Main content

Webinar Series DEFENDING THE AMAZON DURING COVID19: Indigenous peoples and collaborative strategies

The Use of Data and Technology: Innovations for Land Defense webinar (May 6) focused on how data and technology are essential allies for the protection of indigenous territories and of the Amazon rainforest, especially during the COVID-19 health emergency. In times of community isolation, the usual deforestation monitoring work on the field in the Amazon region has largely been affected as some community monitors are now focused on actions for COVID-19 prevention and, in some territories, the activities are temporarily suspended to avoid infection. In that scenario, given that illegal invasions have not ceased during the quarantine, tools that allow the constant monitoring of deforestation without the need of field presence are even more valuable.

In this session, Walter Quertehuari, President of ECA-Amarakaeri, Jessica Webb, Senior Manager for Global Engagement for Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute (WRI), and Ane Alencar, Science Director of the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM) explored the following main actions, challenges and resources in a dynamic conversation facilitated by Carolina Zambrano, Director of All Eyes on the Amazon at Hivos, with the participation of the audience.

Actions

  • Strengthening land monitoring systems with the use of technology: The provision of technology equipment and tools for land monitoring ends is particularly valuable in times of isolation, as it enables the partial continuity of deforestation monitoring while Indigenous monitors and guardians are in quarantine or focused in protection actions against COVID-19. For instance, since 2016, the Surveillance and Control Strategy of the ECA Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (RCA), in the Peruvian Amazon, has gradually incorporated cell phones, drones and most recently applications for digital land mapping and monitoring, such as Mapeo Mobile [for more information, see Resources below]
  • Satellite-based forest monitoring systems implementation: WRI and IPAM presented how their satellite forest monitoring systems, Global Forest Watch (GFW) and MapBiomas, respectively, support the continuation of deforestation monitoring through satellites and digital means, while the Indigenous Guardians have temporarily shifted or focused their land monitoring work to actions related to COVID-19 protection or, in other cases, are in quarantine. Besides deforestation monitoring, those systems provide georeferenced data related to fire alerts, illegal activities and data to map the land boundaries for demarcation processes of Indigenous lands
  • Capacity building for technology use: The provision of technological equipment for Indigenous monitors is supported with ongoing capacity building on the use and maintenance of the technologies, so monitors can effectively combine these tools to their ancestral surveillance work. For instance, in the case of RCA, these have contributed to the 98,41% forest conservation rate of the area and its inclusion to the Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • Collaboration and empowerment of end users: GFW, MapBiomas and Mapeo Mobile were designed, developed and are improved in close cooperation with Indigenous organizations and monitors, who combine these digital tools to their ancestral mapping and monitoring strategies, ensuring the best applicability for those who are responsible of promoting  land monitoring in the field, and ultimately, sustainable forest management. This process also improves the empowerment and autonomy of the communities, as they become the owners and managers of the data they collect through the satellite systems and on-the-field work. For instance, a few years ago, only governments and private companies had access to satellite data. The access to free and updated data on deforestation is an immeasurable gain for the community management of indigenous and traditional lands, and especially valuable in social distancing times.
  • Linking monitoring data to campaigning and advocacy actions: The information collected by indigenous monitors on the ground through cell phones, drones and cameras, and also digitally through satellite imagery, is crucial for data-based advocacy and campaigning initiatives for the protection of indigenous lands. For instance, satellite data shows how deforestation rates in indigenous lands are lower compared to protected areas.

The surveillance work is not a new activity for Indigenous peoples. It has always been an ancestral practice to promote surveillance of communal lands. To protect our territory is a responsibility and commitment. However, the incorporation of technologies allows for a better control of our lands. If previously we traveled for days to access a region to register an illegal activity within our territory, now we can use drones to take photos, without interfering in the ecosystem. Walter Quertehuari, President of ECA-Amarakaeri 

Challenges

  • Illegal invasions in indigenous lands: Ensuring the protection of Indigenous lands against illegal invasion is more than ever crucial for the protection of Indigenous peoples - as often stated by Brazilian indigenous movements, "land grabbers, illegal miners and loggers do not quarantine" and their presence in the territory now adds another threat to the long list of violations promoted by these illegal activities, as those outsiders may also infect self-isolated Indigenous peoples with COVID-19.
  • Increasing deforestation in the Amazon: Through the analysis of satellite data imagery, governments, civil society and Indigenous organizations have been able to observe the increase of deforestation rates during isolation times in several Latin American, African and Asian regions. For instance, satellite data gathered from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that in April 2020, the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon was 63,75% higher than in April 2019, also due to the dismantling of environmental policies and regulation promoted by Bolsonaro's administration.
  • Community isolation´s collateral effects: Self-isolation is the main strategy adopted by indigenous communities to protect themselves against COVID-19. However, the initiative has two direct impacts for the protection of some indigenous lands: the temporary cease or shift of the activities of the Indigenous Guardians who promote the land surveillance of their territories against illegal invasions, and also the lack of communication about violations taking place within the territories, as several communities have no internet connectivity and have limitations to denounce activities to government authorities, that are rather focused in the urban area or providing emergency attendance to the pandemic.

Resources

  • Global Forest Watch (GFW): The platform led by WRI allows anyone to monitor global and local deforestation rates through satellite image data from their cell-phone, tablet or computer. Through the Forest Watcher mobile app, users can download maps and use most features of GFW offline, allowing uninterrupted monitoring even in regions with lack of internet connectivity. 
  • MapBiomas: The satellite-based system led by IPAM supports Indigenous peoples not only in the deforestation monitoring, but also providing georeferenced data related to fire alerts, illegal activities and to the mapping of the land boundaries for demarcation processes. Currently, IPAM is assessing how to cross data related to the infection of COVID-19 close to / within Indigenous territories, besides the mapping of healthcare facilities.
  • Mapeo Mobile: Digital Democracy developed this application for land monitoring and mapping, that allows indigenous and local communities in the Amazon to georeference anything they encounter in their territories, and fill in detailed data for digital reporting into their Monitoring Systems, to Government Authorities and for Advocacy Actions. It is also complemented by Mapeo Desktop. See this video for more information on the collaboration process in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve regarding the use of Mapeo.

For more information, please contact: erojas@hivos.org