Indigenous peoples protect the rainforest with hi-tech tools | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 10.08.2009

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Indigenous peoples protect the rainforest with hi-tech tools

Illegal logging is a threat to the rainforests of Peru. But the indigenous communities are using both ancient knowledge and modern technology to protect biodiversity and stop further destruction.

Moises and Benki Piyako in Brazilian dress in front of the German parliament building, the Reichstag

Moises and Benki Piyako campaign for the rights of of their community

The lush green of the rain forest offers rich natural resources which the Ashaninka Indians have lived on for centuries. At the Yoreka Atame school of primeval forestry in Brazil, young indigenous and non-indigenous people have been learning how to make use of them in a sustainable way.

Since 2007, the school has taught more than 2,000 participants skills like the cultivating fruit trees, keeping bees, and erecting dams in creeks and lakes to enhance spawning grounds for fish.

Young people look at little plant together

Cultivating traditional plants is part of the curriculum

"That's how we Ashaninka Indians here in the border region between Brazil and Peru want to pass on our traditional knowledge," said Moises Piyako. He cofounded the Yoreka Atame school together with his brother Benki in 2007.

Illegal logging threatens biodiversity

Political problems between Brazil and its neighbor Peru make life complicated for the indigenous people in the border region.

"We are suffering from Peruvian logging companies, and now the Peruvian government also wants to dig for oil along the border," said Moises Piyako.

Illegal timber-fellers from Peru are increasingly encroaching on the rainforest on both sides of the border.

The land and its resources belong to the Ashaninka, according to the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169 adopted by the International Labour Organisation, ILO. It recognizes the rights of ownership of the peoples over the lands which they traditionally occupy. But Peru has been trying to circumnavigate international law by granting mining concessions for areas that are owned by indigenous peoples.

Ashaninka woman at campfire in the rainforest

The Ashaninka live in the border region between Brazil and Peru

"In the process, Peruvian timber companies even illegally enter Brazilian territory," said Ashaninka spokesman Benki Piyako. "Illegal logging is putting our whole region and its biodiversity at risk."

The invasion of Ashaninka rainforests by illegal loggers started in 2001 with a company called Forestal Venao, which is owned by the daughter of the former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori. He was recently put on trial for corruption and has already been convicted to 25 years in prison for severe human rights violations and killing opposition politicians.

His daughter, Keiko Fujimori, has announced her candidacy for the presidency as well as her aim to officially pardon her father should she come to power. Her political campaign is partially funded by the earnings from her timber company.

Demand for a ban

River and rainforest

Illegal logging damages the rainforest

To prevent Forestal Venao from wreaking further havoc on Brazilian territory, Benki and Moises Piyako demand a world-wide ban on imports of wood illegally felled in rainforests.

"There are only a few specimen left of many of the tree species, and we are trying to recultivate these economic plants," they said, adding that there is a lack of understanding for the importance of managing resources sustainably.

"We must make sure that our natural resources are not destroyed in the struggle for survival."

In their fight for environmental protection, the Ashaninka combine traditional knowledge and modern technology. Some remote communities have already set up satellite-supported communication systems in the rainforest. By checking satellite photographs on a computer, the communities can monitor illegal logging activities or the illegal construction of roads in their region.

"We install this monitoring system, and we teach the local people how to operate the GPS technology," said Benki Piyako.

Hi-tech to protect the rainforest

Young people planting trees in the rainforest

CO2 certificates pay for recultivation efforts

In addition, Benki Piyako and his village of Apiwtxa have set up a video blog on life in the rainforest. There, they also post satellite photos that document how illegal logging is devastating huge areas. It is their aim to teach people how the forest and its resources can be used without destroying them. And they also want to set up a global network supporting the protection of their region.

Modern tools are also employed when it comes to environmental protection. The indigenous organization in Apiwtxa sells CO2 certificates, and the Ashaninka also offer them to companies that want to support the protection of the rainforest. Several international rock bands have already planted new trees in the rainforest to compensate for the energy consumption during their concerts.

Report: Jutta Schwengsbier (ara)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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