprint, embody the importance of IPs, LCs, and ADPs across the world.

“This data shows what scientists have been saying for years: Indigenous peoples and local communities must be co-authors, not just participants, in climate and biodiversity solutions,” said Tuntiak Katan, indigenous Shuar of Ecuador and General Coordinator of the GATC. “We offer the most effective, sustainable and equitable solution to halting deforestation and preserving and restoring the functions served by our ecosystems. Unless you recognize our role in keeping rainforests intact and our rights to self-determination, you can’t count on those trees staying upright.”

Research shows that less than 1 percent of official development assistance for climate change mitigation and adaptation has gone toward recognition of community forest tenure rights and management projects. Of that, just 17 percent went to indigenous or community organizations for implementation—with the rest channeled to large intermediary organizations. GATC leaders and their allies assert that business as usual can no longer go on—on November 1, they announced the “Shandia Vision”, a re-imagining of the financial architecture of global climate finance to create new mechanisms to channel scaled, direct funding to IPs and LCs to secure their rights and effectively govern their territories.

“The Shandia Vision represents the rights holders’ vision for the future and is rooted in the common goals of GATC members to secure their territories for cultural survival, defend collective rights and defend the rights of nature,” said GATC member Joseph Itongwa Mukumo, an indigenous leader from the Walikale Forest Area in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and coordinator of REPALEAC, a network of indigenous and local communities for the sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Central Africa. “Shandia Vision is envisioned as a system built by local peoples for the people–and to guide financial mechanisms that fund community efforts to mitigate the climate crisis, conserve biodiversity, restore degraded landscapes, and advance local economies,” he said.

Gustavo Sánchez Valle, President of the Mexican Network of Forest Peasant Organizations (Mocaf) and Executive Commission Member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests said, “Such financing mechanisms must support and complement an emerging set of regional and national funds led by indigenous and local community rights holders across the world.” Sanchez, who serves on the RRI Board, leads one such effort–the Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, which is dedicated to fostering investment in community-led structures for governance of indigenous and local territories in Meso America.

Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Coordinator of RRI, said the current ecosystem of rights holders’ organizations and their allies has already demonstrated the immense possibilities of securing land rights for achieving global climate and conservation goals. “But the present scale of funding is just inadequate to capitalize on this ecosystem. RRI is working with GATC leadership to remedy this by funneling resources to implementers on the ground; strengthening indigenous and community rights as well as their capacity to govern, protect, and restore their lands.”

Sara Omi, GATC member, an Embera leader from Panama’s General Embera Congress of Alto Bayano and President of the Coordinator of Territorial Women Leaders of Mesoamerica said, “Indigenous women hold most of the traditional knowledge that has helped past generations to coexist with their environment. However, we are also suffering the consequences of climate change, which affects our right to survive and protect our ancestral lands. If you do not invest in our economies and our conservation methods, this crisis will continue to escalate and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable.”

As powerful actors jump into the global carbon market to compensate for emissions made elsewhere, doing so without first securing communities’ territorial rights and investing in their traditional conservation approaches brings even further risks to their ability to protect endangered landscapes. Research from RRI shows that a vast majority of tropical forested countries seeking to benefit from international carbon markets have yet to define in law and in practice the rights of local peoples over the carbon in their customary territories. This lack of clear rights poses substantive risks to both communities and investors, creating uncertainty on who will benefit from land-based emission reductions.

“You can talk about nature-based solutions, but you can’t implement them without recognizing the rights of the peoples that have been protecting and managing forests successfully on their own for generations,” said Suzanne Pelletier, executive director of RFUS. “Indigenous peoples and local communities have proven experience at maintaining—and even improving—the carbon density of forest landscapes and doing so under dire and often violent pressures. If the international community wants to dedicate more funding to climate solutions, they need to work with them directly.”

In a policy brief accompanying the map, researchers advocated for five interdependent principles to guide all future climate actions and investments to empower communities to protect their lands and forests, and pursue their self-determined priorities:

  1. Accelerate the recognition and enforcement of the land, forest, and resource rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant peoples, local communities, and the women within those communities;
  2. Ensure the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of communities in all projects that may impact human, land and resource rights;
  3. Increase dedicated climate, conservation, and development financing and direct funding access  for communities and their priorities, and ensure their full and effective participation in all nature-based climate and conservation actions and decisions, from design through implementation;
  4. Bring an end to the criminalization, intimidation, and killing of land and environment defenders;
  5. Effectively incorporate traditional knowledge into all climate change policies and practices.

“Like doctors and nurses, police and firefighters, indigenous peoples and local communities are first responders on the front lines of the fight to protect the planet’s remaining tropical forests,” concluded Wayne Walker, Carbon Program Director at Woodwell and one of the lead researchers. “Their lands deserve to be recognized and their efforts deserve to be rewarded.”

