Natural Resource Use in Indigenous Lands in Peru | WWF

Natural Resource Use in Indigenous Lands in Peru

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Peru

Bajo Urubamba Forest. Peru.
© WWF Peru


This project aims to help indigenous people in rural areas of the Peruvian Amazon defend their rights to the sustainable use of natural resources in their territories. With finance from the Department for International Development (DFID), it will improve interaction with the Peruvian government, the private sector and international financial institutions.

The project focuses on 2 of the most important economic activities in the modern Peruvian Amazon: hydrocarbon production and logging (particularly mahogany and cedar). Whilst these 2 industries are proving lucrative to the organizations involved, they also bring negative consequences to the livelihoods of marginalized rural populations.

Efforts will be focused on 3 ecoregions: Southwestern Amazonian Moist Forests (SWA), Amazon River and Flooded Forests (ARFF) and Northern Andean Montane Forests (NA).


In general terms, the Peruvian Amazon can be characterized as very diverse in both biological and cultural terms. Its isolation from the main production centres on the coast and the highlands, together with a lack of a coherent national vision and plan for an Amazon region development, has probably been one of the obstacles preventing the large scale adoption of modern economic processes. This is one of the reasons why the Peruvian Amazon still harbours approximately 85% of its original tropical forest cover, with many areas still maintaining most of their ecological processes and species, and with many indigenous groups still maintaining traditional lifestyles.

Over the past 200 years, however, the Peruvian Amazon has experienced several economic boom and bust cycles. For example, a boom based on rubber caused profound changes in indigenous societies. A common feature of these booms has been that local indigenous people usually derived little, if any, benefit, but have always borne an undue share of the environmental and social costs, including a reduced resource base, forced labour and an increase in epidemics. Currently, in terms of area, oil and gas concessions and forestry concessions are the 2 most extensive, centrally supervised productive activities operating in the tropical forests of eastern Peru, with forests designated for concession alone covering over 24 million ha.

The project's first phase emphasises diagnosing environmental and social problems, such as determining the causes of poverty in individual indigenous communities, comparing typical livelihoods, focusing on the natural, financial and social capital dynamics of communities with different degrees of hydrocarbon or forestry activities and defining what indigenous people see as their most important environmental and social problems.

In the second phase, indigenous groups at different organizational levels will learn to use tools and develop capacities to design concrete action plans to solve some of the previously identified problems at national, regional and local levels.

In a third and final phase, different indigenous organizations will begin to implement their own management plans.

The oil and gas sector could have an impact on regional economies. For example, by directing money into the regional and local governments through revenue redistribution (known in Spanish as the canon petrolero), or pulling labour into the sector’s high paying jobs (by local standards).

The latter could set the stage for Dutch disease - an economic scenario where a large amount of money entering the national economy changes the market dynamics, usually increasing baseline salaries and costs of food, services, and other related items. In countries such as Venezuela and Gabon this decreased the economic feasibility of agriculture, cattle ranching and logging, thereby reducing the pressure on the forests. However, this does not happen if the money is invested in infrastructure. As roads are planned by all levels of government, Peru is probably one country where increased income at a regional level will likely spur investments in infrastructure to jump-start agriculture, cattle ranching, logging and trade, spelling trouble for the forest and peoples that depend on their health.

Currently in the Northern Peruvian fields in the Pastaza and Corrientes basins maintenance roads do not connect to the main road network, and population density is low. Deforestation rates are therefore independent of the presence of roads.

In spite of the increased cash flow through the different levels of government down to municipalities, indigenous communities seldom benefit. On the contrary, even though official statistics usually have problems in representing the true essence of poverty, there is no denying that oil and gas activity areas occur in some of the poorest regions of Peru - where national services such as education or health are absent or severely limited, and the natural resource base, including clean water, fish and wildlife populations has been severely depleted.

The communities of the Corrientes and upper Pastaza rivers have suffered the consequences of oil operations for over 30 years. This is despite the fact that the average production of 100,000 barrels per day implies gross incomes of USD 2 million per day (assuming a low USD 20 barrel of oil), more than enough to solve most social problems, which in many cases are a direct consequence of dismal environmental and social practices.


1) Integrate a rights-based approach to livelihood, including issues of poverty, inequality and exclusion, in the implementation of the World Bank's Country Environmental Analysis (CEA). Indigenous representatives to present at least one proposal for inclusion in recommendations to CEA.

2) Strengthen the ability of indigenous groups to participate in national and regional policy discussions, particularly those relating to hydrocarbon and forestry activities, and support implementation of recommended strategies and activities.
- At least 2 in-depth case studies to be carried out, analysing the links between the environment, poverty, inequality and exclusion in 2 communities affected by forestry activities, resulting in participatory action plans prepared to secure the adoption of recommendations by national level policy makers, while facilitating the improvement of forest management in the 2 focal communities. One community is located in the Condorcanqui area in the Northern Andes ecoregion and the other in Cohengua, Atalaya Ucayali in the South Western Amazon (SWA) ecoregion.

> At least 3 in-depth case studies carried out, analysing the links between the environment, poverty, inequality and exclusion in 3 communities affected by hydrocarbon activities, resulting in participatory action, including independent monitoring, environmental mitigation and rehabilitation for the 3 studied communities and their area of influence. Two communities are located in the Pastaza Ramsar site in the Amazon River and Flooded Forest ecoregion, and the 3rd community in the lower Urubamba just outside of SWA. Also, national guidelines and recommendations will be prepared by an indigenous task force for extractive activities and infrastructure construction in indigenous territories.


Building on ongoing WWF sponsored activities in Pastaza, Corrientes and Camisea, the project aims to provide or improve the indigenous communities’ skills and tools needed to lobby government and private sector. The aim is to avoid unwanted block concessions and improve local benefits. At the same time, it should put pressure on government and companies to increase investments geared to minimize environmental impact and allow appropriate rehabilitation of impacted habitats in cases where the concession is accepted by local communities.

Addressing indigenous rights will strengthen the ability of indigenous organizations to analyse the implications of illegal logging and participate actively in the fight against illegal logging.


1. Due to WWF'’s involvement, there has been an important achievement by the indigenous organisation FECONACO (Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes River), which led to them signing an agreement with the oil company PlusPetrol, and the Peruvian government in October 2006. The main agreement reached was the total reinjection of formation waters from Blocks 1 AB and 8, which produce up to 60% of Peru’s petroleum. These blocks previously released 1.1 million barrels of salty water laced with heavy metals per day.

2. After a significant meeting between 2 Achuar federations of Pastaza in August 2006 (under FENAP – Peruvian National Federation of Achuar People) both federations reached an agreement by which they will not allow oil companies to enter their territories. Likewise, it was decided to present this position to the government and its correlated institutions.

3. As part of the communication campaign to increase awareness regarding extractive activities among public opinion, in November 2006, a small indigenous-issue NGO (Shinai) prepared a video with declarations from the Achuar people of the Corrientes River on their experiences.

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