Field Work in the Rio Chambira, by Manuel Martín

Acabo de regresar de un viaje de campo a la cuenca baja y media del río Chambira. Si tuviera que poner una banda sonora a los recuerdos de mi viaje, sería sin duda triste y poco esperanzadora. La marginación y la pobreza real en la que viven las comunidades urarina de esta olvidada zona del departamento de Loreto son difícilmente descriptibles.

El viaje ha estado lleno de contrastes y sobresaltos. Por un lado, hemos sido testigos de las operaciones de la compañía PlusPetrol, que opera el oleoducto norperuano que atraviesa el territorio de varias comunidades urarina de la zona. Helicópteros, cuyo flete cuesta miles de dólares, sobrevolando comunidades que no tienen acceso al agua, ni sistemas adecuados de saneamiento, ni escuelas o alguna infraestructura que les permita tener una educación pertinente y una buena calidad de vida.

Dos de las comunidades con las que trabajamos, decidieron abandonar sus asentamientos tradicionales para acercarse más a la orilla del río Chambira. Muchos dicen que para facilitar los proyectos de desarrollo con los que la empresa petrolera los seduce de manera permanente, con el beneplácito, por supuesto, de asesores externos de las comunidades y silencio absoluto de federaciones e instituciones que deberían defender los derechos básicos de estas comunidades. La negociación de la empresa con las comunidades por el derecho de servidumbre siempre se realiza de forma privada, legalmente, según el ordenamiento jurídico del país.

El oleoducto norperuano se rompe a pedazos. Tuvimos la oportunidad de visitar un derrame producido el año 2014, que nunca fue informado y, por lo tanto, tuvo una remediación tipo maquillaje. El crudo ha penetrado los suelos inundables donde estas comunidades se han asentado. Con cada crecida del río el petróleo accede a las cochas y los ríos. La gente ingiere agua y come peces contaminados. 

Solo cuando se convive con los urarina, se consume el agua que ellos beben, se comen los pescados que ellos pescan, se entiende la situación en la que viven todas estas comunidades. Los derrames seguirán (a pesar de las promesas de sustitución de los tubos) y la situación será cada día más crítica.

¿A quién le importa la vida o la muerte de pueblos que no hablan nuestra lengua? A mí me importa y es por este motivo que escribo estas líneas. Algunos asesores dicen que la decisión es siempre tomada libremente por las comunidades. ¿Si vieran que su vecino pretende saltar del tercer piso de su vivienda, no harían nada por evitarlo? El dinero corrompe terriblemente, compra voluntades y borra la capacidad de mirar al futuro. La situación es crítica, es preciso hacer algo. Basta de entregar dinero a las comunidades y prometer proyectos que no sirven para nada. Intentemos mejorar la calidad de vida de las comunidades generando capacidades en los jóvenes, fortaleciendo la identidad, recuperando las reivindicaciones tradicionales en los procesos de diálogo. Basta de seducir con dinero a las comunidades. Basta de ejecutar proyectos inadecuados para lavar nuestras consciencias. Realicemos un diagnóstico participativo con cada comunidad, entendamos su realidad, convivamos con ellas, aseguremos el futuro de los niños y niñas urarina que viven en el Chambira.

  • Manolo Martín

Fieldwork in Veinte de Enero, by Dael Sassoon

Dael tries out the method for measuring hydraulic conductivity (honest). 

The 4th of May marked the beginning of fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon for many of us. In the first week of our trip, it was a pleasure to spend time with the researchers from IIAP organising logistics and discussing fieldwork plans. After a week of method trialling and eating delicious Loretan dishes, we set off to the small community of Veinte de Enero to begin our research. The many ongoing projects, ranging from understanding the uses of the palm swamps (‘aguajales’) to the diversity and structure of the forest, created a stimulating and fun environment which allowed us to bond as a team and support each other in the challenges of fieldwork. Trekking through the sinking ground (‘chupaderas’) of the palm swamps and open peatlands was a testing yet memorable experience, often involving insect bites, wet boots and tripping over roots and vines. The help of the field assistants was indispensable to carry out our fieldwork safely and successfully. It was great fun to spend time with them as we recorded data in the forest, as well as getting to know them over a fresh beer at the village’s shop after a day of hard work. I am missing Peru now, but looking forward to start looking at my results and begin planning my next trip. A great ¡buena suerte! to everyone that is still in the field, and hope to meet the team again soon to hear all about their trip to Chambira.