*NOTE: The 24 jurisdictions of GATC: Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana (France), Gabon, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Rainforest Foundation US was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories.

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) is a global Coalition of 21 Partners and over 150 rightsholders organizations and their allies dedicated to advancing the forestland and resource rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant peoples, local communities, and the women within these communities. RRI leverages the power of its coalition to amplify the voices of local peoples and proactively engage governments, multilateral institutions, and private sector actors to adopt institutional and market reforms that support the realization of their rights and self-determined development. By advancing a strategic understanding of the global threats and opportunities resulting from insecure land and resource rights, it develops and promotes rights-based approaches to business and development and catalyzes effective solutions to scale rural tenure reform and sustainable resource governance. RRI is coordinated by the Rights and Resources Group, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. 

The Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC) is a coalition of indigenous and local communities from the Amazon Basin, Brazil, Indonesia, Mesoamerica and Central Africa. It represents 35 million forest dwellers in 24 countries and 840 million hectares of forests, and five territorial organizations: the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), and the Network of Indigenous and Local Communities for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC).

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Rainforest Foundation US Wins $2 Million US Government Grant

Rainforest Foundation US Wins $2 Million US Government Grant

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October 27, 2021

MEDIA CONTACTS
Josh Lichtenstein: gro.y1656274844nffr@1656274844niets1656274844nethc1656274844ilj1656274844
Maryka Paquette: gro.y1656274844nffr@1656274844etteu1656274844qapm1656274844

New York, USA  Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB or simply ‘Alliance’) were awarded a $2 million grant by the United States federal government on September 28, 2021. The project funded under the grant, called the B’atz Regional Institutional Strengthening Project, or just “B’atz”, will go towards bolstering critical indigenous peoples’ and local community organizations throughout Mexico and Central America.

The award, which is managed by the United States Agency for International Development’s Mission in Guatemala, will amongst other things:

  • support the establishment of AMPB as a legal entity, ensuring it has standing in the courts;
  • set the Mesoamerican Territorial Fund (FTM) in motion, creating a centralized system to channel finance to indigenous communities region-wide;
  • bolster the Women’s Coordination mechanism, which focuses on the rights of indigenous women;
  • and strengthen the Mesoamerican Leadership School, which trains indigenous leaders to be better equipped to negotiate with public and private entities who wish to access their lands and natural resources.

“Direct financing to indigenous peoples is a historical demand of ours,” relates Sara Omi Casama, an indigenous Emberá from Panamá and President of the Women’s Coordination of AMPB. “One of the main conditions of different financing mechanisms is having established capacity to handle funds at the territorial level—this requirement does not favor communities. The AMPB approach to this project, generated through a co-creation process with RFUS, is an opportunity to strengthen capacities and learning so that indigenous peoples’ organizations can, in the medium term, be direct partners of USAID and other financial mechanisms. We appreciate the respectful technical accompaniment of our ally, Rainforest Foundation US, through the whole process of co-creating this project together.”

AMPB is an alliance made up of indigenous peoples’ organizations that manage their territories in the major forested areas throughout Central America, including in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. There are approximately 24 million indigenous people living in Central America, or a little less than the total population of Australia. Protecting rainforests is integral in the fight against climate change, and indigenous peoples have consistently shown themselves to be amongst the most effective defenders of these forests. More than 60% of the forests of Central America are located on formally recognized indigenous peoples’ or community lands—far higher than any other region in the world. But the region’s indigenous people continue to suffer disproportionate levels of hardship, hampering their ability to stand up against the drivers of deforestation. Strengthening indigenous peoples’ organizations and networks are crucial to changing that equation.

By strengthening AMPB’s Technical Secretariat, this grant will help the Alliance register as a legal entity, allowing it to better provide support to national-level indigenous leaders under threat—a problem that pervades the indigenous rights movement in Central America. The Alliance is a regional social movement, but because it currently lacks legal recognition it is limited in the ways it can represent its base. The Technical Secretariat will also enhance the Alliance’s project management and monitoring capacities, allowing the organization to better evaluate where their efforts are succeeding and failing.

For the purpose of launching the territorial fund, AMPB will hire four new personnel who will help create a system to rapidly deploy direct financing to indigenous forest communities where progress can be effectively made in the fight against deforestation and climate change. And because of its wide purview, the fund stands to add new avenues for financing indigenous communities in Central America by potentially attracting collaborative alliances with the private sector and bolstering relationships with national and international agencies.

At the Mesoamerican Leadership School, the grant allows for three new teachers to be hired for the education of indigenous youth in communities in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of these courses will be centered on improving the effectiveness of grassroots advocacy and adding new methodologies for negotiation as part of a training curriculum developed in conjunction with Conservation International and Oxfam International.

“Historically, grassroots advocacy methodologies have mostly been limited to ‘protest’ and ‘denunciation,’” explains Josh Lichtenstein, Program Manager for Rainforest Foundation US. “The school’s negotiation courses will build the skills of indigenous youth around how to maximize a community’s leverage when facing down large multinationals.”

