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The Ecuadorian Amazon

Kichwas Celebrate New Reserve

By Kintto Lucas*

TENA, Ecuador - Indigenous Kichwas of the Napo and Orellana provinces of Ecuador's Amazon region applaud the declaration of the Sumaco Napo-Galeras Park as a World Biosphere Reserve, calling it a step toward the area's sustainable development.

A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaration made November 10 was announced in recent days in Tena, capital of Napo province.

The park is 931,215 hectares and some 80,000 people live in the surrounding area, 70 percent of who are of Kichwa origin and 30 percent are tenant farmers.

They are rural peasants who live on subsistence-level agriculture, though they have also begun entering the market system for traditional products such as coffee, cacao and yucca.

For Antonio Aviles, a Kichwa resident of the area, the UNESCO decision is recognition of the need to preserve the environment and to "promote development that takes humans into account as holding the principal role in ecological conservation."

"We Indians have lived close to nature. The leaves, creatures, rivers are part of us, which is why we are asking the world to help us maintain this life - and this reserve is involving us in conservation efforts," said Aviles.

Engineer Hans Knoblauch, the principal advisor to the Gran Sumaco Project, maintains that the Biosphere Reserve concept seeks to balance the criteria for conserving nature and encouraging the sustainable human development of the region's peoples.

"It is based on the premise that no conservation activity can be successful if the population is suffering poverty," Knoblauch said. Environmentalists consider the Sumaco area to be of great ecological importance because it unites seven unique ecosystems in a relatively small space.

"Here it is still possible to find animals that do not exist in other areas in such great abundance, such as the jaguar and the masked anteater," Aviles pointed out.

More than 654 bird, 470 fish and 6,000 plant species have also been identified in the region.

According to the declaration, the National Park is the nucleus of protection for ecosystems and facilitates scientific research, while allowing some eco-tourism. The surrounding area "is considered a pillar of support for conserving the park, and the people living there will receive assistance for protecting the reserve and improving the use of their own lands, transforming them into guardians of nature while they pursue development," Knoblauch affirmed.

The declaration coincided with the Ibero-American Biosphere Reserve Network's launching of a campaign to protect the reserves existing throughout Latin America. "We want these areas to go beyond being managed solely as national parks and to instead involve the communities," explained Eduard Muller, head of the Network.

There are currently 391 biosphere reserves around the world, covering a total area of 260 million hectares.

* Kintto Lucas is an IPS correspondent.

Copyright © 2000 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados


A woman of the Ecuadorian Amazon. /Tierramérica
  A woman of the Ecuadorian Amazon. /Tierramérica