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MRG at COP26: Community-based forest monitoring and territorial defence in action

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Lara Domínguez, our Head of Litigation, is writing from a side event on community-based forest monitoring in Peru´s Madre de Dios Forest as an effective model for tackling illegal mining and logging on indigenous territories. The event held during the UN Climate Conference (COP26) currently taking place in Glasgow was hosted by the Federación Nativa del Río Madre de Dios y Afluentes (FENAMAD) and showcased the work the organization has been undertaking with the support of Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK).

In the past 5 years, illegal mining has destroyed more than 37,500 hectares of the Madre de Dios Forest without seeking the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples who have been living there since time immemorial, including the Amahuaca, Kichwa Runa, Shipibo, Ese Ejas, Harabut, Matsigenka and Yine peoples.

Eighteen collectively owned indigenous territories within Madre de Dios Forest, comprising a surface of 299,032 hectares, are currently being safeguarded by indigenous communities. Community members do so by using satellite links and drones to monitor illegal deforestation in real time.

‘We are doing this for the global good because our forests in the Amazon give life to the world’ said Segundo Laureano Gomes, indigenous environmental rights defender and the Vice President of FENAMAD.

FENAMAD is a regional organization representing 37 communities in the department of Madre de Dios, which are grouped into seven distinct indigenous peoples. For 39 years they have struggled to defend their land and resource rights in the Peruvian Amazon.

A member of the Executive Committee of the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP) added that ‘it is time for state institutions to support us’. As information is being transmitted to relevant authorities in real time, effective mechanisms should be in place to put a stop to illegal exploitation of resources.

The indigenous communities hope to implement the early warning system they have put in place in Madre de Dios Forest in the nine countries that are part of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

Gold mining activities, hydrocarbon exploitation, illegal timber trading and poorly designed infrastructure projects cause intense deforestation, soil, air and water contamination, and overall ecosystem degradation. In 2017-2018 alone, illegal mining caused 18,440 hectares of deforestation in Madre de Dios, Cusco and Puno, gravely impacting indigenous communities.

Indigenous peoples in the Madre de Dios Forest are using traditional knowledge alongside technology to safeguard their forests against corporations driven by short-term profits over long-term sustainability. They have made important contributions to protect the forest, which is the spiritual place of their peoples, and their peoples’ history and knowledge, as well as a fundamental source of food, utensils, medicine and resources.

This side event was one among many at COP26 showcasing how indigenous peoples are continuing to take the initiative to safeguard their territories in very challenging conditions. States must now adopt the necessary mechanisms in law and policy to effectively support indigenous peoples, providing them with the funds, resources and institutional support necessary to fight against illegal encroachments which are devastating to both people and the environment.

Photo: Segundo Laureano Gomes, indigenous environmental rights defender and the Vice President of FENAMAD, speaking during the COP26 side event. Credit: Lara Domínguez/MRG

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