Many nomadic communities live in Peru’s Amazon rainforest and more than half of the world’s uncontacted tribes reside in the same lively forest near the Peru-Brazil border. However, illegal logging in Peru poses a devastating threat to tribes’ survival. Not only do contractors expose members of these tribes to fatal illnesses, they purposely undermine the real value of trees to create illegal scams. The education of indigenous communities has become the most effective deterrence against illegal logging, and innovative tools such as the Peruvian “Forest Backpack” is actively teaching local leaders how to detect and avoid scams.
Illegal Logging and its Effect on Amazonian Communities
In the Amazon rainforest, the main cause of forest and village degradation is illegal logging. The prevalence of illegal logging poses harsh consequences on Amazonian communities, as it can destroy many homes in the process.
In 2012, the World Bank reported that close to 80% of Peru’s logging exports were the result of illegal logging practices, in which timbermen forge documents to appear professional.
As illegal logging in Peru continues, it endangered the homes and livelihoods of Peruvian indigenous peoples. Since many communities sell their wood for prices that are not fair, the community loses out on opportunities for growth and improvement of living conditions.
With an already high poverty rate of 70% among indigenous Peruvian communities, illegal loggers take away from their potential prosperity. Countless villages are forced to flee to towns in fear of illegal loggers, putting them at risk for an illness they have never been exposed to before as well as erasing the traces of their previous tribal life, according to Reuters.
Peruvian communities who fall victim to illegal logging face many difficulties with the government’s recognition. Since many of these communities do not appear on maps, lack official acknowledgment and instead must rely on the federations that represent them. Without the government’s affirmation, localities do not have legal protection.
Violence often follows deforestation, putting communities in direct danger and bringing disastrous ramifications. Edwin Chota was the leader of the Alto Tamaya-Saweto in the Ucayali region of the Amazon. Illegal loggers killed him after a long campaign with his community to gain the titles to their own land, The Guardian reports. Villagers embarked on a six-day river journey to report the atrocity, highlighting the struggle locals go through to gain access to law enforcement.
The Forest Backpack
In 2015, OSINFOR, the Peruvian agency that oversees the precious resources of the Amazon, began developing innovative solutions to prevent the further exploitation of indigenous communities. OSINFOR has received help from both USAID and the U.S. Forest Service in the training of community members, all using one simple, unassuming tool: a backpack.
Within the Forest Backpack are tool kits and laminated images that can be used to instruct others as well as measure the value of a given tree. Since 2019, OSINFOR has distributed these backpacks to indigenous communities where illegal logging hit the hardest.
Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to timber traders’ deception for multiple reasons, such as language barriers and lack of educational tools. OSINFOR focuses on speaking to communities in their own language and teaching leaders how to use the backpack’s indispensable tools, according to Medium.
To complement the fair selling of trees, these Peruvians are also harvesting seeds to plant the next generation of trees to become more sustainable. The growing accessibility of forest assessment tools and OSINFOR’s and USAID’s cooperation with underserved indigenous communities will eliminate illegal logging in Peru as well as improve quality of life.
In the words of Isideo Ruiz Apu, the leader of the Huitoto community of Pacuarquillo, “The forest is our market, our hospital, our bank; through the forest, we sustain our households and get what we need,” Medium reports.
– Caroline Zientek