Through this grant, Rainforest Foundation US will expand our work into Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua for the first time, and return to Guatemala after a few years’ absence. Funding is released as milestones are reached.

Rainforest Foundation US was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories.

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CEO Compensation

CEO Compensation

The board develops a comparative base for the evaluation of executive compensation that approximates our organization.  This is then reviewed by the board in determination of any annual salary adjustments from the perspective of market competitiveness and prior year performance.

Whistleblower Policy

Whistleblower Policy

If RFUS receives reports of well-grounded suspicions of corruption and other misconduct, whether from within the organization or outside it, the appropriate program staff deals with it initially. Should the case call for it, an in-depth investigation is carried out, with outside assistance (for example a local auditor) if needed.  Should a whistle-blower not be in a position to report to the Program Coordinator, or choose to remain anonymous, for explicit and reasonable grounds, he/she may alternatively direct his/her report to: ,gro.1656274844ynffr1656274844@stni1656274844alpmo1656274844c1656274844 and it will be addressed by the Executive Director.

The report should include:

  • The full name and position of the whistle-blower (unless he/she wants to remain anonymous – if so, reasonable grounds must be given);
  • The organization where the circumstances occurred;
  • The period, and date and time if applicable, of the circumstances concerned;
  • The precise description of the circumstances (i.e. what has been witnessed, and where);
  • The identity and contact details of other witnesses, if applicable;
  • Any known previous circumstances involving the same person(s).

The staff of a partner organization has the obligation to report suspected corruption, and has the option to bypass immediate superiors, even go outside their local unit, directly to top management or RFUS.

RFUS staff has the obligation to report suspected corruption to their immediate superiors. An incident reporting system aims to track a wider range of incidents that a staff member may experience, such as assault, theft, or being asked to pay a bribe, which do not necessarily require employee protection or confidentiality. Recording of all incidents is important as it serves not only to account for potential financial losses, but also to learn and improve existing prevention and risk mitigation measures – and not only in regard to corruption.

The identity of whistle-blowers will not be revealed, if explicitly requested so or when anonymity applies. Reports will be dealt with confidentially. In the event the identity of a whistle-blower is uncovered, and implies serious risks of retaliation, RFUS commits to take appropriate measures, and to the extent possible, to ensure the safety of the whistle-blower.

Should RFUS staff face threats as a result of a corruption case, RFUS will ensure his/her protection and safety, including by making necessary adjustments to his/her responsibilities and tasks.

All reports of well-grounded suspicions of corruption will be treated immediately. The whistle-blower should get confirmation of reception of his/her report within reasonable time. RFUS management will decide who is to be involved in dealing with the case and what measures should be taken, according to the type of case and who it involves. All documents relating to the case are to be registered and filed in RFUS’s e-archives, with restricted access to staff members involved in dealing with the case.

The RFUS Anti-Corruption Policy will be translated to Portuguese and Spanish, and attached to contracts with partner organizations, circulated within partner organizations, and directly explained by RFUS staff to members of the organizations’ technical and decision-making bodies, to ensure the latter are informed about RFUS’s whistle-blowing mechanism.

Conflict of Interest Policy

Conflict of Interest Policy

Article I — Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to protect the interest of Rainforest Foundation — US (“RF- US”), a tax-exempt organization, when it is contemplating entering into a transaction or arrangement that might benefit the private interest of an RF-US officer or director or might result in a possible excess benefit transaction. This policy is intended to supplement but not replace any applicable state and federal laws governing conflict of interest applicable to nonprofit and charitable organizations.

Article II — Definitions

Interested Person
Any director, principal officer, or member of a committee with governing board delegated powers, who has a direct or indirect financial interest, as defined below, is an interested person.

Financial Interest
A person has a financial interest if the person has, directly or indirectly, through business, investment, or family:

  1. An ownership or investment interest in any entity with which the RF-US has a transaction or arrangement;
  2. A compensation arrangement with the RF-US or with any entity or individual with which the RF-US has a transaction or arrangement; or
  3. A potential ownership or investment interest in, or compensation arrangement with, any entity or individual with which the RF-US is negotiating a transaction or arrangement.

Compensation includes direct and indirect remuneration as well as gifts or favors that are not insubstantial. A financial interest is not necessarily a conflict of interest. Under Article Ill, Section 2, a person who has a financial interest may have a conflict of interest only if the appropriate governing board or committee decides that a conflict of interest exists.

Article Ill — Procedures

1. Duty to Disclose
In connection with any actual or possible conflict of interest, an interested person must disclose the existence of the financial interest and be given the opportunity to disclose all material facts to the directors and members of committees with governing board delegated powers considering the proposed transaction or arrangement.

