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Video: Indigenous People in Peru Are Using Satellites And Drones To Fight Deforestation

Video: Indigenous People in Peru Are Using Satellites And Drones To Fight Deforestation

In September 2018, indigenous forest monitors from the Buen Jardín de Callaru community in Peru discovered a large clearing on their territory using satellite data. They alerted the regional environmental prosecutor, the Fiscalía Especializada en Materia Ambiental (FEMA), who agreed to accompany the community to the site of the alert for an investigation. Vice News captured the event. The video includes an interview with Rainforest Foundation US’s Peru Country Director, Tom Bewick. Read the full story here.

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Mesoamerican Community Leaders Point the Way Toward a High-Integrity Carbon Market

The Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), in collaboration with Rainforest Foundation US and Fundación PRISMA, convened in El Salvador to shape a united vision for strengthening the integrity of carbon markets in the region. This comes at a crucial moment as governments and the private sector increasingly advocate for nature-based solutions, including carbon markets and REDD+ initiatives, which have been developed without adequate input from the communities leading forest protection efforts on the ground.

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Protecting Guyana’s Rainforest: A Story in Maps and Videos

Protecting Guyana's rainforests

Protecting Guyana’s Rainforest: A Story in Maps and Videos

Indigenous communities are key to protecting the forest, and in Guyana, indigenous customary lands cover large extents of the interior. The government of Guyana has an international commitment to conserving an additional 2 million hectares of forest – the majority of which would overlap with customary indigenous lands.

In places where indigenous communities have full control of their forests, the rainforest thrives.  Yet in Guyana more than a third of indigenous villages are still waiting for legal recognition of their collective lands.  Many more villages are fighting to expand their land titles beyond the small areas that are frequently granted so that they can more effectively protect their ancestral forests. These are forests that the communities have used for hundreds if not thousands of years as hunting grounds and places to forage; many of the lands hold deep historical and or spiritual significance to the communities.

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Stories

Mesoamerican Community Leaders Point the Way Toward a High-Integrity Carbon Market

The Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), in collaboration with Rainforest Foundation US and Fundación PRISMA, convened in El Salvador to shape a united vision for strengthening the integrity of carbon markets in the region. This comes at a crucial moment as governments and the private sector increasingly advocate for nature-based solutions, including carbon markets and REDD+ initiatives, which have been developed without adequate input from the communities leading forest protection efforts on the ground.

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.

 

 

Indigenous Communities Are Dedicated to Protecting Guyana’s Rainforests

 

 

To Protect Panama’s Forests, Train Indigenous People to Fly Drones

To Protect Panama’s Forests, Train Indigenous People to Fly Drones

The Darien: Home to Indigenous Peoples, and Illegal Intruders

Up in the trees, a small howler monkey scurries away. Maybe it thinks the large white wings belong to a harpy eagle planing overhead, or perhaps the strangeness of the fixed-wing drone is enough to frighten it away.

For centuries, the Wounaan and Emberá have lived in the Darien, the rainforest on the Panama-Colombia border that is known as one of the world’s most impenetrable jungles. It is the only place where engineers simply couldn’t build the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise connects all of the countries in the Americas. The Darien’s biodiversity is legendary—sleek jaguars, brightly-colored macaws, and rare orchids abound. But its amazing biodiversity attracts loggers in search of valuable rosewood, poachers in search of game and exotic animals, and farmers eager to burn down swathes of forest to set up homesteads. Its remote location has also made it difficult for the Wounaan and Emberá and other indigenous communities to protect their ancestral lands from these incursions.

These indigenous communities have been painstakingly mapping and guarding their territories in order to claim, defend, and protect their lands for years. However, there was little each individual community could do to defend itself against invasions of their territories. As indigenous leader Tino Quintana explains, “The first invasion of our lands was in 1987. Every year it was one or two families, suddenly it wasn’t four it was ten…until there were 72 families living illegally in our land, our comarca.”

