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GIS and Long Range Economic Planning for Indigenous Territories

Along the Ampiyacu River, a tributary of the Peruvian Amazon near the border with Brazil, exist fourteen communities of Huitoto, Bora, Yagua, and Ocaina peoples. IN 1992 our research team listened to them lament the disappearance of game animals from their forests. To find large game animals like peccary, deer and tapir, hunters had to walk five days into the forest, and even then, it was now mostly a matter of luck to find something.

The Huitoto and Bora were moved there from the Caquetá River of Colombia in 1937 by their "owners", the Loayza brothers, former bosses for the infamous Amazon Rubber Company. For the next two decades they gathered forest products - rubber, animal skins, rosewood, resins and others - for the Loayzas, paying off the perpetual debt which they accrued at the Loayza Company stores. When the Loayza brothers left the area in 1958 because of the diminished demand for amazonian products, the Indians had ambivalent feelings about it; they gained their freedom from a system of debt peonage, but they lost what they now remember as a relatively painless source of market goods.

For the next twenty-five years, they tried many different formulas to regain access to those coveted goods. They exchanged the traditional forest products at a great disadvantage with the river traders who began entering the Ampiyacu after the Loayzas left. They attempted to raise cattle, imitating a small ranch established by an American missionary on a tributary of the Ampiyacu. They sold coca leaf to the Colombian cartel for several years until the police pushed the cartel further south into Peru.

During the mid-1980's, they experienced an economic boom. A growing tourist trade entered the lower villages several times a week to buy handicrafts and to pay for the privilege of watching traditional dancing. At the same time, the Peruvian government established a branch of the Agrarian Bank in the nearby mestizo town of Pevas to encourage the production of jute for a government-owned sack factory on the coast. The Agrarian Bank gave out credit to plant jute and bought up all the production at subsidized prices. the acreage planted in jute along the Ampiyacu, as indeed along other amazonian tributaries, increased dramatically between 1985 and 1990.

The austerity measures introduced by the Fujimori government in 1990 led to the closing of both the sack factory and the Agrarian Bank. An entire crop of jute rotted. At the same time, the cholera epidemic of 1991 and the rash of car bombings by Shining Path Guerrillas between 1989-1992 reduced the flow of tourists to a trickle; unsold handicrafts piled up in the village. It was economic hard times again. In 1992, our research team heard many Ampiyacu Indians speak longingly of the golden era when the Loayzas provided them with market goods; the harsh treatment and the eternal debts had slipped from their memories.

Since 1990, the only market which has expanded in the region is that for fame meat. With the other alternatives gone, the men rushed to the forest to hunt whatever animal was unfortunate enough to get in the way of a shotgun; the choicest meat was sold in Pevas to intermediaries for the Iquitos market. The high price paid made the effort worth while. But the game disappeared quickly.

Pushed to recognize what was happening, the men of the Ampiyacu admitted that they were overhunting game stock in their area, violating their own traditional norms against taking more than they need for subsistence. And yet, fully aware of the consequences of their own actions, they continued both to lament the disappearance of wildlife species and to hunt them to extinction.


The past three decades have been critical for indigenous amazonians. During those years, the governments of the amazonian countries - through their military, their oil and mining companies, their colonization and road-building programs - and the market economy - through its many extractive and commercial interests - have penetrated the deepest corners of the Basin. The region's indigenous peoples have defied this penetration and at the same time have aspired to be part of it, especially attracted to the new possibilities of acquiring trade goods. During those three decades most indigenous peoples entered the market economy through the sale of their labor, of their traditional produce, or other extractive products in demand in the regional markets.

In the face of their dwindling territories and the continuous violations of their cultural and linguistic rights, indigenous resistance during the decade of the 1960s, when they began forming community-based ethnic federations as a means of collective defense (Smith 1994), By the early 1980's, they had established a national confederation of local ethnic federations in each of the give major amazonian countries.

In 1984, these five national organizations formed an umbrella group, the Coordinating Body of Indian Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), to coordinate their political platforms and their voice on the international stage. In 1992, INdian organizations from the four other amazonian countries joined the COICA.