2. Determining Whether a Conflict of Interest Exists
After disclosure of the financial interest and all material facts, and after any discussion
with the interested person, he/she shall leave the governing board or committee meeting while the determination of a conflict of interest is discussed and voted upon. The remaining board or committee members shall decide if a conflict of interest exists.

3. Procedures for Addressing the Conflict of Interest

  1. An interested person may make a presentation at the governing board or committee meeting, but after the presentation, he/she shall leave the meeting during the discussion of, and the vote on, the transaction or arrangement involving the possible conflict of interest.
  2. The chairperson of the governing board or committee shall, if appropriate, appoint a disinterested person or committee to investigate alternatives to the proposed transaction or arrangement.
  3. After exercising due diligence, the governing board or committee shall determine whether the RF-US can obtain with reasonable efforts a more advantageous transaction or arrangement from a person or entity that would not give rise to a conflict of interest.
  4. If a more advantageous transaction or arrangement is not reasonably possible under circumstances not producing a conflict of interest, the governing board or committee
    shall determine by a majority vote of the disinterested directors whether the transaction or arrangement is in the RF-US’s best interest, for its own benefit, and whether it is fair and reasonable. In conformity with the above determination it shall make its decision as to whether to enter into the transaction or arrangement.

4. Violations of the Conflicts of Interest Policy

  1. If the governing board or committee has reasonable cause to believe a member has failed to disclose actual or possible conflicts of interest, it shall inform the member of the basis for such belief and afford the member an opportunity to explain the alleged failure to disclose.
  2. If, after hearing the member’s response and after making further investigation as warranted by the circumstances, the governing board or committee determines the member has failed to disclose an actual or possible conflict of interest, it shall take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action.

Article IV — Records of Proceedings

The minutes of the governing board and all committees with board delegated powers shall contain:

  1. The names of the persons who disclosed or otherwise were found to have a financial interest in connection with an actual or possible conflict of interest, the nature of the financial interest, any action taken to determine whether a conflict of interest was present, and the governing board’s or committee’s decision as to whether a conflict of interest in fact existed.
  2. The names of the persons who were present for discussions and votes relating to the transaction or arrangement, the content of the discussion, including any alternatives to the proposed transaction or arrangement, and a record of any votes taken in connection with the proceedings.

Article V — Compensation

  1. A voting member of the governing board who receives compensation, directly or indirectly, from the RF-US for services is precluded from voting on matters pertaining to that member’s compensation.
  2. A voting member of any committee whose jurisdiction includes compensation matters and who receives compensation, directly or indirectly, from the RF-US for services is precluded from voting on matters pertaining to that member’s compensation.
  3. No voting member of the governing board or any committee whose jurisdiction includes compensation matters and who receives compensation, directly or indirectly, from the RF-US, either individually or collectively, is prohibited from providing information to any committee regarding compensation.

Article VI — Annual Statements

Each director, principal officer and member of a committee with governing board delegated powers shall annually sign a statement which affirms such person:

  1. Has received a copy of the conflicts of interest policy,
  2. Has read and understands the policy,
  3. Has agreed to comply with the policy, and
  4. Understands that RF-US is a charitable organization and that in order to maintain its federal tax exemption it must engage primarily in activities which accomplish one or more of its tax-exempt purposes.

Article VII — Periodic Reviews

To ensure that RF-US operates in a manner consistent with charitable purposes and does not engage in activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status, periodic reviews shall be conducted. The periodic reviews shall, at a minimum, include the following subjects:

  1. Whether compensation arrangements and benefits are reasonable, based on competent survey information, and the result of arm’s length bargaining.
  2. Whether partnerships, joint ventures, and arrangements with management organizations conform to the RF-US’s written policies, are properly recorded, reflect reasonable investment or payments for goods and services, further charitable purposes and do not result in inurement, impermissible private benefit or in an excess benefit transaction.

Article VIII — Use of Outside Experts

When conducting the periodic reviews as provided for in Article VII, RF-US may, but need not, use outside advisors. If outside experts are used, their use shall not relieve the governing board of its responsibility for ensuring that periodic reviews are conducted.

Privacy

Privacy Policy

The Rainforest Foundation-US (RF-US) respects the privacy of each individual who contacts us. The Rainforest Foundation-US (RF-US) will not sell, share, or trade the personal information of donors or individuals who contact us. We are grateful for your support and the crucial role you play in helping us continue our valuable work. As part of our commitment to safeguarding your privacy we have adopted the online privacy policy outlined below.

Collection and Use of Information

We collect two kinds of information: (i) site usage data, which is not individually identifiable, and (ii) individually identifiable information.

