Arriving in Nuevo Saposoa is difficult. It involves embarking on a speedboat in the port of Pucallpa, the largest city in the state of Ucayali, east of the Amazon. The trip is almost two hours by river, through the vast Peruvian jungle, and impossible to do without the company of an armed man who scares the pirates who try to dock the boat. The precaution might seem absurd, but it is reasonable: this region has been harshly punished for the trafficking of cocaine and jungle wood. These illegal practices are the main source of income and violence in the region. The road is lonely, but in the last section a new member is added to the delegation: a DJI drone that escorts us in the final part of the route.
For two years, the Shipibo community of Nuevo Saposoa has mixed the fishing activity, from which they live, with the organized protection of the jungle. The gray four-propeller aircraft, which moves with stealth but does not go unnoticed by its characteristic buzz, became its best ally to stop the deforestation and the illegal coca planting in what they consider sacred ground.
The Shipibo came to this region, which borders the Sierra del Divisor National Park, 60 years ago. Their community has always lived in the Amazon region and chose Nuevo Saposoa as good land for a new settlement because of its proximity to the river, which assured them abundant fishing.
We knew where they were cutting trees and planting coca, but going to face the invaders was very dangerous
The peace lasted until they found themselves face to face with jungle areas completely cut down. "We did not have how to protect her. We knew where they were cutting trees, where they were planting coca, but going to face the invaders was very dangerous, took many days on the road and neglected our source of income, "explains Apu Tedy, the community leader. "Everything got worse when they killed one of our brothers from the neighboring community, who wanted to stop an illegal coca planting."
In 2015, the Peruvian state estimated that there were at least 160 deforestation alerts in the area, although they were not completely sure of the data. The community had resigned themselves to isolation and fear, until in 2016 they were visited by the National Service of Natural Protected Areas by the State (Sernanp) to invite them to use the GeoBosques platform.
"They came to offer to take care of the jungle together, using drones and early warnings. At first we did not want to because we did not know how to use any of that technology, but they were teaching us, first with physical maps and then with cell phones, and now we have managed to get two more communities to join the initiative ", says Teófilo Magipo, one of the indigenous leaders of the project.
The alliance works in the following way: Sernanp provides them with a pair of mobile phones and a drone. The cell phone has the GeoBosques application installed, which is updated weekly when the indigenous leaders connect it to the internet. There, it receives a series of satellite images that alert areas where deforestation has been detected.
The Indians use these coordinates to fly with their drone and document the activity, obtaining sufficient evidence of what is happening in the field, without having to go seven days into the jungle to reach the place or put their safety at stake. With these images, the Sernanp and the Office of the Prosecutor have sufficient evidence to travel to the area, capture the invaders and make pedagogy among those who cut down or cultivate illegal plants.
"The first time we went with the State to a coca-growing area, it made us laugh because the sower did not understand how we knew he was there. We explained that a very high satellite in the sky had seen what he was doing and was very surprised, because he did not know that someone could see him so deep in the jungle ", narrates a proud Magipo.
For his work as a forester, the state pays the Shipibo about 22,000 euros a year. This collection is reinvested in local fishing, farming and housing projects that are chosen in consensus by the community.
"We would like more money, but what matters is that this project has empowered us and allowed us to take care of our jungle: in just two years we went from having more than 160 deforestation alerts to not having one this year," he comments. Tedy pride. To this they add the honor of having under their care a shihuahuaco of 1,500 years, species in danger of extinction in the Peruvian jungle for its desired wood.
Caring for the jungle is taking care of our history and what we are
The success of the strategy has been such that the state has placed under its care 9,000 hectares of jungle, 700 of which can exploit for the sustenance of its community. If we take into account the area covered by the other two neighboring indigenous communities, the GeoBosques program has managed to recover 90% of the area of influence of the Sierra del Divisor National Park, the most important jungle flora and fauna reserve in Peru.
Although there are areas where logging continues and the illegal coca planting, it is increasingly difficult for the invaders to destroy Amazonas to do business. "To take care of the jungle is to take care of our history and what we are: we are no longer afraid and we know that we can maintain this natural wealth for many more generations," Magipo concludes.