Drones: Indigenous Eyes in the Sky

Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) and the National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) are working on a new initiative to map and monitor indigenous peoples’ lands against illegal invasions. We are training teams of indigenous people to fly fixed-wing and helicopter drones, use sophisticated software to create highly accurate maps, and document illegal incursions. These teams can be deployed to communities throughout the rainforest, where they create maps of the community’s territory and gather evidence of illegal incursions. Community leaders can then use that evidence to pressure the State to respect their lands.

With these new teams in place, individual communities can request mapping of areas under threat. When needed, a community can determine what areas need to be mapped, and then work in coordination to create effective strategies to pressure the government to step up its efforts to protect the land. So far the teams have been able to map areas deforested by ranchers and illegal loggers and identify sources of agricultural waste contaminating their rivers and illegal settlements on their land. By using the drones, not only can communities map and oversee more territory, but also they can avoid potentially dangerous confrontations with those invading their lands. The teams also provide technical support for communities fighting for recognition of their lands, and for creating land management plans to promote environmentally respectful, sustainable economic development.

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Stories

Mesoamerican Community Leaders Point the Way Toward a High-Integrity Carbon Market

The Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), in collaboration with Rainforest Foundation US and Fundación PRISMA, convened in El Salvador to shape a united vision for strengthening the integrity of carbon markets in the region. This comes at a crucial moment as governments and the private sector increasingly advocate for nature-based solutions, including carbon markets and REDD+ initiatives, which have been developed without adequate input from the communities leading forest protection efforts on the ground.

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.

We Stand Behind Maya Leaders as They Peacefully Protect their Lands

We Stand Behind Maya Leaders as They Peacefully Protect their Lands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 25, 2015

A Joint Statement by Rainforest Foundation US and Cultural Survival

Toledo District, Belize – Maya leaders of Southern Belize were arrested on Wednesday in a gross violation of their rights. On the early morning of June 24th, traditional leaders of the Maya people of Southern Belize were violently awoken in their homes by police on the charges of unlawful imprisonment. The charges were brought against 12 people, including the Village Chairman, and the Second Alcalde, elected by their communities according to traditional practices. Also arrested was Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) spokesperson, Cristina Coc, a peaceful and well-respected advisor to the traditional leaders and mother of two.

At an arraignment that afternoon, bail was initially set at $8000 each. When one of the attorneys for the Maya defendants explained that this was beyond the means of Maya farmers, the Magistrate increased the amount to $10,000. According to local attorneys, bail for this level of offenses is usually between $1000 and $3000. Bail was posted by other Maya villagers from various communities and all were released. The group warrant was never presented to the attorneys or their clients. The case has been adjourned until July 28, 2015.

The charges were filed by Mr. Rupert Myles, after he was handcuffed by local Maya police at a village meeting during which Mr. Myles became agitated and threatened to wield a firearm. The conflict arose because Mr. Myles has been illegally constructing a house on the grounds of an ancient sacred site of the Maya People, the Uxbenka temple. The laws of Belize prohibit building on or damaging any archaeological site.

The Maya people have legal customary ownership of Santa Cruz, where Uxbenka is located, as per a recent court decision at the Caribbean Court of Justice, which recognizes the property rights of the Maya people in accordance with their customary land tenure system. Maya customary law, which forms part of the law of Belize, requires that people apply for residence in the village. Mr. Myles at no point applied for residency.

The Maya authorities had previously alerted the Punta Gorda Police, the Belize Defense Force and the Belize Institute of Archeology about the situation, but Mr. Myles continued construction, causing irreparable damage to the sacred site by bulldozing a road to the structure. Last month in May 2015, a letter was sent to the Belize Institute of Archaeology (NICH) from the Director of the Uxebnka Archaeological Project, in which he expressed his concern that Mr. Myles had: “bulldozed into the archaeological platform … He has also built new buildings, and has burned vegetation to the very edge of the steel plaza, further endangering the ruin. The bulldozing activity has irreparably damaged the platform.”

