In Covid- 19 times, community leaders keep working to conserve the Amazon | WWF

In Covid- 19 times, community leaders keep working to conserve the Amazon

Posted on
01 julio 2020
While the world is paralyzed by Covid-19, the group of environmental monitors "Friends of the Forest" has resumed its work to prevent wildfires around the Chiribiquete National Park, one of the Colombian Amazon most threatened areas by deforestation.

During the dry season, which occurs every year between October and April, fires return, and with them, the risk of losing thousands of hectares in the Colombian Amazon. Every year the fire threatens strategic areas such as the Chiribiquete National Park and its surroundings.

Therefore, each day of confinement, due to Covid-19, was delaying the preparation process of the Environmental Monitors, the team of local leaders that has been working to prevent deforestation and promote sustainable and alternative livelihoods in the municipality of Calamar, Guaviare, near Chiribiquete.

Home-office does not exist in the jungle and land grabbers and deforesters are not in quarantine. That is why, after evaluating all the risks that organizing any activity in this circumstances implied, and following a strict biosecurity protocol to prevent the spread of the virus among the attendees, the explorers team, supported by WWF, the Vision Amazon program and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, returned to the forest to continue their learning process.

For three days, ten monitors from the Coagroitilla cooperative (Cooperativa Multiactiva Agroforestal del Itilla in Spanish) were able to attend a training session on forest fire prevention given by the Calamar municipality fire department. How did they make it while coronavirus is still around? It was a big challenge, because by that time, there were already some Covid-19 cases in San Jose del Guaviare, the main city of this region, which is four hours away from the place where the explorers live and where they were going to be trained.

Considering this, WWF and the fire department designed a strict protocol during the activity. Previously, the two firefighters who led the working day, disinfected the house where the monitors would learn and sleep. And,  during the rest of the day, social distancing and hygiene practices were essential: only thirteen attendees in total, 6 feet distance between each one of them, hand washing before starting each activity, personal pandemic kit with face masks, alcohol, antibacterial gel and protective glasses, and periodic temperature taking, were some of the measures that were taken.

For the monitors, the training represented the opportunity to continue their work, and for the fire department it is a lifesaver for future emergencies, since they usually take two hours to reach the areas where these peasants live and where wildfires often occur. "If we can count on people who know the territory and teach them how to respond quickly to fires, we can save many more hectares than we have saved so far," says John Perdomo, head of the municipal fire department and one of the firefighters that lead the activity.

Therefore, projects like this one are crucial to protect the environment. They give local leaders more information to manage forest resources in a sustainable way and to find sustainable sources of income related to conservation.

Now that they are trained in wildfires prevention, monitors feel more ready to raise awareness among the population about the risks that the forest faces in the fire season in mid-December. Something they will surely do before the fire arrives.
The process
Since 2017, WWF, with the support of the program Vision Amazonia and Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, has undertaken the task of training local community leaders in Caqueta and Guaviare - two of the most deforested regions in Colombia - to promote sustainable forest management.
The strategy has been carried out through talks, voluntary training, and fieldwork where men, women, and children from the different communities that inhabit these high deforestation areas better understand the natural resources of the ecosystem in which they live. Additionally, they record them, and collect information that will help them protect and restore their forests, as well as make decisions focused on the sustainable economic use of the forest.
So far, 75 peasants who previously cut the forest to install livestock or agricultural crops, have become guardians of the Amazon forest and are replicating their message.
A treasure endangered
The indiscriminate cutting of forest and its subsequent burning for extensive ranching is one of the main drivers of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon, as well as one of the causes of wildfires. In the areas surrounding Chiribiquete, there is one head of cattle on each hectare, a trend that leads farmers to deforest more land to raise cattle on a large scale.

Furthermore, due to the low prices of land in this region, many landowners from other parts of Colombia have come to buy large tracts of land and dedicate it to this same activity, without considering the damage they do to the ecosystem: “while locals have not deforested even 50% of their property, those who come from abroad have the money to knock down up to 100 hectares in a single year ”, says Jehison Bohorquez, a 21-year-old man who belongs to the “Friends of the Forest” group.