Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Sustainable Landscape Management: Empowering Communities for Biodiversity Conservation and Economic Livelihoods


The Amazon rainforest, a biodiverse tropical ecosystem spanning nine South American countries, harbors over 500 Indigenous groups and hosts 10% of the world’s biodiversity. Its significance extends beyond regional borders, contributing to global climate stability and rainfall patterns. However, industrial activities such as gold mining, oil drilling, and deforestation pose severe threats to its integrity.
Addressing these challenges requires urgent action amidst complex sociocultural and geopolitical dynamics. One promising approach gaining traction is the concept of ‘sustainable livelihood opportunities’ or ‘sustainable development’, originating from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. This approach acknowledges the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and economic factors, advocating for their harmonious pursuit on a global scale.
The WWF highlights the effectiveness of combining traditional conservation methods with sustainable landscape management practices in protecting terrestrial ecosystems like the Amazon. Strategies such as agroforestry and sustainable fishing offer viable alternatives to destructive practices like intensive logging, emphasizing participatory management with local communities.
In practice, this translates into initiatives like those supported by the Cisco Foundation, which aim to empower local, often Indigenous, communities across the Amazon and its neighboring ecosystems in South America. One such initiative is Kara Solar, an alliance formed in 2018 between the Achuar people in Ecuador and a multidisciplinary engineering team. Kara Solar aims to address the lack of access to electricity in Indigenous communities by implementing solar river transport, training Indigenous electrical technicians, and establishing localized community energy grids.

This innovative transportation model empowers communities with "travel and energy sovereignty," enabling them to establish and manage robust transportation and energy systems within their territories on their own terms. Nantu emphasizes the significance and elegance of travel sovereignty, noting that it enhances the quality of life for Indigenous communities while contributing to environmental conservation.
To actualize this vision, Kara Solar offers training programs, localized supply chains, innovative financing mechanisms, and technical support. Presently, they maintain a fleet of nine boats and three community solar energy grids, benefiting over 3000 individuals. A crucial aspect of their approach is the training of Indigenous technicians, ensuring local capacity to address mechanical issues promptly and providing economic opportunities for those acquiring technical skills.
Derived from the Achuar word for a realized vision, "Kara Solar" embodies a clear and ambitious vision aligned with Cisco's commitment to advancing the transition to clean energy while fostering resilience and capability.
Nantu envisions a future where Indigenous communities have autonomous access to solar-powered river transportation and solar energy for illuminating homes and businesses, accessing technology, improving health, protecting territories, and fostering sustainable development. Their mission includes safeguarding Indigenous culture and enabling future generations to leverage technology for environmental and societal benefit, emphasizing the importance of forest protection for humanity's well-being.
The Andes Amazon Conservancy (AAC) and its sister organization, Biocorredores Amazónicos, aim to preserve critical connectivity, or "eco-cultural corridors," between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon basin through Indigenous-led conservation efforts and innovative land-use planning in Ecuador. AAC collaborates with 75 Indigenous communities, with flagship programs like the Edible Forest Initiative contributing to their goal of establishing a 175-mile corridor and safeguarding 6 million acres of land.

“Communities participating in the Edible Forest Initiative are planting 20,000 culturally relevant native fruit and nut trees over 300 acres of carefully chosen land,” said Executive Director Rebecca Allen.

In approximately five years, when these trees reach maturity, they will serve to connect extensive areas of rainforest while also contributing to the establishment of cash crops. These crops will play a vital role in bolstering local economies and ensuring food security. This initiative represents AAC's concept of "food sovereignty," which entails reducing reliance on extractive industries and promoting local, sustainable, and community-defined food systems.
The Edible Forest Initiative program exemplifies how economic empowerment and food sovereignty can coexist with ecosystem and climate resilience. Beyond their economic value, the trees planted through this program contribute to carbon sequestration and water retention. Moreover, the strategically located nurseries address immediate restoration needs in critical areas essential for biodiversity conservation.
The roots of these trees, especially along deforested streams and riverbanks, play a crucial role in stabilizing soil, preventing erosion and runoff. By addressing these challenges, the initiative contributes to overall ecosystem health and resilience.
“With the guidance of conservation land-use planning, Indigenous communities make the deliberate choice to prohibit human development in these riparian areas, thus contributing to the preservation of [ecosystem] quality for both present and future generations,” said Rebecca.
Terraso, a social enterprise under Tech Matters, endeavors to empower individuals who wield significant influence over their local landscapes, such as pastoralists, smallholder farmers, and Indigenous communities. Despite their pivotal role in land management and preservation, these local leaders often lack the necessary technical tools to collaborate effectively, foster mutual understanding, or appeal to potential donors. Terraso addresses this gap by equipping participating landscapes with mapping and management tools, while also providing a platform for visually narrating their endeavors.
I recently had the privilege of hearing firsthand accounts from one of Terraso's partners, the Bosque Modelo Risaralda Landscape Partnership (BMR), situated in Colombia, which has spearheaded a participatory landscape management model over the past 25 years. Encompassing 359,000 hectares, the Risaralda alliance brings together research universities, community groups, governmental bodies, and donors to promote biodiversity and enhance livelihoods through sustainable production systems. Bosque Modelo Risaralda Manager, John Rodriguez, underscores the importance of collaborative efforts in fortifying socio-ecosystems against climate change, asserting that biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services promotion must be coupled with sustainable livelihood promotion.
A notable example within BMR is the Cuchilla de San Juan coffee growers' association, which advocates for environmentally sustainable coffee cultivation practices, including intercropping shade trees with coffee bushes. Through the restoration of native species, reduced agrochemical usage, minimized water consumption, and youth involvement in business planning, local producers have embraced innovative agricultural practices that not only promote sustainability but also contribute to financial flexibility and well-being.
BMR represents one of many instances of integrated landscape management practices in South America that are leveraging Terraso's services and platform to disseminate successful approaches to other landscape leaders and attract potential donors. Both Terraso and the Cisco Foundation share the belief that empowering local leaders with high-quality tools, information, and investments will yield superior environmental and economic outcomes for all stakeholders.
Instead of perpetuating an outdated model of "hands-off" conservation, these Cisco Foundation partners operating in and around the Amazon prioritize the integration of economic livelihoods and environmental preservation through community-driven, locally tailored programs. Through their efforts, they demonstrate how stable environments, inclusive societies, and flourishing economies can collaborate to enhance resilience amidst a changing climate.