Conservation in times of peace | WWF

Conservation in times of peace

Posted on
01 diciembre 2018
Country people who previously cleared the forest in Bajo Caguán, one of the territories occupied for decades by Colombia’s FARC guerilla in the buffer zone of Chiribiquete National Park, are now, with WWF’s support, becoming forest guardians. Who are they and what exactly do they do?
In 2018, Chiribiquete National Park, located in the heart of the Colombian Amazon, was declared a World Heritage Site and became one of the planet’s largest tropical rainforest national parks after a recent expansion that added more than 1.4 million hectares to its total area. WWF’s support in the process was crucial.
With almost 4.3 million hectares and a majestic landscape, Chiribiquete works as a powerful barrier against deforestation in the northern Amazon, is crucial for the survival of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and provides ecosystem services to neighboring indigenous and rural communities.

© Cesar David Martínez
Nevertheless, the challenges faced to ensure its conservation are enormous. The areas neighboring Chiribiquete in the Bajo Caguán were for many years the epicenter of the FARC guerilla and illicit crops. Following a historic peace agreement signed in 2016 by the Colombian government and the FARC, the region’s dynamics have shifted and cattle ranching has substituted coca farming as the main economic activity of its inhabitants.

Though Chiribiquete has remained up until now in an exceptional state of conservation due to its geographic isolation, limited access, and the permanence of ancestral cultural norms that have halted alterations or modifications in the area for centuries, the expansion of cattle ranching has brought new pressures and interests that involve intense threats in certain areas, some of them less than 20 kilometers away from the park’s border.

© Luis Barreto
That is why, besides supporting the park’s expansion, WWF has developed an initiative to help country people who previously grew coca or clean the forest as their livelihood become forest guardians reducing deforestation and fires in areas such as Bajo Caguán. The process takes place in different locations in the region, and men, women, and children participate voluntarily.
© Luis Barreto
The project, which has already formed 48 forest guardians, is based in Bajo Caguán, in Cartagena del Chairá, the municipality with the second highest rate of deforestation in Colombia – in 2017 alone, more than 26,632 hectares were cleared. These are some of the forest guardians who shared with us their stories of working to protect the Amazon and de Chiribiquete park:

Washintong Góngora

 © Luis Barreto
“I am a teacher at the only school in the Monserrate locality, and I can say that because I am one of the forest guardians, so are my students. In my classes I teach everything that I have learned throughout the process; and young people, who will make decisions in the future, are now much more aware of the wealth of their territory and the importance of protecting the jungle. The families of many of them work in cattle ranching and do not understand the impact they have on the amazon when they clear the forest, but their children now see things differently and know the true wealth of the region.
As I do with the other forest guardians, with students we monitor water sources, species, plants, and the loss of forest area and then we analyze the information during class time. It is great because they have found species that they didn’t know existed and are eager to conserve them. Thanks to this initiative, students are leaving the classroom and learning in a practical manner from their surroundings, which has really improved their performance. The impact is so large, that the government recently measured the quality of all of the country’s schools by testing students’ knowledge, and despite being one of the most isolated, our secondary school obtained the best score at the national level. I am proud of participating in this process and would like for many others to become forest guardians

Marcela Ramírez Muñoz ( right)

 © Luis Barreto
"I can say that I was one before and am another after the process. I live in Bajo Caguán and before joining the team of forest guardian the only thing I knew about my territory was my backyard. I would hear people talking in the radio about the wealth of the Amazon and the importance of nearby Chiribiquete National Park, but I did not understand what that meant. Thanks to the process and WWF’s support, it is now clear to me that we are part of the Amazon and that it is a privilege to become its guardians. This process has allowed women to adopt a much more active role in the community and become the voice that helps others understand that, being in the Amazon and so close to Chiribiquete National Park, we have unparalleled wealth and must take care of it.
I have really enjoyed being part of the forest guardians process because I have learned many things I didn’t know, like using a GPS, recognizing species, analyzing maps, and understanding the importance of maintaining the forest’s connectivity. Before I used to pay little attention to the forest and everything I have learned. I am a new person, and I cherish my territory. I wish that many other women could become forest guardians because it is a great experience.”

Fabián Romero

© Luis Barreto
I was born in Bajo Caguán and am 31 years old. Before being a forest guardian I did not know many things and was one of those who cleared the forest with a chainsaw. But now I know that in that forest there is water, marvelous species like the jaguar, medicinal trees; we cannot ruin that connectivity. Thanks to the process I now understand all of that, I appreciate what I have and prepare myself differently for the future. This territory is changing fast; before, people only grew coca and farmers only used a few hectares for their crops. With the fight against illicit crops came cattle ranching, which requires large areas, and therefore deforestation has increased. As forest guardians, we oversee the territory using tools like GPSs and cartography, and we use that information to help avoid deforestation. I believe that processes of this sort can create change, and I feel like a completely different person now. In our locality, a single farmer would clear 200 hectares in a year. Now, thanks to the process, only 40 hectares have been cleared in the entire community.
This process, supported by WWF shows how a tiny project can result in something as big as the conservation of 4.3 million hectares in the Amazon, which is the size of Chiribiquete National Park, the largest tropical rainforest National Park in the world”.

Miguel Pacheco, project coordinator.

© Luis Barreto

 “This process, supported by WWF shows how a tiny project can result in something as big as the conservation of 4.3 million hectares in the Amazon, which is the size of Chiribiquete National Park, the largest tropical rainforest National Park in the world”.

Key facts:
  • According to The Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies latest report, more than 60,000 hectares of rainforest were felled in 2017 in the Department of Caquetá, where the forest guardians work.
  • 48 people located in strategic locations currently form part of the forest guardian process.
  •  Increasing of deforestation in the Colombian amazon between 2016 and 2017:

How to reach Cartagena del Chairá?
Due to its geographic isolation, and having been under the FARC guerilla’s control for many years, it is not easy to reach Cartagena del Chairá and the localities where the forest guardian are. The people there don’t even have internet or phone signal. One must fly from Bogotá to Florencia, the nearest city and travel more than four hours on a dirt road to the municipality. There, one can take a boat that sometimes takes as long as five hours to arrive at its destination. This level of isolation has resulted in reduced government support, which is why the presence of organizations like WWF in the area is so important.

 About Chiribiquete
  •  This natural and cultural treasure is home to thousands of endemic and endangered species and contains the oldest and most impressive pictographic complex in America – with over 70,000 pictograms more than 20,000 years old.
  • Chiribiquete National Park is the only protected area in the world that simultaneously connects the Orinoco savannah, the Andes mountain range, the Guyana Shield, and the Amazon forest ecosystems and it constitutes an enclave with contrasting and complementary adjacent ecosystems.
  •  It is home to 30% of the ecosystems and flora of the Colombian Amazon, as well as 30% of the bat diversity and 10% of the country’s known butterfly diversity.