A visit to the Urarina in the Chambira basin, by Luis Andueza

Photos: the new settlement of Nueva Union (top) and Nueva Pandora (below).

During the last weeks of February and the first weeks of March a team of 7 people from different institutions—including the University of St Andrews, IIAP, the Universidad Católica de Lima, and the Ministry of Culture—made a 10 day visit to the Chambira river basin. For the St Andrews team, the aim was that of presenting the ‘Valuing Tropical Peatlands’ project proposal to the communities we would potentially be working with, asking whether they were interested in participating, and of getting a better sense of the changing situation in the area. We were specially concerned about the community of Nueva Unión, with whom some in the team had worked before, and whom we had heard had resettled from its original location on one of the small tributaries of the Chambira, to the now flooded banks of the Chambira river itself. The trip was very enlightening as it gave us a clearer sense of the sort of transformations and pressures Urarina communities and their territories are currently facing, and allowed us to continue to develop the project’s initial approach and research questions—related to the cultural values and meanings of peatlands—through an ongoing dialogue with local experiences and concerns. Of particular relevance were those issues related to the operation of oil companies in the area, and how these articulate both with rapid changes in indigenous economies, and with long-standing Urarina strategies in relating to national society, extractive capital, and the Peruvian state. The process of resettlement had been part of this situation, as, according to local accounts, it responded to local negotiations with PlusPetrol, the company operating the area.

We also got to visit communities along the Tigrillo river, a tributary of the Chambira. Among these, was the community of Nuevo Pandora, to whom we presented our project, and manifested their interest in participating.

In general, what became clear, is that the changing local relations to the landscape, and to peatlands in particular, must be understood in the fraught context of racialised strategies of extraction, and indigenous strategies of adaptation and resistance. In this context, this project can contribute to make local relations, values, and meanings attached the landscape more visible in novel ways—something which can hopefully aid local efforts to defend of indigenous territories and ways of life in a context of rapid and uneven social and ecological transformations.

Luis Andueza, March 2019

Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands: Leverhulme project meeting 1

The Leverhulme project team met in St Andrews 1st – 4th April for the first planning meeting of the project. Although we’ve been emailing, and Skyping, and meeting to discuss project plans since January, this was the first time all of us (with only a couple of exceptions) met together in person. Manuel Martin Branas, Cecelia Ninez Perez and Euridice Honorio Coronado joined us from IIAP in Iquitos, Peru. It was great to have other Tropical Wetlands Consortium members Donna Hawthorne, Adam Hastie, Dael Sasson, Anna Macphie, Gabriel Hidalgo, at the meeting too; thanks to everyone for coming aong and participating with such enthusiasm. A day in the field, learning about UK peatlands and trying out some of the methods which will be used in Peru, was a welcome break from two and a half days of intense discussion in wood-panelled meeting rooms. We look forward to meeting again in Iquitos in May to begin the fieldwork in earnest.

 

 

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IIAP hosts stakeholder workshop on Peruvian peatlands

On 4th September 2018 the Tropical Wetlands Consortium (TWC) hosted a one-day stakeholder workshop, “Ecology, uses and management of wetlands and peatlands in Peruvian Amazonia”, at the Institute for Research in the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) in Iquitos, Peru.

Organisers and some of the participants of the stakeholder workshop pose after the day-long meeting at IIAP, Iquitos

The aim of the workshop was to provide an opportunity for members of the TWC to present the latest research on peatlands and wetlands in the Pastaza-Marañón region and discuss with stakeholders avenues for future collaboration in the management and conservation of these environments. The wetlands and peatlands of Peru store large amounts of carbon, are economically important to local people and host unique biodiversity.

