Illegal logging in Peru

Written by Jess Morgan

Deaths of Campaigners brings illegal logging to light

A quadruple homicide in Peru’s Amazon Ucayali region has brought to light illegal logging activities and speculation regarding the safety of indigenous peoples.

Four Asheninka natives' bodies were found on 1st September while on their way to Apiwtxa, an Ashéninka community across the border in Brazil. They included a prominent anti-logging campaigner, Edwin Chota, who was the leader of Alto Tamaya-Saweto, a community near the Peruvian frontier with Brazil in the upper reaches of Alto Tamaya River. Chota had been leading campaigns for over 10 years striving to gain his people legal titles to their land and to expel illegal loggers from the area.

'Starting in 2002, he delivered over one hundred letters to as many governmental officials as he could demanding birth certificates, a better school, and adequate health facilities for his community. His life project encompassed every aspect needed to build thriving borderland communities'.

Chota's goal was to aid and better his community whilst conserving natural ecosystems and live sustainably. The Huffington Post wrote that 'Chota dreamed of a borderless Amazonian forest with indigenous peoples thriving alongside the region's biodiversity. He envisioned a new generation of indigenous families living in peace while teaching others how to protect and use the forest. In Chota's dream, Saweto would become a model indigenous community leading the way towards a more sustainable Amazon.'

However the land his community lives on is home to mahogany and cedar, both of which are in high demand globally. states that 80 percent of Peru's total timber exports are illegal and the money that can be earned is a tempting prospect for many: 'Traffickers can earn US$1,700 for every high-quality mahogany tree sold on the black market, and about US$1,000 for a cedar tree' . However as the illegal timber trade has flourished it has attracted smugglers of other illegal goods such as opium and coca paste.

A question of protection

“It was widely known that Edwin Chota and other leaders from the Alto Tamaya-Saweto community were asking for protection from the Peruvian authorities because they were receiving death threats from the illegal loggers operating in their area,” said Julia Urrunaga, director for the Environmental Investigation Agency in Peru, an international conservation group.

In an area where the law is an undefined grey area, the loggers ignore any rights the indigenous peoples may have, be it ownership or humanitarian and work to remove any opposition against their illegal operations.

Without legal protection people such as Chota are in a dangerous position which not only puts their lives, but their environment and communities' livelihoods at risk.

We must support indigenous peoples in gaining rights to their lands. By doing so, we will protect a large share of the world's most biodiverse areas and genetic resources which are found in areas where indigenous peoples live, and where they have been sustainably maintained for millennia. There is a strong need today for global recognition of the critical role that indigenous peoples play in conserving biodiversity.

We need to build and strengthen the capacities of indigenous peoples to protect their land and resource rights. Not only does this hinder illegal loggers, but also promotes food security and sustainable livelihoods. For information about sustainable timber production in South America and what IFAD is doing to help look here.