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Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)

Numba Wachokkeri: Empowering indigenous peoples to protect their forests with cutting-edge technology

PI Sidney Novoa, (,  Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA), and co-PI Carlos Saito Villanueva, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP)
U.S. Partner: Eben Broadbent, University of Florida
Dates: November 2018 - October 2020

Project Overview

7-355 preparing for flight
Four vertical take-off and landing aircrafts (VTOLs) have been acquired and are being adapted for the project. Photo credit: Lina Stankute-Alexander (NAS)
7-355 Illegal activity site detected by drone
Illegal mining camp detected by the drone. Photo credit: ACCA
The Peruvian Amazon has a diverse landscape with rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. Within this region lies the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ACR) that protects over 690,000 hectares of tropical forest and the native indigenous communities inhabiting it. Additionally, this reserve also connects other important conservation areas, including Manu National Park, Madre de Dios Indigenous Territorial Reserve, Tambopata National Reserve, and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. ACR has an unique management structure, in which the Peruvian National Park Service (SERNANP) co-manage the reserve with an elected indigenous-based organization known as the Executor of the Administrative Contract of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ECA-Amarakaeri). Together, they have established a control and monitoring system to protect the forest. Unfortunately, in recent years the ACR has suffered severe forest loss produced by illegal activities, especially gold mining and logging. Moreover, the implementation of control and monitoring actions in these areas have high logistical costs due to the transportation of park rangers and indigenous community members. These activities also pose a serious risk to the safety of these people because of possible confrontation with offenders.

The use of remote sensing technology, including drones and satellite imagery, are tools that can increase the effectiveness of monitoring efforts and improve the response to threats in a timely manner, while safeguarding the integrity of patrolling members. Therefore, the overall goal of this project is to develop complementary actions for the control and monitoring system of the ACR by using cutting-edge technology. To meet this goal, the project team will: 1) improve and develop current drone technology to overcome barriers in challenging tropical environments; and 2) transfer this technology to achieve the sustainable implementation of effective monitoring and control actions. The research team will develop the present drone technology to overcome the environmental barriers. Then, they will transfer this knowledge to the indigenous communities so they can incorporate it to their control and monitoring actions and increase the effectiveness to reduce the impacts of extractive activities in the ACR. Finally, the project team anticipates the near-real-time knowledge of the advance of illegal activities, through this technology, will result in better decisions for effective co-management.

The project will focus on the southeast Peruvian Amazon, specifically in Madre de Dios region--the biodiversity capital of the country--which currently also has the second highest deforestation rates in Peru, mainly due to illegal and informal gold mining and the expansion of the agricultural frontier. This project is anticipated to address natural resources sustainably managed in the Amazon Basin and glacier highlands, because it is focused on monitoring extractive activities that threaten the natural resources of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ACR) and its indigenous communities. The project will evaluate the strategies built between the Peruvian National Park Service (SERNANP) and the indigenous-based organization that co-manage the ACR, ECA-Amarakaeri, especially related to the control and monitoring efforts to protect the reserve. The project seeks to develop capacities related to the use of cutting-edge technology, in order to improve the ACR control and monitoring activities to protect the natural resources. These activities include the direct participation of official park rangers (SERNANP) and members of the ECA-Amarakaeri indigenous vigilance committee.

Project updates

During the first year of the PEER team carried out most of the planned activities. Meetings with  partners, including  Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), qAIRa, the Executor of the Administrative Contract of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ECA-Amarakaeri), the Peruvian National Park Service (SERNANP), and the University of Florida (UF) were carried out. Communal Reserves are protected areas whose management scheme involves the indigenous people of the area (in this case, ECA Amarakaeri) and the national government (SERNANP). The  (ACR) aims to protect over 690 000 hectares of tropical forest and its resources that are used by the indigenous groups that inhabit the surrounding area. The team diagnosed the current state of technology and limitations for its effective application in remote areas of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ACR). The team hired a member of these indigenous communities as a field technician who is serving as an intermediary between the technical staff and the indigenous communities of the ACR to conduct vulnerability assessment of the protected area including  threats, human pressures, roads (accessibility), and deforestation risk.

The project team purchased four vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drones, specifically Foxtech Nimbus VTOL V2 for Mapping and Survey (X9D Combo)  to  implement  monitoring and control activities in the ACR. These drones were first flown in Lima, where their flight range and their use in photogrammetry were tested.  Thereafter, the drones were tested in La Merced, a mountainous tropical forest close to Lima in the Chanchamayo Valley which is similar to the ACR but where the accessibility to the area gave the team more control of the situation. In a farmhouse close to the city the team then tested the telemetry of the drone, where it reached a distance of 10 km away from the take-off point (the maximum distance tested so far), and  where the team  also managed to photograph an area in the slopes where the derived mosaic comprised about 350 hectares with an average resolution of 10 cm per pixels).  Flight tests will also be done along with SERNANP and ECA-Amarakaeri.

In efforts to strengthen capacities to use and implement this technology for effective monitoring and control activities, the team developed a baseline of such work in the ACR.  Monitoring and control activities carried on in the ACR between 2014 and 2018 by the staff of SERNANP (official park rangers) and ECA-Amarakaeri (members of the indigenous vigilance committee) were assessed  including evaluating the capacity of this team to incorporate the use of technology during monitoring and control work. An updated monitoring and control strategy was drafted which now includes regulations stipulating the use of technology, specifically, VTOL drones.  

 7-355 Preparing for patrol7-355 road
Preparing for the special patrol to verify illegal mining sites, October 8, 2019 On the road to the launch point. Photo credit: ACCA
7-355 installing signs 7-355 Evidence of illegal mining
Installation of the Amarakaeri CR signs. Photo credit: ACCA Evidence of illegal mining activities. Photo credit: ACCA

One of the highlights of completed activities so far has been the discovery of the presence of an illegal mining camp in the Quincemil sector. With the support of both organizations, including participation from ACCA, qAIRA/PUCP, HIVOS, Digital Democracy, SERFOR and local journalists from Mongabay, a special campaign was carried out  to verify the presence of illegal mining activities within the sector. The PEER team conducted  VTOL drone flights in the ACR Buffer Zone and within ACR, and Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (ACR) signs at the Buffer Zone of ACR were installed. Following verification of results in the field, the team discovered an illegal mining camp in one of the sectors within the ACR. Based on this finding, the ACR park ranger and ECA Amarakaeri team conducted a field inspection to intervene, and SERNANP sent their park ranger to destroy the abandoned camp. This mining camp infrastructure could not have been detected through any other remote sensing resource, which further underscores the importance of this VTOL drone technology developed by the PEER project team to combat illegal activities in remote areas of the protected areas.
7-355 Walter Quertehuari 7-355 USAID and NAS site visit 
Walter Quertehuari, President of the ECA Amarakaeri. Photo credit: Beatriz Torres (USAID/Peru)  USAID and NAS site visit with the PEER team and stakeholders in Quincemil January 2020. Drone flight demonstration. Photo credit: Beatriz Torres (USAID/Peru)

During January-March 2020 reporting period, the team advanced work of  Strengthening Capacities for the use of Technology in control and surveillance activities. The training entitled "Use of open access tools for satellite monitoring of threats"  intended for the personnel  from ECA and park rangers from RC Amarakaeri on the use of free software has been prepared by the GIS specialist at the Madre de Dios in ACCA and initially scheduled to take place during  March 23-26, 2020.  had to be postponed due to Covid-19 pandemic.