Interviewed by Melissa Normann, Rainforest Alliance
“ICAA supports the very people and organizations and governments in the region who ultimately will decide the future of the Amazon.”
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) created the five-year (2006-2011) Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon (ICAA) to build constituencies and support policies that foster sustainable natural resource management in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. The Initiative brings together 20 public and private organizations working within four collaborative “consortia” or coalitions that are working to build capacity, empower local communities, and promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource management activities across national boundaries. We talked with Connie Campbell, Amazon Conservation Coordinator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Julie Kunen, Forestry Advisor, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, about the Initiative’s goals, challenges, and successes during its first three years.
Question: What motivated USAID to support the conservation of the Andean Amazon?
Campbell: Because of strong interest from the American public to support Amazonian conservation efforts, beginning in 2005, the United States Congress directed USAID to design a regional program for Amazon conservation. With that support and funding, USAID put together the Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon (ICAA), which builds on the longstanding history the agency has had in the Andean Amazonian region — Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Our field offices in those four countries have years of experience that we have built on and added value to by addressing regional and trans-boundary conservation issues in those four countries.
Q: ICAA brings together 20 public and private organizations working in the Amazonian regions of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. What partnerships is the initiative currently supporting?
Campbell: ICAA is bringing together organizations from each of the four countries to form an interesting amalgam of universities, indigenous groups, conservation non-profit organizations, and what might be called “indigenist” groups, or civil society organizations that have dedicated themselves to working with indigenous populations. We also have partnerships, as USAID does throughout the region, with government counterpart agencies. It’s a really unique group that goes beyond what might be considered traditional conservation partners. Those organizations form what we call four “field consortia,” or four partnerships, that are doing on-the-ground work in each country. We also have a support unit that helps USAID and its partners to provide training and build local capacity.
Q: Are the governments of each country directly involved in each of the consortia as partners, or do they serve in more of an advisory or approval role for the projects?
Campbell: It varies in each country. Through ICAA, USAID supports largely non-governmental organizations, but it shares work plans among the consortia and relevant government agencies, such as the protected areas agencies, so that all parties are fully aware of what ICAA is hoping to do in a certain area for the coming year. In this way, ICAA can add value to existing government programs, and in some cases there are government representatives who might, for example, sit on the executive committee of one of these consortia to help our NGO partners decide on where they might work and what some of their activities might focus on for the coming year.
Kunen: An example is the consortium led by the Rainforest Alliance, which has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism to work together to develop sustainable tourism in the country.
Q: Can you share any success stories from the field?
Kunen: In October of 2008, I had the pleasure of visiting with the ICAA consortium led by the Rainforest Alliance together with Conservación y Desarrollo in Ecuador and Fundación Natura in Colombia. Of the many amazing things I saw in the field, there were two examples of success that really struck me. One was the alliance that Conservación y Desarrollo (CyD) has developed with the REPSOL Foundation. REPSOL is an oil company, and the foundation is their charitable arm. CyD and the REPSOL Foundation are working together to improve the commercialization of cacao by constructing new fermentation and drying areas, and also by helping cacao farmers along the Río Napo in the Ecuadorian Amazon by providing technical assistance to improve their growing, drying, and storage practices in order to produce a high-quality product that will earn a better price on the market. This is a concrete relationship that will improve people’s livelihoods and involves an atypical conservation partner — the fact that an oil company is interested supporting sustainable production is a marvelous example of a new conservation alliance that ICAA aims to develop.
When I was in Colombia, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of coffee farmers in Meta, where Fundación Natura is working. Due to conflicts in the region, many coffee farmers there have been displaced or have suffered the loss of a loved one. These farmers traveled approximately 70 miles (110 kilometers) to the Cundinamarca department to learn from residents there whose small farms are Rainforest Alliance Certified. They shared what it means to work toward best practices and how ordinary people like them can earn certification for their farms even in challenging circumstances. The level of enthusiasm and commitment from these farmers was unbelievably impressive — I was really honored to meet them.
Q: How is ICAA working with indigenous groups in the Amazon?
Campbell: In many of the Amazonian countries, indigenous territories cover more land area than traditional protected areas, parks, and reserves. Yet in terms of state resources and capacities, as well as civil society’s capacity to manage those large areas, they’re falling behind the more traditional conservation areas. On top of that, indigenous peoples in many of these countries haven’t had access to the same education and economic opportunities as other sectors of society. Therefore, our main focus is building capacity in indigenous communities by helping them access the tools and resources they need to make their own decisions and manage their territories while also conserving their resources. We also hope to empower indigenous groups to represent themselves within their governments so that they can participate in constructive policy dialogues about how to use their resources, where to delimit boundaries for territories, and more.
