Late November this year a unique gathering of tribal leaders and progressive business men and women met in a remote jungle lodge to seek common ground to find ways to help conserve rainforest biodiversity and mitigate climate change.
The central issue for this group of indigenous community representatives and progressive entrepreneurs was the identification of sustainable tribal products which could be successfully brought to a wider world market.
Among the 35 participants were Ambrocio Uwate, President of the Aguaruna-Wambiza Council, representing 180 communities, and Javier Dril, Assistant Mayor of the Asháninka district of Rio Tambo, representing more than 30 Asháninka communities. Both are young leaders searching for positive alternatives to multinational exploitation – mainly for oil or timber – of their respective rainforest regions. The Aguaruna and Asháninka tribes are two of the largest ethnic groups still thriving in the Peruvian Amazon. Other Amazonian nations participating included the Ese-Eje, Yanesha, Machiguenga and Yine.
Business people in attendance included eco and eco-cultural tourism operators such as Rainforest Expeditions and Ecotribal, plus high level financial consultants and fashion designers.
The location was Refugio Amazonas, one of the world’s leading rainforest tourism lodges on the Rio Tambopata, arguably one of the most biodiverse jungles on the planet. Techniques used to break the ice between indigenous and business leaders included exploring the rainforest together in the mornings, before sitting around a table to thrash out possibilities and options in the afternoon and evenings. During the jungle walks, the groups came across significant wildlife, not least a wandering band of around 30 wild boar and a harpy eagle, feeding in its nest high up in a Lupuna tree.
By the close of the four day gathering, a strong consensus was achieved for developing a range of sustainable tribal products ranging from craft goods, seed jewellery, certified timber crafts, Brazil nuts, wild rubber items like shoulder bags and waterproof cell-phone pouches, as well as coffee, chocolate and eco-system services like forest carbon and watershed management.
The group finished the weekend highly enthused and keen to meet up again in the near future. In the meantime, several short term objectives were agreed; among these, the creation of a strong brand, research into the potential for sustainable products from each indigenous community, financing options and how to establish an internet communication network were of primary interest. Ongoing communication was identified as an issue since none of the tribal leaders had internet access in their home villages. Given this, one of the first goals is to obtain solar powered satellite internet systems for each community.