The struggle for territorial rights has been their priority since the establishment of the ethnic federations three decades ago. One of the most promising developments in this struggle is the emergence of a growing consciousness of indigenous amazonians as peoples with the right to occupy and use their own territories. The demand for the reconstitution and legal recognition of Indian territories can now be heard throughout the Amazon Basin (Chirif et al., 1992). In response, governments are beginning to accede. Recent concessions include the official recognition of the Huaorani Territory (over 1.9 million acres) and the Pastaza Territories (over 5 million acres) in Ecuador, the Kogapakori-Nahua Territory in Peru (988,000 acres), the reversion of part of the Putumayo Predio to its indigenous inhabitants in Colombia (about 7.4 million acres) and the recognition as Indian territory of the Chimanes Forest (1.9 million acres originally set aside for lumber operations) and the Isiboro-Secure National Park in Bolivia.

One of the most important strategies for the defense of secured territories is the careful development of the territory in ways which satisfy the growing and changing economic needs of the population and at the same time which conserve and manage its resource for continuous, long term use. While there is some awareness among the indigenous organizations of the importance of this strategy, there has accumulated knowledge for putting it into action.


In February 1992, Oxfam America and COICA launched a joint research project focused on economic development strategies for indigenous peoples and their territories in the Amazon Basin. Of particular interest in this study were the changes which have taken place in the economic lives of the Amazon's indigenous inhabitants during the past several decades. It was guided by a series of cardinal questions which reflect the importance given to such a dynamic perspective. For example: 1 In the face of these enormous changes, what is happening to the traditional indigenous subsistence economy? It is still capable of providing alternatives for the economic security of the indigenous peoples? 2 How and under what conditions are indigenous peoples participating in the different regional economics in the different regional economies in the Amazon basin? How is that evolving? What trade-offs have indigenous peoples made for that participation? 3 Under the pressure to produce cash income, what has happened to the indigenous patterns of resource consumption, use and management? 4 Under the growing pressure of colonists, cattle ranchers, extractive industries, and others who now compete for traditionally indigenous resources, what has happened to the resources base of the surviving communities? 5 What is the economic future of indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin? What lessons can be learned from the past 25 years?

To address these questions, the research project undertook five in-depth case studies, one in each of the countries with an affiliate of the COCIA (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia), as well as evaluations of 25 development initiatives in indigenous communities in the same countries. The research project was designed to be both decentralized, with a local team in each county, and participatory, with the local team linked directly to the national indigenous peoples' organization. Each of the local research teams had four members, two non-Indians with experience in local development initiatives. The five local teams were coordinated by a central team based in Lima. The first phase of the research ended in November, 1993.

In addition to external factors such as the economic history of the region of each case study, and socio-economic factors such as how the strategies to satisfy the need for cash have affected the traditional subsistence economy, specific interest was in the physical changes in the resources base of the case study communities as well as in the changes in the relationship between the community members and their natural world.

Each team used data gathering and mapping techniques to determine several important physical aspects of the study area. Data on land tenancy in the study area was collected in an effort to work out the basic patterns of land and resource ownership and to determine the principal areas of conflict. In those case study areas with existing land use capacity maps, the tenancy data was combined with them to understand how the resources base of the Indian territories compares with that of non-Indian areas.

Of particular interest was how the vegetative cover has changed over the past quarter century in the study area, and how these changes relate to changes in economic activities of the indigenous inhabitants. To do this, the team combined the perceptions of the local peoples based on participatory mapping methodology with the study of actual land use and vegetative cover based on satellite images from different points in time.


In order to enhance both the data gathering process and the didactic aspects of the research, the project has underscored the importance of mapping as an integral part of the case study methodology. Field-based participatory mapping techniques were combined with the use and interpretation of satellite imagery, aerial photographs, and GIS technology.

Participatory mapping is a process of stimulating local peoples to produce maps of resource distribution, land use capacity, social layout and differentiation, property structure, and land use at the family and community level. when these maps were produced at the community level, they became instruments for community discussion and involvement in the research project.

These mapping exercises were combined with other techniques such as transect walks (walks through the mapped area to test the accuracy of the local perceptions), seasonal calendars (the recording of seasonal activities, and patterns as perceived by local peoples), and gathering of local histories, detailed accounts of how things have changed in the local area over the past 30 years.

