The 50 minute flight into the community from the frontier town of Setipo in Peru, was as an education in itself about deforestation. Until recently the land around Setipo was pristine rainforest, but you can see from the photo which I took from our plane that most of the surrounding forest around Setipo has been chopped down for logging and agriculture.
As we approached the half way point into the flight we were still seeing more arable land than pockets of rainforest. One of the key things that aids deforestation is the building of roads into the forest. You can see clearly in the photo below where a road has been built, enabling loggers to easily access and extract the biggest trees. Once this has been done the areas are often then clear cut before being slashed and burned to make way for crops, it’s upsetting to think that this was all pristine rainforest within living memory.
As we neared Cutivireni, the central point for the Ashaninka community that Cool Earth works with, we got to see more of what the whole area used to look like and how with Cool Earth’s support will remain for many years to come.
Our first day was a trek to an outlying village, within the reserve, called Tinkareni, the journey took several hours and on our way we took in many interesting sites that help show how life is like for the Ashaninka. We visited the meeting hut for Tsimi (Ashaninka Bioclimatic Association) which is the body that represents the entire community and decides how money donated by Cool Earth is spent. We also saw the junior school and the medical centre as well as a training session for the park rangers which guard the Ashaninka boarders from predatory loggers.
On our walk to Tinkareni we passed by some examples of sustainable farming which Cool Earth has helped develop with the Ashaninka. Here they farm a number of crops including cacoa, coffee and yucca as well as replanting threatened species like the Caoba tree which has been heavily logged in the area.
(Far left, cacao pods grow straight out of the tree trunk)
(Centre, coffee beans are ripe for picking when red. Far right, the yucca plant is a staple part of the Ashaninkan diet)
Arriving at Tinkareni we met some of the women and children of the community, the woman below is called Noami and is one of the few remaining shamanic healers.
Whilst lunch was being prepared I went and looked around the village and saw some of the cacoa beans being dried. On the way back to the main Cutivireni community we went via a number of little communities containing families all working on various sustainable produce including cotton, which was originally naturalised in this region. We visited some of the huge trees which are so prized by the loggers. This picture shows us with the leader of the community, Javier, sat on the roots of one of the trees. These buttresses alone stands over 6ft tall.
Set off in the morning up the Rio Ene, in a boat funded by your donations. It’s vital for the community to travel up and down the river, today it’s being used to take us to Camperi. Cool Earth doesn’t have a partnership with this community but we discover this may soon change. On the way we dropped of some medicine for some children. The community we visit has recently sold its land to a logging contract, getting 30,000 dollars for 200,000 feet of wood. We had to walk from the riverside to the village along a 3km track created by the loggers and their equipment, witnessing the results of their handywork as we walked. We arrived at the community and were welcomed with fresh coconut juice straight from the coconut! After a conversation with the village elder and the rest of the community we explained what Cool Earth did, encouragingly they said that they would like to take part in Cool Earth’s conservation work rather than signing away trees to the loggers. This was excellent news. I could see first hand how Cool Earth has the ability to have a meaningful and positive impact on the rate of deforestation.
An early start and a trip in the other direction up the Rio Ene to one of communities that we have just started to work with called Camantavishi. Devastatingly their village had just been wiped out by a huge flood. They were in the process of relocating further in land.
It is easy to see how a community hit by such a disaster could then be desperate for some assistance to rebuild their community and how the loggers could quite easily do a deal with them which will quickly result in the release of thousands of tonnes of CO2. Cool Earth will provide alternative support to help the community get back on their feet.
We spent a couple of hours with the community before walking back to the river bank, where it turned out we had several hours to kill before our rendezvous with the boat. I got out my camera and started taking pictures of the brightly coloured butterflies, warming themselves in the tropical sun.
Although we were due to fly back to Setipo later that day we had some time left to spend with the community and see the various jewellery they produce which is sold on the Cool Earth website. A meeting was also held with key representatives from the Ashaninka community to update both them and ourselves on the best way to keep working together to keep the rainforest standing. The women held a ceremony to bless a new outboard motor they had bought with your donations. It will enable them to make vital trips to hospital when a member of the community is sick as well as go about their daily business.
As I flew out from the Cutivireni my feelings were mixed. We had seen how communities who have an alternative source of income to logging can help stop deforestation but as we headed back to Setipo the forest below gave way to a patchwork of farmland and crops, a cloud of smoke bellowed up from a field that had been slashed and burned next to a road that was weaving its way into the rainforest. I realised that unless organisations like Cool Earth can continue to raise funds to provide support for the indigenous people on the cusp of deforestation, then the rainforest would be eroded away – much sooner than any of us realise.
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