From Forest Raider to Forest Guardian: How Local Communities Contribute to the Sustainable Development in Amazon

Under the condition of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, there is a local community in Tarapoto trying to conserve the rainforest through developing an ecotourism program. Due to the development of tourism in the Amazon forest, ecotourism becomes a friendly industry on it.

As a successful example, the Tigana program started in the Tarapoto conservation area has more stories to tell. Tingana is the highest flood forest in Peru, which attracts a large number of tourists to visit. It is also the bridge for keeping a balance between the local community and the rainforest.

Juan Isuizaz is one of the founders of ADECARAM (Association of Conservation of Aguajales and Renacales del Alto Mayo). He established the ecotourism program in Tingana. This program provides tourism services for travelers, such as canoe rides, birds watching, forest walking, and lodging.

In the past, Juan was a farmer. Just like other traditional farmers, he hunted animals and cut trees from the forest. He killed otters for getting their skin and then sold it to the market. To catch fish, he poisoned the river. He only took advantages of nature. However, his engineer friend became the turning point to his mind and behaviors, even made a significant influence on the local community.

Juan’s engineer friend told him that they could start a business in the forest resulting in saving the environment and bringing the tourists. Although Juan was not entirely convinced, he made the first step. Thereupon, ADECARAM was born in 2004. He gathered 15 local people and organized meetings to discuss how to develop the ecotourism program in the forest. Then, an NGO from Germany noticed their potential and offered help to them.

With the help of the German NGO, the initial members received tools and knowledge on the management of conservation. But the older people in the association didn’t have the patience for this, eight of them left the program. Facing such difficulty, Juan hadn’t give up. He knew that he couldn’t disappoint his people because they chose him as a leader.

The situation became better soon, and the truth proves that Juan and his members made a success in the program. There are 25 families in the association at the moment, including seven core families. But not all of them are males. The female empowerment gets involved with this program. The females in these families can do the cooking and cleaning. Also, the young generation from the families is encouraged to be part of the association by helping the organization when in vacation.

Tingana is getting popular, and the tourists increase a lot. Juan said they had about 2,000 visitors came in any season last year. Therefore, they earn more money with increment in tourists. Some families still work in the farm for providing organic food to travelers. They diversify their ways of making a living, not only make money from tourism, but also from selling products locally.

Each member in the association participates in the ecotourism by making efforts on the course of action to conserve the forest better. The seven families in the association are the voluntary forest rangers. They check the woods once a month. If some people deforest the land, they will report to the local government.

Moreover, they use part of incomes for maintenance operation and study. For example, they maintain the infrastructure and buy new boats or raincoats. In order to be a professional tour guide, they learn about the specific species in the forest so they can bring more information to the tourists. All they do about are for the conservation.

Although Juan is not the leader of the association at present, the course of action from ADECARAM keeps leading changes to the people in the local community and the conservation areas in Tingana.

First, community members who work for ADECARAM already have consciousnesses to protect the environment. They understand the oxygen from the forests is not only for them but also for the planet. Instead of hunting and farming, they choose to conserve the forest through developing the Tingana program. As a result, they become a guidance to the forest from abandoning the role of the raider.

Second, the community members create a friendly environment for animals in the forest. In the past, the animals were so afraid of humans since the people in the community hunted them with short guns. However, the trust relationship between humans and animals is built in the forest. As the most common species in the forest, every time Howling monkeys see human, they don’t run away. Because of human behavioral change, the ecological system goes back to a harmonious status, and the animals come back to the forest again.

Last but not least, the incomes of community members have a remarkable improvement in comparison with two different ways of making money from ecotourism or farming. According to the data collected from the association office, community members are delighted to see that the profits of ecotourism are four times more than agriculture. Furthermore, the number of tourists in 2019 was triple than the number in 2018, which was following the increment of community members’ earnings.

As for the future, ADECARAM is planning to develop three more travel routines for attracting tourists. Every time tourists visit Tingana, they can see improving conservation of the forest. Compared to the past and present, ecotourism really plays an essential role in Tingana in terms of the development of both the community and the forest.