The workshop was timely as peatlands and wetlands are emerging as a conservation priority, being written into international policy instruments (such as the criteria for RAMSAR site eligibility) and attracting the interest of international donors.

The day began with an overview of peatlands and their importance, and of the latest research presented by members of the TWC (Dr Dennis del Castillo, Dr Euridice Honorio and Jhon Del Aguila of IIAP, and Dr Katy Roucoux of the University of St Andrews) with opportunities for questions and discussion. This was followed by presentations by most of the stakeholders about the work of their organisation. In the afternoon, the discussion was focused around the needs of stakeholders (what can researchers offer to support their work?) and the possibility of future collaborations to expand conservation and management efforts.

The workshop was funded by NERC, the Scottish Funding Council, and the University of St Andrews.

On the 3rd August, we had a research catch-up meeting, with a marvellous lunch.

New postdoctoral research vacancies at the University of St Andrews

We are pleased to announce three vacancies for postdoctoral research fellows, based at the University of St Andrews, to work on newly-funded projects about tropical peatlands. For further information about the posts and how to apply, please follow the link below (and narrow the search by “School of Geography and Sustainable Development.”

http://www.vacancies.st-andrews.ac.uk/LoginV2.aspx?enc=vDVLPY6BrOnmx9szwB5icMU/Bp97ap1BlI/jb0LhRYVeoh/cn5bYgvW+9EbbSw7a

One of the posts is to work on the CongoPeat project, a NERC-funded Large Grant which will study the newly-described peatlands of the Congo Basin, Africa. This three-year PDRA position will focus on researching the long-term ecology of the Congo Basin peatlands (see the link for details).

Two of the posts are to work on the Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project will investigate the ecology and socio-cultural value of peatlands; one of the posts is for a social scientist, the other for an ecologist (see the link for details). One further post associated with this project (in remote sensing) is currently being advertised at the University of Edinburgh.

New project to investigate the human dimension of Peruvian peatlands

We are pleased to announce the start of a new project at St Andrews entitled “Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands”, funded by the Scottish Funding Council (ODA). The project takes the interests of the interests of the Tropical Wetland Consortium in a new, interdisciplinary direction – aiming to improve our understanding of how people use and value peatlands in the Pastaza-Maranon Foreland Basin of Peru. We welcome Dr Christopher Schulz, the postdoctoral research assistant for the project. Over the coming months he will work closely with colleagues at the Instituto de Investigacion de la Amazonia Peruana and local people (including indigenous communities) in two peatland areas to begin investigating the human dimensions of these carbon-dense ecosystems.

Carbon stock estimates underpin major new conservation project in Peru

Our work has been used to provide the science basis – the carbon stock estimates (Draper et al. 2014) – for a major new $6 million conservation project in Peru. This is the first conservation project to be funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the major international funding mechanism that has been created to fund mitigation and adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

The full implementation of the Green Climate Fund  – intended to transfer funds of 100 billion dollars annually from developed to developing countries – is a major component of the UNFCCC negotiations that will be held in Paris over the next two weeks. The fund remains a contentious issue, as it touches on a key area of discord between nations: how countries that have contributed most to causing climate change, should compensate the nations that have contributed little, but will suffer the most. We are pleased that our science underpins the very first project to be approved by this fund, and is thereby helping the GCF to be seen as a credible and effective way of funding adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and support the emergence of a strong, effective and globally-binding deal during COP21 in Paris over the next two weeks.

The $6 million investment in conservation is an innovative project that will promote and develop sustainable ‘bio-businesses’  run by a range of indigenous communities in the Pastaza and Morona rivers of the northern Peruvian Amazon. These businesses will increase the incomes of these communities based on sustainable harvesting of the forest products such as palm fruit, and ensure that the extensive peatlands in this region are not degraded. As a result, the large carbon stores in this ecosystems will remain in the ground, as peat.

To read more about the GCF, see http://www.greenclimate.fund/home. The project we are associated with is the first of the eight projects accepted in the first tranche of funding and is called ‘Building resilience of wetlands in the province of Datem del Maranon’.