Self-management in local communities of the lower Caura: Towards a sustainable model of forest management through conservation agreements as an alternative to extractivism
EXPLORA Magazine. Second Special Edition. 2021.
Conservation Agreements are mechanisms that guarantee the protection of natural areas, allowing communities to make sustainable use of their resources. In the Caura National Park, specifically in the lower basin of the Caura River or North Sector, two conservation agreements exist: the Suapure Conservation Agreement (SCA) and the Tzazenai Conservation Agreement (TCA), which started in 2009 and 2014, respectively.
Phynatura intervened as an implementer of the SCA from 2009 to 2015, establishing baselines that included forest characterization, wildlife biodiversity as well as the socio-economic characteristics of the communities involved to establish indicators for sustainably managing biodiversity. These included records and population status of key animal species (e.g. jaguar, tapir, black curassow, yellow-spotted river turtle and spectacled caiman), changes in forest area, ecology of species of interest for the use of non-timber forest products (i.e. sarrapia and copaiba) and socioeconomic verification (population benefited directly or indirectly, total income from conservation incentives and from the sale of non-forest products).
In 2013, with the constitution of the Aripao Association for Afro-descendants, the community began to evaluate the agreements’ sustainability with the vision of taking up the implementation at a medium-term. In 2016, they signed the TCA with the La Colonial community, an unprecedented experience worldwide: two communities agreeing to protect an important forest area, and together defend its territory. Since 2017, Aripao has been in charge of supervising conservation actions in La Colonial and developing capacities that allow other sustainable development plans to be implemented as well.
Both communities carry out patrols in conservation areas defined by the communities themselves. These are performed by groups of four people for 28 days a month verifying the absence of threats to biodiversity such as deforestation, timber extraction, hunting, fishing during closed seasons, and mining while recording signs of different animal species and looking out for future crops of sarrapia and copaiba with the help of GPS and photographic cameras.
In the years 2018 and 2019, functions and roles within the basic institutional fabric of the agreement (Community, financier, support organization) changed. The Aripao C.A. for Afro-descendants are now able to implement the lower Caura agreements and manage actions related to conservation actions and other sustainable development options, leaving Phynatura and other supporting organizations, allies or partners, to search for new options for scaling.
This change demanded strengthening the capacities acquired by the association’s members to reinforce biodiversity conservation actions, such as data collection, reporting, and fostering and managing inter-institutional relationships, in order to be able to frame this experience within sustainable development, exemplifying a successful and unique experience in Venezuela. In the midst of the current severe political, economic, health and environmental crisis, this demonstrates that well-oriented social work that is participatory and well-planned is the path to sustainable development.
In a better national context, with strong institutions, assertive democratic policies, economic stability and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities and the boundaries of protected areas, the experience of these agreements would be a scalable and replicable model in other high biodiversity areas.
Experiences like these demonstrate the benefits of conservation plans as an alternative and sustainable livelihood for local communities and how they can be extended to neighboring communities, generating a culture that cares for forests and perceives them as a source of wealth.