In addition to the development of tourism in Peruvian Amazon, local communities also try to cooperate with social enterprises on businesses from Lima. The main goal of the locals to cooperate with social enterprise is to protect the rainforest while also earning benefits from their work.

Shiwi, for example, is a Peruvian company cooperate with local communities that offers high-quality organic products. This company is founded in 2012, by Sofie, a Peruvian biologist who grew up close to the forest. The duty of local communities is that they will provide raw material to Shiwi, such as coconut, chestnut, and honey. And Shiwi as the operator of the business did all the processed, packaging, and commercial.

Before the locals integrate with Shiwi, most of them didn’t have the awareness of environment conservation. Their income is usually very conventional, it’s simply just selling the resources nature provides such timber, mineral, and animal skin. As a result, the ecosystem in the forest was seriously damaged by their immoderate exploit, a huge amount of trees can be chopped away in just one day. Animals can be killed in a vast number. Moreover, the income for locals was still very less.

Not only that, all of these could happen isn’t only because local don’t have the awareness. It is also because the society leaves the locals communities with no other choice, but to sell resources, the only thing they have. Hugo Vasquez, a manager from Shiwi, said: “The threat to the Amazon is not the farmer, the threat is hunger, hunger makes you cut down to sell, but they pay you a fair price, your agriculture becomes more profitable.”

Luckily, due to the communication between Shiwi and the locals, many local people now view Shiwi as a more profitable and more sustainable opportunity to make money.  The production strategy provided by Shiwi is also more eco-friendly because now the locals exploit resources periodically. In this way, it gives nature enough time to recover itself.

Moreover, locals no longer push nature in order to reach the yield. Now, they just take what nature provides. Through friendly cooperation with Shiwi for years, locals are now able to earn three times more than before while doing forest conservation at the same time. All the local families who cooperate with were benefited in this business. Even better, a massive conservation area was saved. 

Evea Eco Fashion is also an example of cooperation with locals in business. Evea is a fashion company that sells shoes, bags, and wallets that are made with rubber. Cristian Gutierrez, the co-founder, introduced a very interesting strategy on forest conservation. He called this idea, The Strategic Fence.

The concept of the Strategic Fence is to provide the locals with an opportunity to earn money by doing rubber tapping. Because the problem local communities are facing is that they don’t have income, selling jungle resources is the only way they knew how to make once living. For example, the locals will usually rent part of their forest to a timber company or a mining company, and these companies will take away every resource they possibly could that is valuable for them. Such a one-time deal is very unsustainable, also not eco-friendly.

With the strategic fence, now local families view rubber trees as a resource that is able to foster a sustainable income. As a result, they will stop renting business with timber and mining companies. Plus, the locals will never rent the place where the rubber trees grow. The defense system created by rubber trees and rubber taper effectively protects the forest.

Although there are companies like Tingana, Shiwi, and Evea who work on Amazon’s sustainable development, that truly brings benefits to the local communities. However, their impact on the rainforest is nothing compared to the deforestation of the rainforest. They are just typical successful cases of the thousands of businesses that tried to do environmental conservation.

Juan, as one of the workers in Tingana who is responsible for social contact, said when they first established Tingana, many neighbors were confused because they don’t understand why they suddenly start to protect the forest. Lots of them even questioned the idea of doing tourism, because compare tourism with farming, the benefit of farming is that it has an immediate return, many local farmers don’t have the patience to develop tourism, they just want money right away. Such ideological differences hardly allow tourism to grow on a large scale in the rainforest.

The same thing for a social enterprise like Shiwi and Evea, their biggest challenge is that consumer buys their product only because they think it is cool because organic products are quite new and special in the market. However, the ideal goal for Shiwi is to make organic produce daily consuming instead of unsustainable consumption. So, the challenge is about changing consumer’s shopping consciousness and habits.

In conclusion, local people still face many challenges to the sustainable development of the Amazon rainforest. To overcome these difficulties, first of all, everyone should attach great importance to forest conservation, consumer needs to change its consumption patterns as well.

By CHEN Weiye, WU Xunheng

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