Putumayo Has New Indigenous Leaders to Protect the Territory | WWF
Putumayo Has New Indigenous Leaders to Protect the Territory

Posted on 22 abril 2021

27 people from the Kichwa, Camëntsä, Inga, Quillasinga, and Siona ethnic groups were trained to become new indigenous leaders. They are the second cohort of the Indigenous Territorial Governance Training Program.
27 people from the Kichwa, Camëntsä, Inga, Quillasinga, and Siona ethnic groups were trained to become new indigenous leaders. They are the second cohort of the Indigenous Territorial Governance Training Program.

Working for conservation has never been an easy task, let alone in the context of a pandemic like the one the world has lived this past year. Notwithstanding the difficulties in traveling to territories and meeting with communities during the emergency, 27 people from seven indigenous communities in Putumayo graduated this week from the Indigenous Territorial Governance Program (PFGTI, for its acronym in Spanish), becoming the second cohort of an initiative that since 2017 seeks to strengthen the capacities that these communities have to manage and take care of their own territories.

Thanks to this program—organized by the Putumayo Indigenous Zonal Organization (OZIP), the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC), the Putumayo Institute of Technology (ITP), and WWF Colombia—participants strengthened their knowledge on issues such as climate change, conservation, economic sovereignty, communication, and public policies. In addition, they built joint tools to continue conserving unique elements of their culture, such as spirituality and ancestral knowledge. The program is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) through Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NIFCI).

Agripina Garreta, indigenous leader and PFGTI consultant for WWF Colombia, explains, "these kinds of initiatives are of great help to our indigenous communities because they allow us to strengthen ourselves as peoples and to enhance the protection of our territories. We can thus continue to take care of our lands, which are the very life of our peoples, and to continue defending Mother Nature, on which we—and the rest of humanity—depend. Without her, there would be no life on the planet."

Precisely, this close link between nature and communities was the main focus of this year's Training Program. Irene Lara de la Rosa, Governance and Capacity Building Officer at WWF Colombia and one of the technicians in charge of the process, explains that the exercise is extremely important considering that Putumayo is one of Colombia’s most threatened departments. It has high rates of deforestation and serious social issues caused by armed conflict. According to the latest annual report of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), Putumayo—which lost 10,759 hectares in 2019—was the sixth most deforested department in the country that year.

A Training Program in a Pandemic

The first three PFGTI meetings were conducted in person. After the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic and following a thorough assessment of the context of students, the program’s organizing team decided to continue the trainings through virtual meetings with communities. They used tools such as a virtual guide, a local radio program to discuss the program’s topics with indigenous and non-indigenous experts, and a WhatsApp group to answer specific questions and send additional material.

Though it was a great challenge for communities and the program’s developers at first, their capacity to adapt has been one of the main achievements of the training program. Sineida Viveros, one of the leaders of the Inga Condagua community and a participant in the Training Program, recalls, "Several participants like me were unfamiliar with this type of technology, since we, as indigenous communities, are not accustomed to using them. But with the outbreak of the pandemic, we saw that they were necessary. Thus, with support from teachers and young instructors, we were able to adapt to these technologies and complete the process."

Another benefit that has resulted from this process is evidenced in stronger intergenerational and inter-ethnic bonds. After multiple meetings and group projects, young and elder people from different indigenous ethnic groups created bonds that did not exist before. "Today, people who were previously unacquainted help each other out. They support and watch out for one another, which strengthens indigenous governance in the territory in a collective and community-oriented way," explains Irene Lara de la Rosa.

The results of this process have encouraged further program planning for new cohorts in the Amazon region: a first cohort led by OPIAC in the department of Guaviare and a third one in Putumayo that would begin in late August. The team also hopes to train future cohorts in Ecuador, Brazil, and Peru, the other three countries where this initiative is taking place with support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), Forest Trends, WWF, and indigenous organizations in each of these countries
Participantes de la segunda promoción del Programa de Formación en Gobernanza Territorial Indígena.
© Verónica Téllez/WWF Colombia
Participantes de la segunda promoción de PFGTI
© Miller Pinta/WWF Colombia