REDD+ in Colombia: ancestral knowledge as the base for development

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation in developing countries was proposed in November 2005 during COP 11 in Montreal. It was also proposed to offer rewards and stimuli to the protection of natural resources. In 2008 the United Nations launched the Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+).

To avoid the loss of sovereignty over their territories, COICA the entity in charge of coordinating the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon decided to join the initiative and adapt it to their traditions and knowledge to conservation. This is how REDD+ Amazonian Indigenous (RIA) was born and currently works in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia.

Their processes are followed and supported by WWF in three of these countries. “This models aims to incorporate in an adequate and cultural way all the territories, people and indigenous organizations to all the REDD+ national initiatives,” says Pía Escobar, Government and Social Development Officer from WWF Colombia.

“RIA has to do with an eco-systemic development,” says Mateo Estrada, Territory and Environment Coordinator of the Colombian Amazon Indigenous Communities National Organization (OPIAC).

“Their integrity [of indigenous peoples] and their way of living is in harmony with the environment and its resources. But it [RIA] also has to do with their spirituality and the services that the community offers inside their culture. This proposal is aligned with indigenous life plans. We are in charge of the management, the community’s empowerment and the adaptation of public policies into this context,” remarked Estrada.

In Colombia RIA is working in a region where there are 169 Indigenous guards from over 56 different communities that speak 52 different languages. Their plan is to become a national conservation scheme instead of an indigenous-only approach.

Their pilot program was established in 2012 in Resguardo Cuenca Alta in the Inírida River in the Guainía department. This guard is inhabited by 17 communities from the Puinave and Curripaco groups and counts with over 2,700,000 hectares of biodiverse territory.

“This pilot has an indigenous approach. It is a proposal that began within the communities and has as its central branch the management of the guard, its social structure and the context of the region,” says Arcangel Agapito, member of the Puinave community and the pilot program leader.

In the region the deforestation rate is only 0.1% because they’ve followed the traditional ways of management and conservation. More so, they’re focused in avoiding forced displacement and enhance the indigenous ways of living.

One of their ancestral practices used is shifting cultivation. They used the land for three years and then abandon the area so it can naturally recover. Then communities search a new spot and follow the trend. They’re only searching for their own food security and leave aside any form of business.

Agapito hopes RIA will help “new generations to get to know their territory, appreciate it and take care of it. Leaving them a way of development that is in harmony with the environment will improve their quality of life and avoid them from moving to regions far form home.”

Other places where RIA has been functioning is La Chorrera in the Rerguardo Predio Putumayo. In the area the program is led by the local authority’s association. The information gathered in this region is being used to replicate the model in other regions, said Estrada.

Likewise, WWF role is very important because, “sometimes indigenous organizations need additional support in all the technical data like mapping, carbon content, eco-systemic services, territory’s threats, among others. It is important for their own strategies and cultural traditions to remain in time,” remarked Escobar.

RIA’s future in Colombia is yet to be decided, but Estrada hopes for it to be included in the national REDD+ strategy as a special chapter. For now it is being discussed in the Amazon Indigenous Environment and Climate Change Roundtable (MIACC) and with the Regional Amazon Roundtable (MRA).

LatinAmerican Post
María Andrea Márquez

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