The maps and charts produced through these participatory methods were helpful in the interpretation of satellite images, aerial photos, and other data from remote sensing sources. At the outset of the study, it was agreed that each team would produces four maps at the regional level (1:100000) and 3 maps at the community level (1:500000) for each case study area. Given the time constraints on each team and the varying types and amounts of existing data available, some teams produced more maps with greater detail than others. In some cases maps are still being assembled. The ideal set of maps included the following: 1 Property Structure/Population 1970-1992

In one map data on the kinds of property found in the study area and their current status is combined with data on the population according to ethnic origin, economic occupation, sex, age, etc. Information on property, because it is closely linked to economic interests, is often difficult to obtain; the teams used combinations of data from state land-titling offices, on-the-ground interviews with local property owners, and participatory mapping in the communities. 2 Actual Land Use/Cover-Deforestation 1970-1992

(See Map I: Ampiyacy, Peru). These maps compare the type of vegetative cover/land use in the area of study at some point in the past with the current situation to determines how it has changed. In one case (Rio Jordao, Brazil) data for the late 1960's based on aerial photographs is combined with local testimonies. For the Peru case study, the team had access to a Landsat image from 1979. IN the other cases data earlier than the late 1980's was not attainable.

For the current situation, recent Landsatfs TM images were used. Working agreements were established in each country with an institution which the technical capacity for the interpretation of this material: these include INRENA in Peru, INPE-CEDI in Brazil, CLIRSEN-Catholic University-PRONAREC in Ecuador, and CMMAR-Rene Moreno University-CORDECRUZ in Bolivia. 3 Types of Use Areas/Waters

Each team gathered data on how the study area's different ecological niches and exploited for the unique subsistence resources they contain. These use areas are to a large degree culturally defined by the local inhabitants. These include house gardens, swidden garden, barbecho our old garden sites, primary forest, aguajal or palm forests, seasonally flooded river plain, and seasonal beaches, among others. This mapalso also includes rivers, streams, bodies of water and wetlands. 4 Land Use Capacity

State agencies were relied on for the official land use capacity maps. However for all five cases, these are large scale maps which are not very reliable. Some case study teams attempted to verify these maps on the ground, but that turned out to be far too costly. To be reliable, land use maps should be at a scale of 1:50000 or less and should take into account soil quality, rainfall and topography. The interpretation of these maps to classify land use capacity must necessarily reflect local use patterns, as demonstrated by field visits and participatory mapping techniques rather than generic use categories as is often the case.

The data gathered to produce these maps was organized in each country using GIS which are now in a common PC Arc/Info format. Arc/Info is GIS software that comes in two formats: one for IBM compatible PCs (DOS-based) and one for Workstation computers (UNIX AND VAX-based).


With few exceptions and despite the incorporation of most indigenous amazonians into the market economy during recent decades, traditional subsistence activities of swidden agriculture, hunting, fishing, gathering, and domestic manufactures continue to be the primary source of their sustenance. Some of the many common characteristics of the subsistence economics around the Basin were identified. 1 The menu of subsistence strategies is tremendously varied, and the amazonians - by taking advantage of the immense diversity of forest and aquatic resources available - turn this complexity into a subsistence blessing. 2 Despite the diversity of resources available each one in particular is relatively scarce (or disperse) and usually dependent on the season. This had led to a pattern of resource use which is extensive rather than intensive. 3 These factors in combination with others of historical nature (wars, migrations, disease, etc.) have led to a settlement pattern which is both disperse, with small kin-based settlements located strategically near the most important resources, and mobile, with a cultural ability to change settlement sites as resources are depleted. 4 Within an ethnic territory, there are no recognized of private property over the productive resources; all members of settlements have equal access to them.

During the past three decades, the resources available to local settlements have been limited and enclosed within property boundaries while settlements have grown in size and become less mobile. To safeguard a viable future for both subsistence and market-oriented activities under these conditions, the inhabitants of each indigenous territory urgently need to develop a global plan for managing their resources. To prepare such a plan, the community must gather and organize information about their territory and their relationship with it. This should include the following components: * inventories of the renewable and non-renewable resources available. * knowledge and understanding of the interaction of these resources, their behavior, their reproduction, necessary conditions to maintain healthy stocks of the resource, etc., based on traditional sources and technical studies. * estimates of the resource needs to satisfy the subsistence base of the community; and * estimates of sustainable harvest-or-use-rates per family based on an analysis of available stocks, the behavior, reproduction or growth of the resource, and the resource needs.

