Empower Local Communities
Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. – Aldo Leopold
Indigenous empowerment is fundamental to community-based conservation. This applies to “indigenous” in the strict sense of communities with native American culture and identities, but also in a broader sense to rural communities rooted, usually for generations, in the areas where the survival of neighboring wild habitats is at stake.
For an agricultural community, having an assured ”place” is central to survival. FCT prioritizes supporting productivity in situ as a fundamental way to empower local communities, enabling their wellbeing and security. For this reason, FCT partners with farmers to improve pasture productivity, establish woodlots and tree boundary lines as sources of wood, generate fodder for cattle within silvopastoral programs, and use forestation to stabilize stream banks.
Members of the Colepato indigenous cooperative listen to an FCT presentation on human-bear conflicts.
Anjichu Tenelema attends to his cattle in the páramo. With technical assistance and selected inputs, milk and meat production can rise dramatically for frontier residents, thus saving native vegetation from conversion.
The environmental consequences of productivity and tenure stability are positive:
• Farmers are more forward thinking related to their land, and are willing to take steps to avoid erosion and invest in the long-term fertility and ecological health of their soils.
• They see value in planting trees because they expect that they or their children will enjoy the eventual benefits.
• They preserve their headland forests and páramos because these will be eternal sources of water.
• They see not only the short-term utility of their land, but its profound and lasting service to their wellbeing.
Bulls pull a traditional Spanish plow, centuries after it was introduced to the Andes.
Empowerment begins with the family and extends to the community. For this reason, FCT involves local residents and their representatives in all of its capacity-building initiatives. Education—environmental, productive, organizational—is a common thread.
Community children enjoy looking at wildlife photos captured from camera traps.
Community Empowerment Initiatives of note
Two initiatives of recent years merit special mention: the creation of a community park guard association; and a consultation with the Huangra community regarding their needs, in conjunction with the opening of an ecological roadway to their isolated community within Sangay National Park.
Community Environmental Promoters
In 2009, FCT conceptualized and established a program of “community environmental promoters,” originally designated as “community park guards.” These were local young residents of the southern Sangay National Park region who were given training in biological monitoring, environmental education, and community development. Their mission was to establish a presence for the Ministry of the Environment in areas beyond the reach of roads, but where legal in-holders in Sangay NP practiced agriculture and grazing. Their strategies were outreach and education, and because they were members of the local community, their enthusiasm for the natural environment and its conservation were more easily communicated to their peers.
The program was so successful that in 2011 the national electric company, CELEC (via its local unit, HidroPaute) organized the promoters as a formal enterprise called CUTIN (taking the name of a local frog species) and assumed the operational costs. CELEC supports watershed conservation because it safeguards the quality and volume of the water received downstream and used in hydroelectric production. CUTIN scaled up its activities to include reforestation, camera trapping, erosion control, silvopastoral programs, and a variety of environmental
CUTIN members prepare a presentation on animal tracking for schoolchildren.
CUTIN environmental promoters and a representative from the Ministry of the Environment were invited by CELEC to visit the Paute River hydroelectric facility.
education initiatives in local primary schools. The formation of community promoters is essentially an effort to replace external conservation advocates with supporters from within the community. And CUTIN is also explicitly an effort to incorporate conservation into the family’s panorama of income sources.
Support for the Ecological Roadway to the Community of Huangra
A Quichua-speaking community located in the mountains of southern Sangay National Park had sought the construction of a road between their isolated village and the nearest road network—about a seven-hour horse ride away. But the Ministry of the Environment (MAE), which issues environmental licenses for infrastructure projects, denied the request in compliance with standing national park policy. Meanwhile, in the community, MAE and Sangay authorities were cast as the enemy, and relations soured.
The Hunagra road under construction.
After a decade of entreaties from the community, and subject to political pressure of other institutions within the government, in 2017 MAE acquiesced and issued the required environmental license. But this license was given on one condition: that the road be “green” and, specifically, that it not be used to exploit forests and other natural resources, but rather serve the community’s development.
Given Huangra’s strained relation with MAE, FCT offered to mediate and develop a management plan that would systemize the community’s requirements for health services, education,
basic services and agricultural extension. A native-born Ecuadorian, Edwin García, who had graduated from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale, was chosen to consult the community and create the plan. For its part, MAE contracted a study of the environmental protections needed for the new road. Combining the FCT report on the collective needs of Huangra with the conservation agreement accepted by the community, construction of the road proceeded, and a shared future was forged.