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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 - February 2022

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 January-March 2021 reporting period, the PEER team began the implementation of activities related to the virtual course on "Technological tools for surveillance and remote monitoring in protected natural areas". In January, the modifications and improvements to the training modules were completed and presented for the organizers (ACCA & PUCP representatives). In February, the PI  coordinated with the organizations (instructors) participating in the course, to launch it, establish the calendar of the modules, and to streamline the evaluation process. In March, the virtual course was launched, ensuring the participation of authorities from Peruvian Protected Areas System SERNANP (Dr. Pedro Gamboa), the Representative of ECA's in Peru, the organzation ANECAP (Fermín Chimatani), the Agency for International Development USAID (Beatriz Torres), Pontifical Catholic University of Peru PUCP (Dr. Carlos Silva) and Conservacion Amazónica ACCA (Maria Elena Gutierrez). On March 22, the presentation of the virtual course was broadcast via  zoom and Facebook live platforms,  with over 115 participating attending the event, 59 chares, and over 9,628 viewings. On March 23, a second virtual coordination meeting was held with all participating students and instructors via Google Classroom platform.

In terms of potential development impacts, the new online course is enabling the team to develop a second round of the course with modules of co-management between the state and native communities, reflecting the dynamics that occur in the Communal Reserves. Likewise, SERNANP is developing a new monitoring platform, where the knowledge obtained by the students during the course will help them easily navigate the information on the platform. Potential clients for the course include other USAID projects, Regional Government of Cusco and Madre de Dios specialists, and Indigenous technicians from FENAMAD. 
 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 activities during 2019 was 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)

 The second year of the project has been challenging due to the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since the project relied on the participation of vulnerable indigenous populations located in some of the most remote geographical locations in Peru. At the beginning of 2020, close coordination with the project team and participating partners was established. Soon after, pandemic-related countrywide lockdowns and travel restrictions forced the team to restructure all their institutional training plans. ACCA, qAIRA, and PUCP activities were switched to teleworking. SERNANP and ECCA-Amarakaeri, on the other hand, had to implement the necessary measures not to become vectors of the virus, especially for the personnel who moved to native communities before the pandemic began. For several weeks in early spring, various activities had to be suspended. The ECA Amarakaeri team had to return to their native communities due to the imminent lockdown. During the months of April and May, the team had to revise their planned project activities focusing on three aspects: (1) drone use training and training on spatial resources for monitoring focused on ECA-Amarakaeri and SERNANP, (2) drone overflights as part of the official area patrols, and (3) dissemination of the results. The project partners agreed to move the training modules online.
With support from PUCP, the project team is currently producing a virtual training course under the auspices of PUCP’s Engineering Faculty entitled “Technological tools for the surveillance and monitoring of natural protected areas.”  Participants who complete the training will receive official certification from PUCP. While understanding the inherent needs of the partner organizations from ECA-Amarakaeri (TAO project), the project team offered to convene them and make a unique effort to improve the training modules on technological tools for the benefit of ECA Amarakaeri and SERNANP. So far, the team developed the introductory material of the course, including two presentation videos, as well as modules on current guidelines for surveillance and control in the protected natural areas and the role of the participating community volunteers. During the upcoming weeks, virtual modules on the use of geographic information systems, mobile applications, and drones for the surveillance of RC Amarakeri and its buffer zone will be completed. The course will be launched in February 2021, with the possibility of conducting drone flights as part of the planned virtual trainings.