Based on the above estimates and on traditional management practices, the community can begin to develop plans for the care, reproduction, and use of the resource. An important component of the global plan are concrete standards for monitoring the use of the resources and measuring the impact of that use on the stock of resources. The monitoring practice can act as a reality check to feel information back into the plan for adjustments and refinements. To support the global plan, the community needs to establish norms for community tenancy rights over the resources and for exercising authority/sanctions over those who do not respect the management plan.

A global management plan is not viable unless it is widely accepted and supported within the community. In developing a global plan, the entire community needs to be well-informed and involved. Given the fundamental long-term importance of such a plan for the ecological and economic health of a community, the plan must be approved by consensus.


Through the mapping component of the case studies came familiarity with GIS technology. It offered to convenient way to organize into layers or coverages much of the data on each case study as well as easy way to compare the different layers of data.

Working agreements were established with institutions in each of the participating countries which could provide GIS services. These institutional relationships became a very important access point to these new analytical tools which until that point, were used exclusively by government agencies and large private companies.

Through this collaborative aspect of the research project came familiarity with the potential of GIS for the defense and management of indigenous territories. After careful consideration and consultation with specialists, the research project decided to develop an in-house GIS unit. Several possible program options (two vector systems, Arc/Info and CAMRIS, and two raster systems, IDRISI and CISIG) were explored, with the resulting choice being PC Arc/Info as it offered the greatest range of possibilities as well as the broadest range of users.

In May 1993, the author received training in Arc/Info from the manufacturers of the software. With funds remaining from the research project and in consultation with AIDESEP, the national amazonian Indian organization in Pery, the project hired Mario Pariona, the forester from the Pery research team, and Emeto Tuesta, a young Aguaruna with training in computer technology, to establish a GIS unit.

GIS has important long range applications for indigenous amazonians in two specific areas. For an effective defense of indigenous territories, the INdian organizations urgently need to bring together, organize, and manage large amounts of information about the areas occupied or claimed by indigenous peoples, those areas in the process of being recognized, and those already titled, as well as information about non-Indian claims to lands, timber, minerals and petroleum. In each country, that information is scattered among different government offices. A GIS can make that task much easier.

After six months of in-house training and experimentation, the GIS unit took on its first project for AIDESEP, developing a model GIS data base for the Ashaninka communities of the upper Ucayali River, recently demarcated by an AIDESEP land titling project. (See Map 2.) To do so, base maps in UTM (Universal Transverse Mercators, a map projection system) developed the Defense Mapping Agency of a scale of 1:100000, individual community boundary maps based on unprojects radar images and surveying data at scales ranging from 1:10000 to 1:50000,-were combined with extensive information from questionnaires used in each community. The result, manipulated through Arc/View, a Windows-based data management system, is an easily used systems of information which combines accurate geographical information with tabular data. The system can readily be updated. To include in this system all 1000+amazonian Indian communities in Peru would require an investment of at least two years' time.

The second important use for GIS is in developing and monitoring a plan for resource management in each specific territory. Because a GIS allows the user to organize and store data in different layers, it is possible to combine information on soil types, topography, vegetative cover, land use, population distribution,and other data in different ways to provide a basis for classifying and identifying use zones for a community. The final product would be the base map for the resource management plan indicating the appropriate activities for each zone of the territory. For example, FECONA, the organization of the 14 communities in the Ampiyaca basin, could apply GIS to analyze what has happened to the wild game population and to delineate zones for game management. To date, only CEDI of Brazil has begun to use GIS in this way.

The long-term goals is for each national Indian organization under the COCIA umbrella to have an in-house GIS unit for territories defense, planning and management, linked to the available technical support within the country. Through the Joint Research Projection Economic Strategies, the very important first steps of introducing GIS to indigenous amazionians have been taken.

The research was carried out jointly by Oxfam America and COCIA with five of its member organizations. The research was coordinated by the author and by Cristobal Tapuy of COICA. It was supported by grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation, the Merck Fund, the Leo Model Foundation, Oxfam America, Oxfam UK and Ireland, and Action Aid. The GIS unit has received support from the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Redlands, CA. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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