Technical discussions started on 25 August between representatives of national and regional indigenous organisations (AIDESEP and FENAMAD) and local authority technicians in Madre de Dios, over the inclusion of the REDD+ Indigenous Amazonia (RIA) strategy within the region’s rural development plan.

AIDESEP developed RIA in 2010 in response to a series of REDD+ projects promoted by the so-called ‘carbon cowboys’, the purveyors of carbon off-set schemes amongst unsuspecting indigenous groups in Peru and the wider Amazon region. Founded on principles of indigenous rights and concepts of the ‘full life’ (‘la vida plena’), RIA looks beyond the carbon market per se, and includes environmental, social, economic and cultural components. Those implemented in Madre de Dios include strengthening indigenous governance, the ‘vida plena’, and consolidation and protection of indigenous territory.

The main aims of the regional government plan are to promote sustainable human and economic development, reduce deforestation and enhance earnings from the reduction of carbon emissions. These are aspirations that largely coincide with the indigenous peoples’ priority of achieving territorial governance.

However, while the indigenous peoples have interests in up to approximately half of the tropical forest in Madre de Dios, they only possess legal title to just over 5% of the region’s territory, some 450,000 hectares assigned to 32 communities.

The remaining tropical forests include a territorial reserve for groups in voluntary isolation (10%) whose security during the pandemic has been compromised by logging activities; the Amarakaeri communal reserve of 400,000 hectares (5%) in co-management with the state; and three colossal protected areas of 3 million hectares (30%) overlying the territories of the Matsigenka, Ese Eja and Mashco Piro.

This last and largest category is also the weakest form of land rights available to indigenous peoples, with the central government retaining full sovereignty and administrative powers.

Sustainable economic activities undertaken jointly by FENAMAD and the contractor for the administration of the Amarakaeri communal reserve have laid the foundations for future strategic cooperation. The reserve has a track record in attracting investment from donors that include UNDP, IUCN and various foundations.

A new regional governor in Madre de Dios, Dr Raúl Hidalgo, took office early in 2019 with a commitment to restore the relationship between the region and the international community, following years of unsustainable development.

To retain these donors and build on the achievements of the reserve, the governor will need to curb unauthorised road building that brings in gold prospectors, illegal logging concerns and drug traffickers into the reserve. All have taken advantage of the cover provided by the pandemic to pursue their activities. Hidalgo has recently moved against institutional corruption in the region’s forestry department.