Site Usage Data

Our Web server automatically recognizes and collects the domain name of each visitor to our Web site. We collect information about visitors to our site, such as the number of visitors, what pages they access and the length of their visit. This information is used in aggregate form in order to manage our Web site and improve its content. Visitors to RF-US’s website and other online projects are able to browse anonymously. We do log the IP addresses and originating domains of visitors to our site, and several times a year we examine this data to gain a general understanding of traffic on our site and what features on our site may be of special or particular interest. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Individually Identifiable Information

We collect individually identifiable information about you when you choose to share information about yourself, for example, when you make a donation, request information or sign up to be an advocate. This information may include your postal or e-mail address, telephone number and issues of interest Individually identifiable information is used to provide you with information or to deliver the services you have requested. If you provide your postal address, telephone number or e-mail address to the RF-US online, you may receive periodic contacts from us. In the future, on certain parts of some of our site, only persons who provide us with the requested personally identifiable information may be able to use tools or otherwise participate in the site’s activities and offerings. We also may collect certain non-personally identifiable information when you visit some Web pages or fill out forms such as the type of browser you are using (e.g., Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari), the type of operating system you are using, (e.g., Windows, Mac OS, Android) and the domain name of your Internet service provider (e.g., Optimum, Verizon, Comcast).

Community Tools

Some portions of our site may provide special services and offer interactive tools that allow users to upload information for public consumption. In some cases, users can share experiences, give advice and connect with others. Please remember hat chat rooms, message boards and personal pages are public forums and personal information disclosed there will be seen by others. In addition, please exercise caution when posting information or providing information about yourself to others, especially contact information, such as street address, telephone number or email address.

Cookies

We use a technology called a “cookie” to recognize you when you return to our site. Cookies help make your visit more convenient and enjoyable. However, if you wish, you may direct your browser to reject cookies.

Sharing Information with Others

RF-US respects and protects the privacy of our volunteers, donors, supporters, and patrons, as well as of individuals visiting our web site and other online projects. We do not sell, rent, share, or exchange our e-mail lists. RF-US maintains a database that includes contact information about our volunteers, donors, supporters, and patrons. Our database will not be sold, rented, shared, exchanged, or be used for anything other than RF-US activity.

Email Communications

We occasionally send out an email newsletter and direct email communications to RF-US site visitors to highlight news, information and opportunities available from the RF-US. You can elect not to receive communications from us, by noting your preference in response to communications from us.  In addition, all RF-US a-newsletters and direct email communications have easy-to-follow unsubscribe instructions at, the bottom of each email.

Links to Other Sites

Our site will at times link to other Web sites where you can find out more about our sponsors or products. Please note that the RF-US is not responsible for the privacy policies and information practices of linked sites. We encourage you to review the privacy policy of each site you visit.

Children Online

Protecting the privacy of the very young is especially important. For that reason, we adhere to the 11998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). (For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s COPPA page.  Whenever we collect or maintain information at our Web site from those we actually know are under 13, we obtain parental consent before any personally identifiable information is collected, used or disclosed.

Security

In order to prevent unauthorized access and protect our users’ personal information, we strive to maintain physical, electronic and administrative safeguards to secure the information we collect online. For example, online shopping and contributions are processes using a secure server. This secure server software, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), encrypts all information you input before it is sent to us. Furthermore, all oft e customer transactional data we collect is protected against unauthorized access with the use of digital certificates.

Privacy Policy Changes

If we decide to change our privacy policy, we will post those changes here. We encourage you to review our policy from time to time.

Questions or Concerns

Whenever you have any questions or concerns, please contact us through any medium you prefer. Your complete satisfaction in dealing with the RF-US is important to us. If you have questions about the RF-US’s privacy practices described above, or RF-US generally, please send an e-mail message to gro.y1656274844nffr@1656274844nimda1656274844. Thank you.

Rainforest Alert: Community-based solutions to rainforest destruction now scientifically proven

A young indigenous woman holds a drone controller in her hands. She looks into the sky, surrounded by rainforest.

Rainforest Alert: Community-based solutions to rainforest destruction now scientifically proven

Results of a new scientific study show that indigenous peoples using remote sensing technology can better survey their lands and reduce deforestation by half. Under Rainforest Foundation US’s community-based forest monitoring program, called Rainforest Alert, indigenous forest patrollers combine satellite imagery with foot patrols to verify evidence and equip community leaders with the information they need to take action. This cost-effective model could be scaled across the Amazon basin to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 21 million cars per year, at only $6/hectare.

This film explains the results of the study, the Rainforest Alert methodology, and how it could be scaled across the Amazon basin to reduce emissions from deforestation. The film was produced by Rainforest Foundation US and If Not Us, Then Who. 

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Report

Realizing the Pledge

Ticuna fishermen early morning on the Amazon River. IMAGE CREDIT: Mauricio Velez-Dominguez Increased funding for forest communities can transform global

Support Rainforest Alert!

Rainforest Foundation US believes that our Rainforest Alert program can avoid nearly 4,000 square miles (1 million hectares) of deforestation over the coming decade – that’s twice the size of Delaware.

