Wiwas in charge of nature conservation

The Wiwa’s lands, once a full green landscape, is now a dusty field in the Colombian dessert that hasn’t stopped changing in the last years. Indigenous communities take action!

For centuries, Wiwas have called this mountain house home, stretching from the snowy peaks to the shores of the Caribbean. Although some areas of their territory have been lost in recent years by colonizers, marijuana plantations or the invasion of farmland, the indigenous reserve is still huge.

This is a region famous for its biodiversity, which includes two national parks (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Tayrona park), and two indigenous reserves whose borders overlap with the parks and are home to four different indigenous communities, including the Wiwa.

As soon as you leave the road you can see dozens of small yellow butterflies and you stumble upon the sounds of the jungle: the song of the birds and the whisper of wind among the trees. For an outsider, this place is beautiful. For the Wiwa, it is sacred.

"As part of the mountain we share responsibility for conservation and balance between man and nature. We are your in communicators for nature, for animals, "explains Edinson Videl Daza, a member of the Wiwa community and environmental spokesperson. "We see the earth as our mother; The sea as our father. Rivers and streams are alive. Animals are our younger brothers, "he says.

In many ways the Sierra Nevada has been very lucky with the Wiwa, a village with the mission of being the forest conservatives around it and repairing the damages that humans do everywhere. There are no large hotels, dams, or intensive mining projects here.

Edinson draws a hand drawn map. From the perspective of the Wiwa, the land is green and the virgin forest with monkeys in the trees. On the other hand, beyond Wiwa territory, it has marked deforested areas in brown and has labeled them "dead." It is not subtle, but it shows their purpose.

"We need to work now. The damage that can be perceived here we could see it in the Sierra Nevada. We have to take care of what is left."

Today we are in one of the new fields of the Wiwa on the hillside of the sierra, an area where farmers and indigenous communities live side by side.

In La Guajira, a desert province that has suffered years of drought, the Sierra Nevada offers the vital element for the region: water. But even here, on the edge of Wiwa territory, there is evidence of deforestation and, in some places, the rivers dry up.

"They took so much water from the river that in some parts it is dry," he says, explaining how the Wiwa believe that when the earth has been mistreated, water "hides." "How many types of animals are there in water? And the ones you can not see? What if the fish die? ".

Deforestation is a major problem in Colombia. While 52 percent of the country is covered by natural forests, according to the IDEAM, Government Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, unauthorized mining, drug cultivation, illegal logging and expansion of farmland have given Serious deforestation in recent years.

According to satellite data from the University of Maryland and once viewed on the Global Forest Watch forest monitoring platform, Colombia has lost about 2.8 million hectares, more than 3 percent of its tree cover between 2001 and 2014. In other words, a larger area of forest than the American state of Massachusetts was cleared in 14 years.

The Sierra Nevada extends to three of the northern departments of Colombia: Magdalena, Cesar and La Guajira, which are experiencing even higher rates of deforestation than the country as a whole. Together, the three departments lost nearly 8 percent of their tree cover from 2001 to 2014.
Considered by scientists as one of the most irreplaceable nature reserves in the world, the Sierra Nevada provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, many species are endemic, meaning that they are found nowhere else in the world.

Research indicates that only 15 percent of the original vegetation of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta remained in 2000, largely due to deforestation activities before it was considered an official protected area. While the park has experienced a much lower recent forest loss than the surrounding areas, it still lost about 1 percent of its forest cover between 2001 and 2014. The Wiwa believe that if they are better equipped they help protect what is left and not Are the only ones who think so.

The tribes of the area, descendants of the ancient Tayrona civilization, which existed until the 1600s, were never completely colonized by the Spaniards. For generations, they considered their isolation as their greatest strength, but over the years a progressive agricultural frontier has had an impact on their communities, as has the appropriation of illegal lands.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in recent years was Colombia's civil war. First, the "marijuana boom" occurred in the late 1970s when the FARC and other illegal armed groups forced many community members to leave their land. Then came the massacres and some members of the community fled to the cities, others up in the mountains.

However, a look at a map of the Indian reservation reveals its growth again. In small plots, the Wiwa and other indigenous groups have been reclaiming their ancestral lands, buying agricultural land from the areas they lost generations ago to gradually restore them to what they were.

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