There’s a particularly striking example from the Madidi-Manu conservation corridor consortium in Bolivia, where the Consejo Indígena del Pueblo Tacana has graduated from being an organization that has been under the tutelage of the Wildlife Conservation Society to an organization that is now managing its own program and funds from USAID. Through the Consejo and support from USAID over the years, the Tacana Indians have obtained land titles to several of their territories. We congratulate the Tacana people and Wildlife Conservation Society for working hand-in-hand with the Consejo and its elected leaders to help them build the skills they need so they can manage their territories and secure both public and private funding to support their efforts.
Q: What are the principal achievements of ICAA to date?
Kunen: As in all USAID projects, we measure our achievements by a set of indicators that we have selected for this program. Those indicators look at things like the amount of land under good management; the number of men and women, and particularly indigenous people, that we have trained in natural resource management; what parts of policies and laws that we and our partners have written or helped to implement; the policy dialogues that we have sponsored or participated in; and the dollar amount of resources that our partners have been able to leverage to match to USAID funds.
Because this is a conservation program, we are concerned with the condition of biological resources in this region. But because USAID is a development agency, we’re also very concerned with the ability of people to improve their lives through greater capacity and better governance. In terms of policy, we view success as the groups that we work with getting engaged and having an influential voice in decision-making about resource management in the Amazon. Finally, the dollar amount leveraged speaks to our feeling that we, as an outside donor agency, can catalyze change, but in order for it to be sustainable, additional resources need to come in, and we need to partner with organizations that can bring their own resources to the table.
For me, one of the principal achievements of ICAA will be strengthening the voices of local people and organizations and supporting their participation in the decision-making process. Also, the fact that we bring new coalitions together and provide avenues for them to speak to each other across national boundaries will be a unique achievement of ICAA.
Q: What are the principal challenges that the initiative faces?
Campbell: As you can imagine, regional programs can bring some challenges within political, technical and economic areas. What ICAA offers, which is not only a unique opportunity but also an important challenge, is the opportunity to work across four countries. This means that our partners have to know and understand each country’s laws and regulations, and they need to know and work with diverse stakeholders. That can be difficult for some of the smaller organizations, but it’s a really empowering experience for them to go beyond their own boundaries and work with groups from other countries.
There are different conservation priorities and perspectives across the various governments in the Amazon basin, and some of our partners do sometimes encounter challenges in that regard. For example, having good environmental laws and regulations on the books is essential for conservation, yet this can also present a challenge, because in many cases those laws aren’t enforced as thoroughly as they should be, either due to corruption or lack of capacity. But, I am pleased to say that all of our partners, in collaboration with our USAID colleagues in-country, do a good job of working hand-in-hand with government representatives in all four countries while maintaining their own program focus.
A second set of challenges has to do with the institutional, and in some cases, the individual capacity of the people that we are working with. Some of the local organizations involved in ICAA are established and others are new organizations. There’s a range of needs to be met, from English language training for an accountant, to Spanish language training for indigenous women, to helping some get driver’s licenses so that they can access remote areas and support community-based patrols in some of the indigenous areas. Things that seem very simple can empower these organizations to conserve biodiversity, manage their resources, and also better assert their rights.
To provide an example, without driver’s licenses, the elected leaders of the Cofan people in northern Ecuador weren’t able to visit their various communities. Because their territory is spread across five different areas, having a driver’s license means that they can do the job they were elected to do and support community patrols, visit schools, and better understand the day-to-day reality of what needs to be done in their communities.
Q: How do you think that the global financial crisis will affect ICAA?
Kunen: A lot of people tend to see conservation as a luxury that you can only think about when things are going well, and when hard times hit it’s discarded because it’s “optional”. Personally, I believe that this crisis is different because there is an emerging consensus that it has been generated by our careless use of resources, and that the sustainable use of our limited natural resource base is the only way to build a strong foundation for sustained economic growth. I hope that during this crisis that it becomes even more important to talk about reducing energy consumption, maintaining a healthy water supply, maintaining forest cover for the environmental services that it provides, and valuing those resources, all of which can generate savings but also lead to a better quality of life.
Q: How will USAID continue to support conservation in the Andean Amazon after the initiative ends in 2011?
Campbell: As ICAA invests in building capacity in regional and local organizations, all of that investment will extend beyond USAID’s funding for ICAA. There are permanent benefits with every person who gets their driver’s license or learns Spanish, or for every indigenous group that gets title to their land. If anything, ICAA will be the basis for further work.
Going back to what Julie mentioned earlier about how we measure success and achievement at ICAA, one of the five indicators or measures that we use is looking at how much funding our partners are able to leverage with their USAID funding. Our partners are required to bring other resources to the table so that the investment that USAID is making can live beyond ICAA’s 2011 end date.
The most important answer to your question is that ICAA supports the very people and organizations and governments in the region who ultimately will decide the future of the Amazon. By helping to build relationships and dialogue and technical skills for Amazon conservation, ICAA is setting the groundwork for continued regional successes and impacts beyond 2011 when USAID’s initial investments are projected to end.