Hover over the amounts below to see how much rainforest you can help protect by donating to Rainforest Alert.

Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon equipped with remote sensing technology can reduce deforestation, study finds

Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon equipped with remote sensing technology can reduce deforestation, study finds

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 12, 2021

For more information, or for interviews, kindly contact:

Wanda Bautista, moc.s1656274844senru1656274844b@ats1656274844ituab1656274844w1656274844; WhatsApp/mobile: +1 302 233 5438

Communities saw a 52 percent reduction in forest loss in the study’s first year and a 21 percent drop in the second year. 

New York, NY — (12 July 2021) A landmark study shows that indigenous peoples patrolling the Amazon for deforestation with smartphones and satellite data can be a powerful force in the battle against the climate crisis.

The randomized controlled trial carried out in the Peruvian Amazon assessed the effects of indigenous forest community monitors in reducing deforestation when equipped with satellite-based alerts. 

The study found a 52% drop in deforestation the first year and 21% in the second year, compared with similar communities that did not adopt the approach. These reductions in forest loss were especially concentrated in communities facing the most immediate threats from illegal gold mining, logging, and the planting of illicit crops like the coca plants used to manufacture cocaine.

Researchers report these and other findings in a peer-reviewed study in the July 12th issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

This study represents one site in a larger study of community monitoring of natural resources conducted in communities across six countries – Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Liberia, Peru, and Uganda. A second study in PNAS synthesizes the findings across studies, revealing that territorial monitoring reduces natural resource overuse across the board.

The findings in the Peru study are the latest amidst a flurry of reports showing that recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights to their territory is the most effective way to preserve natural tropical landscapes. 

Jacob Kopas, co-author of the study, says that  “Should our results hold up elsewhere, they would suggest that similar community-based monitoring programs implemented by indigenous peoples across the Amazon can help contribute to sustainable forest management on a larger scale.”

Technology-based monitoring and enforcement by local communities and state officials could promote rainforest conservation in order to combat the climate crisis. More than one-third of the Amazon rainforest falls within the approximately 3,344 formally acknowledged indigenous peoples’ territories. 

From 2000 to 2015, 17 percent of Amazon deforestation occurred in national protected areas or territories registered to indigenous peoples, while 83 percent occurred in parts of the Amazon that are neither under indigenous peoples’ control nor government protected.

Research indicates that the forests on indigenous peoples’ lands worldwide contain 37.7 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to 29 times of the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the world. Cutting down trees releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it absorbs and radiates heat, contributing significantly to the climate crisis. 

“Although formal recognition of indigenous peoples’ land tenure is key to protecting their lands from deforestation, it is most effective when combined with active forest management and robust community and local governance,” says Suzanne Pelletier, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS), the rainforest and rights protection organization that helped facilitate the study.

Jorge Perez Rubio, the president of the regional indigenous organization, Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente (ORPIO), where the study was carried out, says that “The study provides evidence that supporting our communities with the latest technology and training can help reduce deforestation in our territories.”

“We now have quantitative evidence showing that giving deforestation data directly to forest communities works,” says Jessica Webb, Senior Manager for Global Engagement with World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch, a free online forest monitoring system. 

WRI worked closely with RFUS and ORPIO to design the community-based forest monitoring methodology, helping to plan the study, and analyze the resultant data. 

WRI’s Global Forest Watch tools were vital to the model. When satellite images record changes in the forest cover, an algorithm developed by the University of Maryland’s GLAD (Global Land Analysis and Discovery) lab detects the changes and issues deforestation alerts. The alerts are widely available through the Global Forest Watch online platform and its Forest Watcher mobile app. 

Before the model was deployed, deforestation alerts rarely filtered down to remote rainforest communities, which lack reliable access to the internet. Villagers were unaware that invaders were clearing community land and they were powerless to stop them.

“What good does this information do if it’s only seen by a bunch of academics and people in glass buildings?” says Tom Bewick, Peru country director for RFUS, who was a principal architect of the study methodology and implementation. “The whole point is to put the deforestation information into the hands of those most affected by its consequences and who can take action to stop it.”

In consultation with ORPIO, the principal investigators identified 76 villages in the northern district of Loreto to take part in the study. From this sample, 39 communities were randomly assigned to participate in the monitoring program. Three opted out before the study began. Each community that was assigned to the monitoring treatment identified and trained three representatives to conduct monthly monitoring patrols to verify reports of deforestation. Meanwhile, 37 communities were assigned as the control group and retained their existing forest management practices.

Over the course of the study, indigenous technology experts in a regional data hub regularly gathered reports of suspected deforestation, including satellite photos and GPS information. Once a month, couriers navigated the Amazon river and its tributaries to deliver USB drives with the information to the remote villages. Upon arrival in the village, the monitors downloaded this information onto specialized smartphone apps, which they then used to guide their patrols to the locations of the forest disturbances. 

