Rainforest Foundation US 2020 Year In Review

Advancing the Protection of Rainforests and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Amidst a Global Pandemic

In any given year, the indigneous peoples of the rainforests of Central and South America face countless threats to defend their lands, lives, and livelihoods. From fighting illegal invasions to being subject to violence and intimidation, to enduring poverty, they are constantly advocating to secure the government support and services necessary to protect their hard-earned rights. Under normal circumstances, these struggles complicate indigenous peoples’ important efforts to protect some of the most valuable rainforest ecosystems in the world.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced several new layers of threats. 

The virus is wreaking havoc on the health of rural communities. Under-resourced public health facilities are unable to keep up with the pace of infection in their communities — populations that are already suffering from complicated health conditions that have gone untreated due to poor access to services. 

Despite the lock-downs imposed nearly region-wide by national states of emergency, illegal activities and invasions into indigenous peoples’ territories are spiking in 2020 as environmental enforcement agents are being redirected to support the national health emergency.

Meanwhile, the lock-downs are also leading to a devastating decline in the agricultural and tourism markets that indigenous peoples depend on. As a result, entire families and whole communities are falling into poverty.

Rainforest Foundation US and our partners have been ramping up our work this year to address both persistent and new threats emerging as a result of COVID.

Below are some of the highlights of our impact in 2020 to protect the peoples and the rainforests of Central and South America amidst the ever-changing landscape of a global pandemic.

2020 Impact In Numbers


acres of rainforests protected through active monitoring*

*approximately the size of South Carolina


acres of newly titled lands for indigenous peoples**

**roughly half the size of Rhode Island


distributed directly to indigenous peoples’ organizations in Central and South America for COVID-19 relief


raised with partners to support indigenous-led COVID-19 relief efforts across the Amazon


indigenous communities served in four countries

COVID-19 Relief

Starting in March, we reached out to our indigenous partners in Central and South America to help design and distribute print and digital materials for COVID-prevention in their communities.

We also supported them to:

  • Coordinate the distribution of emergency food staples
  • Distribute medicine and personal protective equipment
  • Develop new income-generating activities

In May, we co-sponsored a groundbreaking partnership with 35 nonprofit allies and together we raised over $2.5 million dollars in emergency support for indigenous communities across nine Amazon countries. In June, we produced a star-studded livestream benefit which raised over $300,000 to support indigenous communities across the world’s tropical belt.


Community-based territorial monitoring is at the heart of our work with our partners. Regular monitoring of their forests helps communities identify and stop illegal incursions and facilitates sustainable forest management. In 2020, we helped indigenous peoples protect more than 15 million acres of territories in four countries.


In 2020, the Panama’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Naso Tjër Di people, recognizing their rights to their ancestral lands. As a result, 396,890 acres were titled and added to indigenous peoples lands in the largest land titling win for Panama’s indigenous peoples in the last several decades. Rainforest Foundation US provided strategic legal support during the process.

Human Rights

#MinersOutCovidOut Campaign
This year, Rainforest Foundation US supported the Yanomami and Ye’kwana people’s “Miners Out, Covid Out!” campaign, which aims to expel 20,000 illegal gold miners from their territories. Together with our partners, we collected more than 400,000+ signatures to petition the Brazilian government to evict the illegal invaders. We helped the campaign get worldwide attention.

#JusticeforSaweto Campaign
Rainforest Foundation US has provided legal support for the past six years to the community of Saweto, in Peru, where the local community is seeking justice for the assassination of four leaders at the hands of illegal loggers. In 2020, the case was heard by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and a hearing of the prosecution advanced after six postponements.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

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.