Biocultural conservation in association with the Maijuna tribe

Biocultural conservation in association with the Maijuna tribe near the Yanayacu River of northeastern Peru

The Maijuna, also known as the Orejón, are an endangered and marginalized indigenous group found in the northeastern Peruvian Amazon. Today, there are only 400 Maijuna individuals left living in four villages in a large area between the Napo and Putumayo Rivers. The intact nature of Maijuna ancestral lands and the biological diversity present within them is a testament to the past and present environmental stewardship of the Maijuna and the sustainability of their traditional resource use and management strategies. Unfortunately, because Maijuna ancestral lands are rich in resources, they are at times under siege by illegal incursions from poachers and resource extractors from outside their communities. The Peruvian government is considering building a road directly through the heart of Maijuna ancestral territory. The Maijuna are adamantly against this and are asking the Peruvian government to create a protected area that would formally protect over 336,000 hectares of their ancestral lands and the critically important biological and cultural diversity found there.

In response to threats to their biocultural resources, Maijuna elders and leaders established the Federación de Comunidades Nativas Maijunas (FECONAMAI), a Maijuna indigenous federation representing all four Maijuna communities. Since its inception, the principle goals of FECONAMAI have been to (1) conserve the environment, (2) conserve the Maijuna culture, and (3) improve Maijuna community organization. In short, FECONAMAI is literally fighting for the survival of the Maijuna on a daily basis. To assist the Maijuna in this struggle, RCF has teamed up with FECONAMAI to save their critically endangered culture and their biologically rich ancestral lands. Led by the efforts of RCF Board member and ethnobiologist Dr. Michael Gilmore, who has worked closely with the Maijuna on community-based biocultural conservation projects over the past 10 years, and apiculture specialist German Perilla, over the past year RCF has worked to assist and empower Maijuna indigenous communities to conserve their ancestral lands by (1) helping to create a large protected area, (2) providing material support and capacity building to help them guard their lands, and (3) developing a community-based beekeeping project which will ultimately provide a sustainable alternative to more extractive resource use activities.

2010 FECONAMAI Congress

RCF president Jim Penn and extensionists German Perilla, Exiles Guerra, and Gerardo Bertiz, with Maijuna leaders

The Maijuna were seeking assistance in establishing sustainable development activities that will allow them to improve their economic circumstances while conserving both their biological and cultural resources. This is especially urgent because the Peruvian government has insisted that in order to create a reserve for the Maijuna, they must demonstrate that they can develop sustainable local economies that do not harm the environment. Beekeeping is one of the tools that fit this goal. The hive produces an array of products, such as honey, wax and propolis. None of these products requires preservatives or refrigeration to maintain excellent quality. Local and national demand for these products is high. Moreover, bees depend entirely on the forest for their survival; they rely on nectar as their sole source of carbohydrates and pollen as a source of protein. While obtaining resources, bees pollinate the flowers, thus assuring plant reproduction. So it is in the best interest of communities that practice beekeeping to preserve the forest. The ultimate goal of this project (as funding permits) is to build long-term capacity within Maijuna communities using beekeeping to generate income from their environment while simultaneously conserving both their biological and cultural resources. In 2010 RCF provided $10,000 in support for the bee-keeping project. The project worked with 24 families in two communities that currently manage the hives. Our goal is to expand the project in these two villages and to the other two Maijuna communities that are located near the Putumayo River.

German Perilla is seen with some of the first hives

To formalize our efforts and long-term relationship, RCF president Jim Penn and apiculture specialist German Perilla signed an agreement with the president and other leaders of the Federación de Comunidades Nativas Maijuna (FECONAMAI) in August 2010, where we agreed to continue to work together on bee-keeping, guarding the ancestral lands, protecting natural resources and sustainable development. This took place during the two day FECONAMAI conference in the village of Puerto Huaman with RCF Community Conservation Coordinator Gerardo Bertiz and Community Extension leader Exiles Guerra. German Perilla and some of the first hives are shown above. At the same time, Michael Gilmore met with Peruvian government officials in Iquitos to discuss the plans and process for a Maijuna reserve. Since then, RCF has financed a patrol boat for the Yanayacu villages to use to protect their lands, along with other material support for the guard patrols. We are also financing the transportation and material needs for the two southern Maijuna communities in the Yanayacu River to regularly meet with the two distant northern Maijuna communities in 2010-11. For 2011, RCF needs to raise at least $20,000 in order to support the creation of the Maijuna Reserve and an expanded bee-keeping project.