In cases where the monitors identified unauthorized deforestation — typically conducted by outsiders harvesting timber or clearing land for farming, gold mining, or coca cultivation — they presented the evidence to a general assembly of community members for consideration. 

In each case, the community would collectively decide upon the course of action. If drug traffickers were involved, communities may have decided to present their evidence to law enforcement authorities. In less risky circumstances, community members could intervene directly by declaring their rights and driving offenders off their land.

“Over the next decade, if nothing changes, indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin are projected to lose 4.4 million hectares of rainforest, mostly to outsiders who encroach on their territories to cut down trees,” says Cameron Ellis, senior geographer for Rainforest Foundation US. 

The study suggests that community monitoring with remote-sensing deforestation alerts represent one promising intervention to protect these territories.

“But if the community-based forest monitoring methodology could be widely adopted and local governance strengthened, forest loss in the Amazon could be reduced by as much as 20 percent across all indigenous peoples’ lands. If the approach were targeted to regions with high deforestation rates, forest loss in those areas could be cut by more than half,” says Ellis.

Using its own conservative calculations, and based on comparable projected outcomes, Rainforest Foundation US estimates that community-based forest monitoring in Brazil could save 415,000 of the 2.2 million hectares of rainforest in indigenous peoples’ territories likely to be lost over the next decade. In Peru, 186,000 of 500,000 hectares of at-risk rainforests controlled by indigenous peoples could be saved.

Over the course of the two-year study, the treatment communities prevented the destruction of an estimated 456 hectares of rainforest, avoiding the release of over 234,000 tons of CO2 emissions at a cost of about $5/ton. Rainforest Foundation US implemented the study’s community monitoring program at a cost of about $1/acre per year. 

“The community monitoring program spearheaded by ORPIO and Rainforest Foundation US in Peru has vast implications for the survival of indigenous-managed forests across the Amazon,” says Gregorio Mirabal, general coordinator of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), the umbrella of indigenous peoples’ representative organizations in the Amazon’s nine countries. “Our network is ready to partner with Rainforest Foundation US to apply this technology-enabled model to our community forest protection initiatives basin-wide.”

The methodology for preventing deforestation could be scaled up quickly and at nominal cost. Satellite data are widely and freely available from WRI’s Global Forest Watch and other sources. 

Bewick added that the project in the Peruvian Amazon province of Loreto is just the start. “Loreto represents everywhere,” he says. “There’s a solution here, it’s cost effective, and it works. The findings make a strong case to increase investment to scale the model. It would be good for the future: not only for Peru, but for our planet.”

###

Rainforest Foundation US was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories. rainforestfoundation.org

World Resources Institute (WRI) is a global research organization that works with governments, businesses and civil society partners to develop practical solutions to today’s pressing environmental and human development challenges. WRI currently has over 1,400 staff working in 12 offices, spanning Asia, Africa, Europe, the United States and Latin America. It focuses on urgent challenges in seven core areas: Food, Forests, Water, the Ocean, Cities, Energy and Climate. More information at www.wri.org.

ORPIO is an indigenous organization that works in 15 river basins in the Peruvian Amazon, among them: Putumayo, Napo, Tigre, Corrientes, Marañón, Yaquerana, Bajo Amazonas, and Ucayali. Among its objectives is the protection of indigenous peoples’ territories, promoting human development, defending rights, and strengthening indigenous governance. It represents 15 indigenous peoples and 21 federations. http://www.orpio.org.pe/

Read More

Report

Realizing the Pledge

Ticuna fishermen early morning on the Amazon River. IMAGE CREDIT: Mauricio Velez-Dominguez Increased funding for forest communities can transform global

Support Rainforest Alert!

Rainforest Foundation US believes that our Rainforest Alert program can avoid nearly 4,000 square miles (1 million hectares) of deforestation over the coming decade – that’s twice the size of Delaware.

Hover over the amounts below to see how much rainforest you can help protect by donating to Rainforest Alert.

A Challenge in the Peruvian Amazon: To Stop Spreading COVID, Spread COVID Information Instead

A Challenge in the Peruvian Amazon: To Stop Spreading COVID, Spread COVID Information Instead

On the heels of a recent survey of indigenous communities in Peru revealing widespread unfamiliarity with COVID-19 and widespread hesitancy about the vaccine, Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) has teamed up with representative indigenous partner organizations on a multilingual COVID-19 awareness campaign.

The campaign, which will be run in eight indigenous languages as well as Spanish, will consist of broadcasts, podcasts, and infographic comics, and will be distributed throughout 123 rainforest-dense departments of Loreto and Ucayali.

The campaign is the latest iteration of RFUS’s COVID relief effort in Peru, which began in early 2020, and was launched with the help of the Center for Information and Education about the Prevention of Drug Abuse (CEDRO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

If our recent survey results are an indicator, the campaign is sorely needed.

