USING IMPROVED TECHNOLOGY TO SAFEGUARD INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE
Paraguay is home to the second largest forest ecosystem in South America and to many indigenous communities who depend on the forest for their livelihoods. But the region has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, with roughly 20 per cent of the Gran Chaco forest converted to farmland or grazing land since 1985.
“Our forests give us food, shelter, materials to build our houses and medicinal plants to cure the members of our community,” says Cornelia Flores, the indigenous and spiritual leader of Isla Jovai Teju, one of the Mbya Guarani communities in Caagazu, Paraguay. “I plant trees and make sure we maintain the medicinal plants so as to preserve our ancestral indigenous knowledge that is slowly getting lost as the forests disappear.”
“Our forests give us food, shelter, materials to build our houses and medicinal plants to cure the members of our community,”Cornelia Flores
Flores is concerned about the youth in her community, particularly their dependence on mobile phones and their lack of knowledge about local plants and forests. But Rumilda Fernández, a young indigenous forest technician from the same community, says her smartphone can serve for far more than just entertainment. “My phone is also my tool to monitor the forest,” she says. “I took several training sessions and am now proud to be able to use my phone to support the community by monitoring the forest.”
Fernández is one of the indigenous youth to benefit from a series of trainings that began in Paraguay in 2017 with the goal of strengthening local capacity for community-monitoring and natural resource management in four Mbya Guaranies communities. She was trained by indigenous technicians from Panama, a team from FAO and other partner institutions from Paraguay on topics like GIS, mapping, natural resources management and the use of mobile applications.
Rafael Valdespino, an indigenous technician from Panama, has been part of the capacity-development programme on community forest monitoring since 2015. After attending several training courses, he is now an instructor and travels to other countries to share his experience through South-South exchanges organized by UN-REDD. “I was born in the forest,” he says. “My grandfather and my father taught me about the forest, the plants and how to protect and take care of them. Combining ancestral knowledge with new technologies has made me a stronger protector of our indigenous forests.”
Valdespino believes training other indigenous youth is an important step in motivating them to actively engage in protecting the forest. At these exchanges, a sense of common purpose arises.
“I learned a lot from the exchanges we had with the indigenous technicians from Panama,” says Fernández. “It is so inspiring to see what they were able to accomplish. We learned from what they are doing, but it also gave us hope to know they also had setbacks. We learned things are not going to change in one day, that it is a process, sometimes a long one. That really motivated me and the other youth to persevere, to continue on our paths. I hope more communities in Paraguay will be able to benefit from these trainings.”