This is the fifth in a seven-part series highlighting the recent publication of a special issue of the International Forestry Review focused on CIFOR research.
Peru’s Madre de Dios region in the southern Peruvian Amazon is one of the most biodiverse in the world, featuring terraces, hills, mountains, high and low forests, and a variety of ecosystems and microclimates. Many of the region’s species of flora and fauna are threatened by deforestation and forest degradation.
The Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (RCA), one of seven protected areas, was certified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and placed on its Green List in 2018. The distinction recognizes it as an effectively-managed and fairly-governed protected area with a long-term positive impact on people and nature.
It was established in 2002, after more than 15 years of initiatives led by the Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and Affluents (FENAMAD) to gain recognition for Indigenous Peoples’ territorial rights. With Arakwal National Park in Australia, it holds an additional distinction as one of the first two Indigenous co-managed Green List sites in the world. The second-largest communal reserve in Peru, it is also the ancestral home of the Harakmbut people, and also includes indigenous Yine and Matsigenka communities.
Like other communal reserves in the country, it is co-managed by the Executor of the Administration Contract for RCA (ECA-Amarakaeri), an organization representing the Indigenous communities of the area’s buffer zone, and SERNANP, Peru’s Protected Areas Service. Under Peruvian law, the reserve includes a management committee — a multi-stakeholder forum (MSF) composed of different organizations that support the area’s co-management.
However, a new study published by CIFOR researchers reveals the overlaps and potential conflicts between the participatory aspects of the co-management and the MSF, posing questions about the necessity of parallel participatory management spaces and their promotion of equal interactions among stakeholders.
A complicated history of conservation
The paper, authored by CIFOR researchers Diego Palacios Llaque and Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti, analyzes three different overlapping forms of governance that evolved in the reserve from 2002 to the present. Their analysis describes the intersections and areas where practices governing the reserve and the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in its buffer zone converge. The researchers refer to this as conservationist “governmentality” from 2002 to 2005, extractive governmentality from 2006 to 2014 and negotiated eco-governmentality from 2015 to the present.
According to the paper, SERNANP introduced a conservationist governmentality on the reserve from the get-go, where the state controlled and surveilled the area to conserve its biodiversity and restricted access to areas outside its buffer zone.
The reserve’s buffer zone includes the territories of 10 Indigenous communities. The area is situated outside the protected area and serves as a place where people can derive material or economic benefits, but also provides wildlife habitat and ecosystem services. During this period SERNANP and Indigenous communities — represented by the ECA-Amarakaeri — were supposed to manage the reserve together.
However, SERNANP imposed resource-use restrictions that “generated uncertainty, annoyance and disappointment among the communities in the reserve’s buffer zone,” the researchers wrote. “They were banned from going into the RCA to conduct their traditional practices and other income-generating activities such as extracting timber or mining for alluvial gold.”
The extractive years
The years 2006 to 2014 were tumultuous for the reserve because an extractive form of governmentality was introduced that contradicted the previous period of conservationist governmentality.
The Indigenous population protested the Peruvian government’s contract with the Hunt Oil company, which allowed it to conduct oil and natural gas exploration in an area that overlaps most of the reserve, the communities in the buffer zone, and part of the nearby Manu National Park. SERNANP proposed that income from Hunt Oil’s work in the area would fund more effective management of the reserve.
After several years of continuing conflict and protests, the heads of SERNANP’s RCA Office and ECA-Amarakaeri resigned. Regardless, in 2007, the reserve’s first master plan — its main management document — still contained language allowing the oil company to extract resources.
“It may seem like a contradiction in theory,” Palacios Llaque said. “Why would a government that seemed so conservationist suddenly support extractive industries’ exploration in a protected area? In practice, they were working together.”
Reconciliation, negotiation and adaptation
Around 2011, the election of new heads for SERNANP’s RCA Office and ECA-Amarakaeri was a welcome change for the Indigenous communities. The new SERNANP head worked closely with ECA-Amarakaeri’s executive committee and improved the committee’s technical capacities to enable them to participate more effectively in co-managing the reserve.
“Interviews revealed that this renewed attempt at collaboration was well received by Harakmbut leaders, who responded by setting aside their mistrust of SERNANP after it had supported Hunt Oil,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers describe this reconciliation, negotiation, and adaptation of governance practices between ECA-Amarakaeri and SERNANP as part of a negotiated eco-governmentality. This new model of participatory governance is called co-management, the strategy affirmed by IUCN’s Green List certification, where the two parties are equal partners in the conservation and management of the communal reserve.
The MSF Management Committee
However, a second form of participatory governance both enhanced and complicated the co-management partnership between ECA-Amarakaeri and SERNANP. An MSF, serving as a management committee to support ECA-Amarakaeri and SERNANP, was formed in 2014.
Donors, governments, and non-governmental organizations tend to regard MSFs as a transformational solution to challenges posed by land and forest degradation. Its proponents note that such platforms have great potential in facilitating effective collaboration between different groups and reaching fair solutions.
In the reserve, the MSF would have opened opportunities for other stakeholders to be heard, such as Andean migrants, non-Indigenous people living near its buffer zone and other stakeholders with interests that could be contrary to those of Indigenous communities or the government.
However, the MSF’s process was influenced by conflicts between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities living and working in the reserve’s buffer zone due to the latter’s occupation of sectors of Indigenous territories and their participation in alluvial gold mining. According to the researchers, Andean migrants and non-Indigenous people felt excluded from participating in the governance of the area despite the MSF, as power remained solely with the co-management partnership by SERNANP and ECA-Amarakaeri.
At the time the research was conducted, the co-management partners hadn’t offered participation incentives for these groups to be part of the MSF. And when non-Indigenous groups tried to participate, Indigenous people blocked them from doing so, or limited their participation.