COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION
Helping native communities and rural mestizo populations identify and implement their own long-term, sustainable development needs, with an eye to safeguarding livelihoods, cultures, and biodiversity
Indigenous or native Amerindian communities control 200,000 hectares (300,000 acres) of humid lowland rainforest in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, over 95% of which is still intact, old-growth forest, and thus very species rich. These communities encompass 6 ethnic groups (Ese'eja, Yine, Amahuaca, Matsiguenka, Harakmbut, and Huachipaeri), each with their own language and customs, and members of each community decide as a group, i.e. collectively, how to manage their land. Rural mestizo communities, or agricultural associations as they are referred to locally, are dominated by private land-owning families who have migrated to this region from other areas in Peru, and control 200,000 hectares (300,000 acres) of land, although remaining forest cover, in their case, accounts for only 30% on average.
Private land ownership in combination with market forces and the demand for timber, beef and other agricultural products, including economic incentives introduced by governments in the past, has driven considerable forest conversion on immigrant land over the last 40 years. Native communities are not immune to these same forces, and there is the potential that community forests in the near future could be similarly converted or severely degraded as native populations increase, as they begin to integrate more fully within the market economy, and as they begin to wish for lifestyles more akin to those of immigrant communities nearby.
However, by cultivating and celebrating strong identities and by understanding individual and collective needs and wants, in conjunction with robust planning and long-term implementation of natural resource use strategies and green businesses rooted in sustainability thinking and the triple bottom line (i.e. social, environmental, and financial accounting), including the implementation of environmental education activities across the board, then native communities should be able to develop as far as they want without compromising their forests, their natural legacy.
Mestizo or immigrant communities can similarly benefit by pivoting towards a healthier mix of sustainable economic activities that bring wealth while maintaining and even restoring or regenerating their once impressive forests.
Environmental education will need to permeate many aspects of native and immigrant community life, for sustainability thinking to cement itself in local societies and for people to recognise the benefits that such thinking can bring.