Conducted last month in 40 indigenous communities in the aforementioned departments, the survey shows how unaware of COVID-19 many in these communities remain. In the starkest of terms: A large majority of the indigenous people we surveyed can’t identify the virus’s symptoms, don’t know how to curb its spread, and don’t trust the vaccine.

The lack of information isn’t due to indigenous obstinance, but rather to a failure of the Peruvian government’s public information priorities, says Katya Zevallos of the Indigenous People’s Organization of the Eastern Amazon (ORPIO), one of our partner organizations on the campaign.

“The government of Peru has spent a lot of money to provide people with information about COVID-19. But only one sector of the population: the ones that have internet, smartphones, cell phone service,” Zevallos says.

Too often, indigenous communities have been left in the dark. And looking at Peru’s pandemic numbers, that informational failure could lead to disaster imminently.

How Peru’s Amazonian Communities Are Responding to COVID-19

Because of the lack of information, there’s a lack of basic COVID safety measures amongst indigenous peoples that over the last year have become commonplace elsewhere. Of our survey respondents, 67.5% didn’t know that the virus spreads more easily indoors. More than half (54.3%) share food and drink receptacles when meeting friends outside the household. More than half (50.4%) don’t wear masks outside the household. Recognition of COVID symptoms is likewise perilously low, e.g. only 9.3% and 4.1% of respondents knew that those infected with COVID-19 might lose their sense of taste and sense of smell, respectively.

Meanwhile, the pandemic in Peru has worsened. Fueled by the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil, a deadly second wave has kept case numbers high, while vaccine distribution crawls. As of press time, Peru’s fully vaccinated population was only 2.2%—magnitudes behind the United States and Europe. For Peru’s indigenous Amazon population—many of whom are far removed from the health care available in cities—the potential for catastrophe is undeniable.

The Ministry of Health recently announced plans to send tens of thousands of AstraZeneca doses to indigenous Amazonian communities. But our survey suggests that vaccine hesitancy could blunt the effectiveness of that aide. Of the community members surveyed, 66.2% said they did not want to receive the vaccine.

Gregorio Mirabal, Coordinator of the Congress of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA), an umbrella organization of indigenous rights in the Amazon Basin, spoke impassionedly about the lack of governmental outreach at a press conference last Tuesday on the survey results.

“We’re asking for a plan about prevention and vaccination,” Mirabal said.“Where is the plan? Where’s the dialogue? Where’s the differentiated approach to indigenous communities?”  

One silver lining in the survey was that much of the respondents’ vaccine resistance is “soft”: that is to say, of the 66.2% who didn’t want the vaccine, only 32% indicated that their mind was made up. Our hope is that this campaign will raise safety measures and bring vaccine hesitancy down, protecting communities from more serious outbreaks.

“Clean hands against COVID-19” is one of several infographics produced by ORPIO and RFUS for use in the campaign

How the COVID Information Campaign Will Work

Our campaign for greater COVID-19 awareness will be done in partnership with the indigenous-led organizations ORPIO and the Regional Organization of AIDESEP in Ucayali (ORAU). Slated to roll out in early June, it’ll feature a series of radio spots, podcasts, and twelve comic-style infographics. The graphics will be blown up onto banners for display in public spaces, and compiled into a calendar: one infographic per month.

The calendars are an attempt to meet indigenous communities where their interests are, explains RFUS’s Country Director for Peru, Tom Bewick, who adds that “In most indigenous houses, there’s not that much on the wall—but you almost always see that calendar.”

The messages contained therein will be likewise directly reflective of survey results. In one infographic, readers will be dissuaded from self-medicating. With Peru’s healthcare system cumbersome, expensive, and oftentimes inaccessibly far away from indigenous communities, some indigenous peoples are tempted by unproven over-the-counter solutions that friends and neighbors have utilized. As has happened elsewhere in the world, scientifically unsound solutions spread rampantly, word-of-mouth, boosted by the mirage of proof that comes from the high variability in COVID-19’s course-of-illness: I took it and I got better, so you should take it too.

The entire campaign aspires to hone in on both indigenous preferences and their knowledge gaps while dispensing public health information. To better do that, we’re also working with indigenous health promoters and other indigenous leaders, who will serve as valuable interlocutors to communities historically wary of outsiders.

In addition to Spanish, the campaign messaging is being translated into Kichwa, Ticuna, Yagua, Shipibo-conibo, Ashaninka, Bora bora, Muri-muinani, and Maijuna. When asked about the need for translating into indigenous languages, given the widespread use of Spanish throughout the nation, Zevallos says it speaks more to the difficulty of the virus than the difficulty of Spanish.

“[Many indigenous people] understand Spanish, but not fluently. Not with difficult concepts. Not with something that nobody in the world understands anyway: something like COVID-19.”

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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.