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The return of fortress conservation: REDD and the green land grab in the Peruvian Amazon

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Issue date: 
12 October, 2012
Publisher Name: 
Forest Peoples
Author e-Mail: 
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I remember when the park guards first came to our village. They called a meeting and said ‘get your things together and pack your bags, don’t make any new farms and we will see where you can be resettled’.  

These are the words of Miguel Ishwiza Sangama, former headman of the village of Nuevo Lamas, a small Kichwa indigenous community in Northern Peru as he remembers the moment in 2007 when officials of the Cerro Escalera Regional Conservation Area first attempted to resettle his community. In the following years, Park authorities persisted with these efforts but when the community remained resistant the Park authorities resorted to restricting community access to the forest for hunting and gathering and prohibiting their traditional system of rotational agriculture. In 2010, charges were brought against three members of the community for practicing their rotational agriculture.

Nuevo Lamas is the only village located within the 132,000ha Cerro Escalera Conservation Area (created in 2005 by the Regional Government of San Martin) but several communities are dependent on the Reserve for vital forest resources. As Jaime Japulima, President of CEPKA[1], one of four indigenous federations representing the Kichwa people explains ‘this entire area is our ancestral territory yet the Reserve was created without any consultation’. As a result, many communities are affected. Most recently, charges were brought against 8 members of the community of Alto Pucalpillo for deforestation of 0.25ha in order to make a small campsite where they could grow bananas, maize and fruit trees to support them during hunting and gathering expeditions. One of the 8 members described his experience:

 Our community has no land, our land title just includes our houses. This is our only forest, we have nowhere else to hunt and gather than the area they now call the Reserve. This is our land, we have always gone there to collect medicinal plants and hunt for community festivals, you can see it is full of the traces of our ancestors; there are old paths, palm trees planted for roofing, there is even a salt mine! Yet we were never consulted about this Park, the first we knew about it was when it was created. Today, if we want to go into our forest we first have to ask permission from the Government of San Martin!

Alto Pucalpillo is a typical case. While some Kichwa communities have had a small part of their traditional lands recognised with a formal land title many others like Alto Pucalpillo only have title to the area around their houses, and many other communities lack even this basic level of recognition. According to a recent survey in San Martin there are at least 32 communities like Alto Pucalpillo with land titles that only cover their houses and at least 13 that officially do not even exist[2].

While formal applications for indigenous land titles covering modest areas have been gathering dust for years on the desks of government officials the 132,000ha Cerro Escalera Regional Conservation Area has been created alongside hundreds of thousands of hectares for private conservation concessions granted to environmental NGOs and private companies. In San Martin alone this includes the largest conservation concession in Peru, the 143,928ha Alto Huayabamba conservation concession, and most recently three concessions covering over 313.687ha which are applying to the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) for certification of a project for the voluntary REDD market[3].

Unfortunately the case of the Cerro Escalera is not an isolated case. Last month Forest Peoples Programme reported [4] from the Imiria lake region in Ucayali where Shipibo communities have rejected the Imiria Regional Conservation Area established by the Regional Government of Ucayali in 2010. The communities have demanded its suspension while a genuine process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is initiated. As in Cerro Escalera the area was created without due consultation with communities and not only covers Shipibo traditional lands but includes 7 legally titled communities. Just as in San Martin, the prospect of carbon credits appears to be a major incentive for the establishment of the Reserve.

These are but two of countless similar cases throughout Peru where indigenous peoples’ traditional lands remain unrecognised while concessions for mining, oil, gas, timber, palm oil and now carbon are being handed out. According to latest surveys, over 800 communities remain without a land title while over 200 are not even recognised as existing. Hence AIDESEP, the National Indigenous Amazonian Organisation in Peru, have insisted that, until outstanding land and territory applications of indigenous peoples are respected, REDD[5] remains a threat rather than an opportunity. Despite this, the Peruvian government[6] has remained resistant to investing REDD funds in securing indigenous peoples’ lands and territories. Recently however, the team of consultants hired to draft Peru’s strategy for the World Bank’s Forest Investment Programme (FIP) have earmarked $7 million to kick-start this process. It remains unclear whether this will be endorsed by the Peruvian government.

Despite the pressure for resettlement, Miguel and the community of Nuevo Lamas remain defiant:

We are not going anywhere’ we said to the guards, then they told us we would need to buy food as farming would be restricted so I said to the Engineer, ‘well you will have to give me your salary and then I can buy my food!’

Despite their defiance they are concerned that further legal cases will be brought against community members for using their forest, leaving Miguel asking:

 We are not lawyers so who will defend us…?

[1] The ethnic council of the Kichwa peoples of the Amazon, http://www.cepka.es.tl/Organizaci%F3n.htm

[2] This study is being undertaken by CIPTA, Aidesep Centre for Information and Planning and is due to be published in 2013. http://www.aidesep.org.pe/cipta/

[3] Biocorridor Martin Sagrado REDD+ project, https://s3.amazonaws.com/CCBA/Projects/Biocarridor_Martin_Sagrado_REDD%2B_project/PDD_REDD_Martin_Sagrado_V3.0_-_PJ%5B1%5D.pdf

[4] http://www.forestpeoples.org/topics/rights-land-natural-resources/news/2012/09/shipibo-communities-peruvian-amazon-reject-impleme

[5] Programmes and projects to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation

[6] http://www.forestpeoples.org/topics/forest-investment-programme-fip/news/2012/08/world-bank-forest-investment-programme-challenge


Extpub | by Dr. Radut