Revealing the hidden: Indigenous perspectives on deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon: Drivers and Alternatives
The annual rate of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon averaged 123 000 ha (0.23%) per hectare (ha) between 2001 and 2012. There are indications, however, that the rate has risen to 250 000 ha per year since 2012 undermining Peru’s pledge in 2010 to reduce net deforestation to zero by 2020.
Current mechanisms to track deforestation in Peru inevitably overestimate rates of deforestation produced by the rotational farming systems of indigenous and other Amazonian peoples as they cannot distinguish between temporary and permanent deforestation. However, even if these figures are used, the annual rate of deforestation in approximately 11 million ha of legally recognized indigenous territories in the Peruvian Amazon is 0.11% per year. This is considerably lower than both the overall average (0.14%) and the rate in privately held lands (2.27%). Even using these distorted information, deforestation rates in indigenous territories reduce even further if unrecognised indigenous lands are considered including lands now classified as protected areas.
While approximately 15 million ha of indigenous lands have some form of legal recognition, the land rights demands of at least 1174 indigenous communities remain pending. In total about 20 million ha of indigenous people’s lands lack official legal recognition exposing them to the threat of invasions for mining, coca cultivation, logging, oil palm plantations and commercial agriculture often resulting in conflict, violence and forest destruction.
There is widespread overlap between titled and untitled indigenous territories and mining, logging and oil and gas concessions. In 2012 over 1800 mining concessions overlapped recognised indigenous communities while oil and gas concessions overlapped over 60% of all recognised communities. Most concessions are allocated without any consultation with the affected indigenous communities.
Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)
Peru is failing to meet its international obligations to respect indigenous peoples’ rights, such as the right to free, prior and informed consent and the right to collective territories as peoples. Currently, Peruvian law only recognises indigenous peoples as holding lease rights over forest lands. In 2011, the government agreed to align national laws with such obligations, but as of November 2014 this commitment remains unmet.
Indigenous leaders who protest in defence of their rights and communities have been criminalized and persecuted including many of the 53 defendants on trial for the violence associated with brutal military crackdown on indigenous peoples’ protests in 2009 at Bagua.
Agriculture, Roads and Illegal Activities
Agriculture practised by first and second-generation migrants, mainly from the Andes, is estimated to cause three-quarters of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon. However, this immigration is the direct result of an explicit and longstanding state policy to colonise the Amazon through the construction of roads and dedicated agricultural development programmes. As a result, 75% of all deforestation occurs within 20km of a road.
Increasingly, illegal gold mining and commercial agriculture (particularly new oil-palm plantations), have recently become additional major causes, accounting for about 20% of annual deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon in 2013.
Illegality is rampant because of endemic corruption and weak environmental governance. For example, illegal gold-mining destroyed more than 40 000 ha of forest in the Madre de Dios region between 1999 and 2012 and deforestation rates have tripled to over 6000ha/year since 2008. 97% of gold produced there is illegal.
Illegal logging is a major cause of forest degradation in the Peruvian Amazon as well as devastating impacts on indigenous peoples including violence and destruction of forest resources vital for subsistence livelihoods. In September 2014, four Ashéninka leaders were murdered after denouncing illegal logging on their lands. Despite years of government pledges to control the trade approximately 80% of timber exported from Peru is illegal while official government statistics report that more than half of all logging concessions are involved in illegal operations outside their boundaries, frequently in protected areas and on indigenous lands.
Pollution: Oil and Gas
Oil and gas concessions covered more than 80% of the Peruvian Amazon in 2012 and their operations, including frequent pipeline spills and dumping of toxic waste directly into rivers have been responsible for severe forest degradation and contamination of vital water sources with devastating impacts on indigenous peoples’ health and livelihoods. In 2013, 4 river basins in Northern Peru (Marañón, Tigre, Corrientes and Pastaza) were declared in states of environmental and health emergencies. Water samples from the river Pastaza contained over 300 times permitted levels of potentially lethal heavy metals.
Inefective Environmental Regulations
There is no independent mechanism for approving environmental impact assessments for large-scale projects, and existing spatial planning mechanisms and environmental management are ineffective. There is no consistent mapping system for avoiding and resolving overlapping rights.
Recent legal reform in September (Ley 30230) intended to encourage foreign investment is likely to undermine the protection of the Amazon, for example by permitting the government to curb indigenous peoples’ territorial rights to prioritize development projects and to further weaken already frail environmental regulations.
Legal loopholes exist promoting deforestation including provisions that; permit development projects classified in the ‘national interest’ to operate in supposedly strictly protected areas, encourage the clearance of forest to support property rights claims and allow the conversion of primary forest (supposedly off limits to agricultural development) to palm oil plantations.
A US$50 million migrant land-titling project financed by the Inter American Development Bank threatens to undermine government plans to recognize untitled indigenous lands and is likely to lead to further colonization and deforestation in the Amazon with the proposed recognition of over 700,000 individual plots.
Peru is now the world’s leading producer of cocaine with over 50,000ha of land dedicated to coca cultivation for the narcotics trade responsible for approximately 1500 ha of annual deforestation and a climate of violence affecting local communities.
Infrastructure Projects, Extractive Industries and Monoculture
Increasing royalties from Peru’s lucrative oil, gas and mining sector have a direct impact on forests as they are frequently invested in the construction of local road networks. Between 2007 and 2010, over US $40 million of royalties from the Camisea gas project (a project that prides itself on a road free policy) was dispersed to finance the construction of local road networks in Cusco.
While large scale deforestation as a direct result of oil, gas and logging operations is minimal it is estimated that a greater amount of carbon will be emitted from the degradation caused by oil, gas and logging operations than from direct deforestation. This degradation could generate greenhouse gas emissions greater than those caused by the next ten years of deforestation in these areas.
Illegal gold-mining, the expansion of oil palm and the construction of mega-dams loom as major imminent threats to forests in the Peruvian Amazon. Government plans have potentially earmarked over 1.4 million ha of forest for palm oil development and only in the region of Loreto at least 100,000 ha of forest have been requested by palm oil developers. Nearly 80 new hydroelectric dams are in the pipeline of which over 50 have capacity of over 100MW and 11 have more than 1000MW capacity.
Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon can be reduced by: recognizing the lands and rights of indigenous peoples and providing them with legal, financial and technical support to support their own priorities for development; closing legal loopholes that permit forest destruction; enforcing control of illegal and unsustainable practices; and adopting independent and robust land use planning mechanisms.
This fact sheet was derived from: Valqui, M., Feather, C. and Espinoza Llanos, R. 2014. Haciendo visible lo invisible:Perspectivas indígenas sobre la deforestación en la Amazonía peruana. Causas y alternativas. AIDESEP y FPP. For a PDF copy contact email@example.com