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Entrepreneurs of the Forest: women leading the conservation and management of their territories
Peru is a magical and invaluable country, not only for its culture, history and gastronomy, but because it is a source of life. It has more than 73 million hectares of forests, ranking ninth in forest area in the world. Of this total, about 15 million hectares are currently owned or managed by indigenous peoples and is home to about 2,250 indigenous communities.
However, Peru generates almost half of the greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, due to agricultural expansion, construction of roads for the extraction of unregulated or regulated timber, illegal mining, among others. On the other hand, this reality is very different in territorial reserves, including indigenous lands and protected natural areas, where deforestation rates are lower.
Within this context, 9 years ago CONAP and AIDESEP, the two largest territorial indigenous organizations in Peru came together to design the initiative that would change the dynamics of work with indigenous peoples in our country: "MDE Saweto Peru" - funded by the Forest Investment Program (FIP), thanks to their motivation to lead the conservation and management of their territories and implement sustainable productive activities. The MDE's main mission is to empower indigenous peoples in the management of their territories in a holistic way and based on respect for their self-determination and governance.
As part of this initiative, identifying and strengthening productive projects led by women is part of the challenge, making their efforts visible, empowering them in decision-making processes and promoting their economic autonomy. During the last 5 years, MDE Saweto worked side by side and strengthened 25 native communities with initiatives led by women, all of them having as a main ingredient the effort and tenacity of mothers, wives and daughters who seek not only to contribute to their community and their food security, in addition to the conservation and management of their territories, but also committed to their own growth and autonomy.
The productive initiatives were of a different nature, some for the production and commercialization of cocoa, others for crafts and tourism, as well as fish farming. In all of them, it was ensured that women had a voice and vote in decision-making and were the direct beneficiaries. In many of these initiatives, later converted into ventures, life plans, strategic plans and business plans have been developed in a participatory manner and under his leadership, which have been guiding their implementation and will allow them to ensure the sustainability of the undertaking beyond collaborative projects, generating autonomy and contributing to the reduction of the vulnerability faced by indigenous women in the current context of COVID 19.
One of the most emblematic lessons of working with women these years was related to the Maroti Shobo Association in the department of Ucayali, which has more than a decade of experience, and whose associates are women from 6 different native communities. The Maroti Shobo Association was not only strengthened with the MDE Saweto Peru project but also with the complementary project Indigenous Peoples, Entrepreneurs of the Forest, financed by the German BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development). Supported by both organizations, the associates were able to improve and secure their sales premises, have better implements for the development of their activities and improve their financial administrative capacities for the management of their entrepreneurships.
Another beautiful story involved the women of the Nazareth Native Community in the department of Amazonas, who led fish farming as a food security initiative as a start and then, they are planning to become an indigenous entrepreneurship. It is always important to remember that this initiative was initially led by the men of the community, but it was the women who slowly became empowered and ended up leading it during the last 4 years.
Sustainability of ventures
As these are entrepreneurships identified by the indigenous peoples themselves, under their governance channels, for their strengthening, their appropriation is assured. Additionally, the improved technical capacities remain in the communities, and the monitoring of processes do not depend on international cooperation or WWF as an organization that accompanied the process, but rather the indigenous organizations of which the native communities are the base.