Interview: Rodrigo de la Cruz, Technical Coordinator of ICAA/COICA Project



Posted on 24 April 2014  | 
Rodrigo de la Cruz, Technical Coordinator of ICAA/COICA Project.
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Last February, the Living Amazon Initiative (LAI) and the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon (COICA) signed a memorandum of understanding to implement a regional vision for conservation of the Amazon, taking into account all the work that COICA and its national organizations have been developing. This includes sharing experiences, information and knowledge on conservation and sustainable management of protected areas and indigenous territories. In this interview with Rodrigo de la Cruz, Technical Coordinator of ICAA/COICA Project, we explore the role of indigenous peoples in the conservation of the Amazon.


Why are the rights of indigenous peoples important for conservation?

For indigenous peoples, conservation has always been closely related to our territories and to the traditional use of our natural resources. Any intervention, including conservation, from anybody on indigenous territories must respect indigenous rights and safeguards related to territoriality, organization, and traditional use of natural resources avoiding any violation to our customary laws.


How do indigenous communities understand the term “conservation "?

“Conservation” is not precisely a common term in our languages. Indigenous peoples have its own ways of life and their own ideas on how to relate to its land and its resources. The term conservation was introduced by non-indigenous and it is not proper to indigenous practices, sometimes “conservation” has been used to limit certain types of traditional uses of our resources. Conservation has been understood more as a type of intervention from outsiders to limit the ancient use of natural resources. That is why we have called Strategy for the Holistic Management of Indigenous Territories instead of strategy for the “conservation”.


What does the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) really mean for a regional vision for conservation? What progress do you expect to achieve through this new MOU?

The message or the intention of the MOU between COICA and WWF is to propose dialogs on distinct visions and look for coincidences. Is to seek complementarities in both sides to reach the common objective, which is to conserve the environment and its natural resources.


Can you speak to one experience on conservation and sustainable management of protected areas and indigenous territories that will be examined as part of this MOU?

The MOU is very general. It is more a set of general guidelines on a cooperative work between both institutions. The concrete activity that so far we are doing together with WWF is the development of the Strategy for the Holistic Management of Indigenous Territories (that we call “Full Life Territories” or Territorios de Vida Plena in Spanish). After this, we have to move on to implement the strategy. Currently, we are validating the strategy with national and local indigenous organizations all over the Amazon. This is a very important process, supported by WWF, to legitimate this work.

Another important guideline from the MOU is to use WWF´s expertise and contacts to have incidence in national and international dialogs, on the need to fully respect indigenous rights.


How will the Strategy for the Conservation of Indigenous Territories (SCIT) help both protect indigenous rights as well as advance conservation efforts?


I believe that Indigenous Peoples consider WWF as a well-respected organization that has earned its space among them. This has been attractive for other partners, other NGOs that are also working in conservation. After seen WWF efforts, they are seeking for a closer work with us.


How real a concern is climate change to indigenous peoples and how will COICA help mitigate effects?

Climate change has several and diverse influences on indigenous territories. However, indigenous peoples can´t understand why is this happening. Indigenous peoples still poorly understand climate change phenomena. We need much more information on a global phenomenon that has impact at local levels. Climate change is the most important environmental problem that is being discussed in international fora. However, sometimes indigenous peoples are not participating in these discussions and thus, they are not prepared to confront climate change dynamics.


What are other concerns of COICA and indigenous territories? How can COICA and WWF help...or how are COICA and WWF helping?

Now that “green markets” are in vogue, few people realize that several of these products come or could come from indigenous territories. There is a need to joint efforts between indigenous and environmentalists to add value to products from indigenous lands. Indigenous communities should participate in market chains adding value to their products. The big attraction among Northern consumers are certified natural products. Some of them are prepared using traditional knowledge. Although some are commercialized in local communities, they are not considered by national or -even less- international markets. I believe indigenous peoples need support on how to integrate these products to a growing international market. This can be an alternative to large-scale extractive activities.

Interview by Tarsicio Granizo, WWF-LAI
Rodrigo de la Cruz, Technical Coordinator of ICAA/COICA Project.
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