Helping Sustainable Development in La Cachuela, Peruvian Amazon
This summer’s interns are currently working away on perhaps our most exciting development project yet. We are lucky enough to be participating in a sustainable development planning workshop in a small Amazonian community called La Cachuela. It is a community of just 50 families who live spread across a forested and agricultural area of 2,000 hectares. Right next to a growing Amazonian tourist industry in the city of Puerto Maldonado, the people of La Cachuela (locally known as ‘moradores’) want to tap into the tourism market in order to boost their own economy and to stop their youth from moving away to the cities to find work.
On Thursday 1st August, the Green Planet Ventures interns joined a town meeting in La Cachuela to discuss the possibilities for local development. Although just a small handful of villagers came to the meeting, it was enough to generate a lively discussion which lasted all morning.
First of all, there was a presentation by a local ecotourism businessman from Puerto Maldonado, Mario Troncoso, on possible ways to attract tourists to the area. His suggestions were met with great enthusiasm by the moradores; for a community with such a stagnant economy, tourism is the fastest and easiest way to boost it dramatically.
However, the influx of tourists and rapid development of the area comes with its pros and cons, and proper management of the project is essential. The implementation of sustainable development planning must accompany such a project in order to ensure long-term benefits to the community, as well as to the natural environment. This is where we – the Green Planet Ventures organisation, myself and the other interns on the program working in partnership with Eco-decisions (a local NGO) – will be involved in the process. Our aim is to contribute ideas to the development planning of La Cachuela and to create a proposal which ensures fair economic growth of the community as well as the protection of the local habitats and species.
At the meeting, the floor was opened up to the members of the community to vocalise the existing “opportunities” in the area: fish farming, agriculture, livestock, logging and gold mining. It was established that, currently, all forms of farming are subsistence with very little produce being sold beyond the community. Unfortunately, the main source of income for the inhabitants is the logging industry which recruits the majority of the young people here. At this time of year there is hardly anyone about because they are all away with the logging companies working in another area of forest. And of course, the elephant in the room was the very lucrative illegal gold mining activity which takes place on the banks of the mineral-rich river.
With the local government increasing restrictions on logging and cracking down on illegal gold mining, communities such as these must find better sources of income. The existing opportunities for economic growth must be re-evaluated, and more sustainable and responsible practices must be considered. Loraiza invited the community members present to suggest ways in which the current opportunities could be developed for economic purposes.
This consultation of local opinion as part of the development planning process may seem obvious, but unfortunately, we heard from one of the villagers that in many cases the locals are left out of the discussion while “NGOs take over”. Professional evaluations are so often prioritised over local opinion, which will undoubtedly be to the detriment of an ecosystem services analysis, like the one we conducted, or any other analysis to support development. The simple act of asking the moradores their opinion was to become the most fruitful part of our meeting. The suggestions for development came pouring out: the production of transformed goods such as medicinal oils from the rainforest, flour made from cassava, jars of bee honey and woven baskets and bags. Creating a chocolate cooperative was one idea, where farmers could bring their cacao to be made into chocolate, and tourists would be invited to experience the chocolate-making process and to the shop. As the ideas continued to flow, it became clear that there is so much potential for development in La Cachuela and that its natural resources were an almost limitless source of inspiration.
So what was stopping them from expanding their local economy? Almost instantly, the main constraint was identified: a lack of unity within the community. Over the past decade, the movement of people away from the area towards the cities has left behind a very fractured and demotivated community. There were once 200 students at the local school, and now there are just 7. In order for such development projects to take off, the community must come back together and be united by a shared goal.
A further strain, highlighted by the moradores, was the fear that the conservation aims of the project would have a negative impact on the livelihood of the people of La Cachuela. Many conservation-orientated NGOs who have been to areas such as these have a reputation for showing up and telling the local people that they can no longer fish, hunt or cut back more forest for cultivation. Such restrictions are a death penalty for the inhabitants who have no other way to source their food other than in the natural environment which surrounds them. Organisations such as Green Planet Ventures take a much more holistic view of the ecosystem – both human and environmental – and propose realistic solutions which will benefit both man and nature.
Our aim (Green Planet Venture’s Staff, with the rest of my fellow interns) is to finish our information gathering process over the next week and to document a sustainable development proposal which we will present to the moradores at the end of the period. We will be living in the community for this week, meeting with some of the villagers and exploring the area on foot to better asses the natural environment and the local livelihoods. In this way we can come up with development proposal for La Cachuela. A proposal which takes into account the needs of the people as well as the needs of the natural environment.