1 April, 2013

Indigenous families protect the biosphere reserve in Oxapampa

The Yánesha people protect native timber species endangered by illegal felling.

The Yánesha people protect native timber species endangered by illegal felling.

The inhabitants of the forest are those who take most care of it. As it represents their only living space and stock of resources within historical memory, the indigenous peoples are better than anyone when it comes to safeguarding the sustainable management of the forest. More than 30 Yánesha families have borne this out in their reforestation of 16 hectares in the Palcazú Valley in the Peruvian Selva Central.

Fortunato Paniagua was one of the first inhabitants of the native community of Nueva Esperanza, located within the Communal Yánesha Reserve. The majority of its founders come from Tsachopen, near Oxapampa, which they left in the 1970s owing to intense timber extraction activities started by invading migrants of Andean and Austro-German origins.

‘There used to be trees like ulcumano or diablo fuerte. These are no longer to be found; not one of these trees has been left standing.’ says Paniagua sadly. Behind the family dwelling, he has improvised a modest nursery where he is growing saplings of the tornillo tree one of the zone’s more highly prized timber trees.

Paniagua explained that the chamairo cedar as it is known to the Yánesha people, provides robust, highly commercial timber. ‘Timber extractors used to offer 6000 soles (2300 USD) for about 15 trees. However, as there are now very few of these trees left, the timber men don’t come any more, or they come in search of other less desirable and cheaper species.’ he says.

The inaccessibility of the area, a four-hour trek away, contributes in a certain way to the prevention of indiscriminate felling in communities such as Nueva Esperanza. From an elevated vantage point one can still enjoy the view of a leafy forest, something no longer possible within the communities closer to the highway.

Timber is the only source of income for these families who subsist on what they can produce in smallholdings and from raising small animals. ‘Our necessities force us to sell. Money is needed for education, clothing, and medicines. The only thing we have is our timber; I’ve done it myself, but knowing at the same time that I must also reforest.’ he says.

Paniagua realizes he will not witness the fruits of his efforts. ‘This is an investment for the future of my children. In 40 years they’re going to inherit this, they will be able to sell it and obtain some possessions. I sow this tree to avoid its disappearance and to enable my children to continue to do the same.’ he says thoughtfully.

This initiative is promoted by CHIRAPAQ Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru and the Federation of Native Yánesha Communities FECONAYA, in alliance with TEBTEBBA Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy, Research and Education and the Norwegian Agency for Development NORAD.

Jorge Colina, a young member of FECONAYA and reforestation manager for the zone, related how for many years there had been a conflict between the state, the National Institute of Natural Resources INRENA, and the Yánesha people to define clearly the geographical limits of Nueva Esperanza owing to its proximity to the Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park. ‘The legal authorization to fell 18000 board feet of timber is still pending.’ he comments.

This explains why FECONAYA also demands participation in the management of the Asháninka – Yánesha Biosphere Reserve in Oxapampa. ‘Perhaps they think we’re going to eliminate the protective forest, but that isn’t our intention.’ he wonders. The request of the Yánesha people is based on the firm belief that indigenous peoples should have the right to speak and vote on the management of the natural resources within their territories.

Colina explains that the object of reforesting in communities like Nueva Esperanza and Siete de Junio is to counter illicit felling and to guarantee that the next generation uses the trees in a sustainable manner ‘in addition to the fact that all of us might have to face the negative effects of climate change.’