The Maya leaders dispute the claim that they discriminated against Mr. Myles, and emphasize that Mr. Myles was detained, but not arrested by the village police because he had agreed in writing to remove the structure and his belongings within 14 days. He was not physically harmed.

The issue has gained national attention in Belize due to remarks of the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow. On Wednesday, on national television, Barrow admonished the Maya people saying the treatment of Myles was “outrageous” and “absolutely intolerable”. Yet when asked by the media about the illegal destruction of the sacred site by Myles, Barrows said he was unaware.

The Maya people’s right to defend their sacred sites is backed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 11.1 states that indigenous peoples have the right to protect past manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites. Article 11.2 requires states to provide redress with respect to their cultural property taken without their Free, Prior and Informed consent or in violation of their laws traditions, or customs.

Additionally, the Maya leaders are the right to maintain their own systems of justice. Article 34 of the Declaration states that indigenous peoples have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards.

Rightfully, the Maya leaders stand by their actions. “The Maya villagers will continue to defend these cultural heritage sites that are important to all Belizeans. The Toledo Alcaldes Association and the Maya Leaders Alliance are extremely concerned with this escalating situation,” explained the MLA in a press release. In response to the Prime Minister’s comments, they shared, “We consider unfortunate and premature any statement condemning the Maya people without the full understanding of the Uxbenka case. We also express our concern regarding any attempt to undermine the [Caribbean Court of Justice] order or to harass our leaders. The Toledo Alcaldes Association has and will continue to request a meeting with the Government to avoid further violations of Maya people’s rights and has inform the international human rights bodies that monitor the situation of the Maya people in Belize. Like all Belizeans we are concerned with the protection of Maya sacred sites and are committed to continue to build a society free from racial discrimination.”

Rainforest Foundation US and Cultural Survival call on Prime Minister Dean Barrows to apologize for his harmful words against the Maya people, and for all charges against them to be dropped, in accordance with national and international laws.

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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The Reunion: Rediscovering an Ancient Stone Face Deep in the Peruvian Amazon

The Reunion: Rediscovering an Ancient Stone Face Deep in the Peruvian Amazon

“The Reunion”, a film produced by Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) and Handcrafted Films, follows the indigenous Harakbut people as they search for an enormous stone face, the Rostro Harakbut, deep in the Peruvian Amazon. The Rostro, part of the Harakbut’s mythology, had been lost for centuries. “The Reunion” captures the rediscovery of the lost monument.

In October 2014, RFUS, Handcrafted Films, and the Executor of the Administrative Contract of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ECA-RCA) carried out an expedition deep into the Harakbut ancestral forest—now the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve—to search for the Rostro Harakbut. The Rostro had never been documented before. The Harakbut people hope its rediscovery will help prevent gold and oil exploration in their territory.

The Amarakaeri Reserve and the Harakbut communities that surround the Rostro are under intense pressure from illegal gold mining—which has ravaged thousands of hectares along the Reserve’s border—and from natural gas extraction set to take place in the heart of the Reserve.

Extractive activities not only threaten the environment, but also Harakbut culture; many youth are drawn to the gold industry’s promise of quick money, luring them away from the environmentally sustainable customs of their indigenous ancestors—customs that have protected the Reserve’s biodiversity for centuries.

In order to recuperate and maintain the customary connection that the Harakbut have with the Reserve, community leaders Jaime Corisepa and Luis Tayori are carrying out cultural mapping of their land, with the goal of documenting the legendary heritage of the Amarakaeri Reserve.

According to oral legend, there are cultural relics all over the Reserve. However, until now, they had not been documented or seen by the outside world. The rediscovery of the Rostro and other cultural sites will help connect the youth to the Reserve, and hopefully generate interest in saving this precious, megadiverse part of the Peruvian Amazon.

Field Note from Tom Bewick, Program Manager at RFUS, who took part in the expedition and making of the film

To be able to share the experience of seeing the Rostro Harakbut for the first time, with the very Harakbut indigenous leaders who have been on a quest to rediscover it for eight years, was glorious. It was also extraordinarily sad, physically punishing, and soul searching.

