Like other indigenous groups of the Amazon region, the Kichwa object strongly to the proliferation of Areas of Natural Protection (ANPs) and Regional Conservation Areas (ACRs) across their traditional lands, over which they have little real say in what is (theoretically) a regime of co-administration.

Yet in July the Ministry of the Environment (Minam) put forward a modification to the law on ANPs that would further extend the influence of the private sector, conservation NGOs and regional officials over the administration of protected areas. Justification for the measure is couched in terms of enhanced financial sustainability.

Mounting frustration over restrictions in traditional land use arising from carbon offset schemes on the international market and controls over traditional land use has led to increasing indigenous demands for full territorial rights rather than the piecemeal and fragmentary land title regime endorsed by the Law of Native Communities since 1974.

Prospects of a Kichwa territory in San Martin region were pre-empted by the creation of the Cordillera Azul national park (1.35 million hectares) in 2001 and the Cordillera Escalera regional conservation area (1.5 m. hectares) in 2005. Both were demarcated within traditional Kichwa territory.

There was no prior consultation nor was the consent of the Kichwa sought. The same occurred in 2017 when the conservation master plans for these areas were drawn up.

For the Kichwa and their organisation CEPKA, the latest measure only confirms their rejection by the authorities as equal and strategic partners in management of their territory. They believe that Minam’s intention is focused less on recognition of indigenous rights or on their skills in forest conservation and maintenance of biodiversity, and more on marketing.

CEPKA is appealing to Minam to adopt the proven model of biodiversity conservation that embraces indigenous decision making, administration, planning and implementation. The organisation insists that it does not oppose biodiversity conservation, as long as it is based on bottom-up participation and ancestral forest-friendly practices, not an exclusionary approach.