The Amarakaeri Reserve, formally created in 2004, is the heart of the Harakbut ancestral territory in Madre de Dios, Peru. At that time, the ecosystem was virtually intact between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado, which one could only reach by plane or a 25 hour jeep ride. That all changed rapidly over a period of five years. During that time, a new highway was built connecting Cusco to Bolivia and Brazil, the price of gold soared after the 2008 global economic crisis, and natural gas reserves were discovered in the Reserve. The indigenous leadership has been struggling to save the Reserve and the surrounding buffer zone ever since.

The Rostro Expedition: Day by Day

Day 1: The morning kicked off with a high-spirited departure from Puerto Maldonado, but the day ended in somber reflection. That night, we camped in what remained of a Harakbut village, now surrounded by a vast desert of mining activity. The only people still living there were three elderly men. The rest of the villagers had died or moved to the city with mining profits. As we slept, the surrounding sand dunes that used to be lush Amazon hills rumbled from the sound of large tractors.

Day 2: On our way out of the camp, we were questioned intensively by mestizo mining workers. We drove through thousands of hectares of mining devastation, until we finally saw some plants, then trees, then clear running water, then dramatic high cliffs blanketed in intense foliage.

We hiked up to the entrance of the Reserve where, at sunset, we sat atop a cliff overlooking the foot of the Andes. Our guide, a local shaman, blessed our journey. We all commented on the stark contrast between the lush Reserve and the devastated mining desert just a mile or two away.

Day 3: The next morning, we hiked through miles of river beds in sweltering heat and under constant attack from bees. Finally, we reached a wide river and were greeted by a boat. At first a relief, the boat quickly became a burden; the river was low and full of boulders, so we intermittently carried the boat upriver for four hours. Thoroughly exhausted, we cleared a small area with machetes in order to make camp, swatted bees away, and soaked in the Reserve’s pristine beauty.

Day 4: As we made our way deeper into the Reserve, the terrain became harsher. Hills were steep, and at one point we had to climb up a cliff holding onto vines, all while carrying our camping gear, cameras and tripods, and a drone.

Finally, that evening we reached a wide natural basin headed by a waterfall. Our guide and shaman blessed us again; the Rostro was close. It was too late to get to the Rostro that night, so we made camp and a little kitchen over river rocks. That evening, Jaime and Luis told us about the legend of the Rostro, and the importance of mapping these sites. The mining, they told us, is far too alluring to young people in search of quick money. Reconnecting the youth with the Reserve, they hope, will reconnect them with their custom of prioritizing conservation, and make them aware of the long-term importance of protecting their natural resources. Finding the Rostro was the key.

That night, we suffered from a sustained tropical downpour. Our tents flooded, our camp was nothing but mud, and morale was low.

Day 5: The next day, we had nothing left to eat but rice. But the weather cleared in the afternoon, at which point we trekked over the mountain, down through thick jungle brush. Then, suddenly, we arrived at the Rostro Harakbut, a towering stone face etched into a cliff. Amazed, the expedition team walked right up to the Rostro and sat on its chin, reflecting on how its rediscovery could help protect the Reserve.

It might have been Alex, the 20-year-old indigenous porter, who said it best. After snapping countless photos of the Rostro with his smartphone, he commented, “Everyone I know is going to want to come here after they see this!”

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Mesoamerican Community Leaders Point the Way Toward a High-Integrity Carbon Market

The Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), in collaboration with Rainforest Foundation US and Fundación PRISMA, convened in El Salvador to shape a united vision for strengthening the integrity of carbon markets in the region. This comes at a crucial moment as governments and the private sector increasingly advocate for nature-based solutions, including carbon markets and REDD+ initiatives, which have been developed without adequate input from the communities leading forest protection efforts on the ground.

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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.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala
gro.y1716657792nffr@1716657792sreve1716657792dd1716657792

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.