Local farming solutions conserve forests in the Guiana Shield, South America
Paulette Allicock is an Indigenous Makushi farmer from the North Rupununi, Guyana. In her forest farm, she grows a great variety of crops, including several varieties of the staple, cassava, as well as pumpkins, melons, greens, and nuts. Her method of farming in the forest is closely attuned with the dynamics of the surrounding natural environment and the guardian spirits that will protect her crops.
Paulette is an example of the numerous Indigenous communities in the Guiana Shield, South America, and worldwide, who rely heavily on their local forest for basic existence needs and have over generations developed solutions to cope with crop failures and harsh environmental conditions (e.g. floods, droughts, and plagues) to successfully feed themselves while enhancing the natural environment (the dark charcoal rich soil of Indigenous forest farms store carbon while allowing the rapid recovery of forest once the land is left fallow). Indigenous traditional farming systems are essentially based on diversity. In order to build a buffer against crop failures, they grow a wide range of different crops in their fields and each family has at least two fields that are located apart from each other, normally in locations that differ slightly in their topography, pest exposure, climate and soil type. Farm management and harvesting is done not only by families but also by other community members, which enables a broad transfer of traditional farming knowledge and sharing the risks. Paulette’s practice of forest farming can be described as a ‘community owned solutions’ – it’s a practice that she has learned from her own community, can carry out without external support, and can provide long-term benefits to her wider community and the environment.
This community owned solution was one of many researched and documented using participatory video by Indigenous researchers across the Guiana Shield. These Indigenous solutions were identified, recorded and shared through the support of Project COBRA, an initiative funded by the European Union. Project COBRA showed that using a community owned solutions approach fosters holistic strategies for facing up to environmental and social challenges and nurtures healthy people-nature relationships. Paulette Allicock highlights this for traditional rotational shifting cultivation. Her localised food production system not only provides the basis of her family's nutrition, but also contributes to the wider economy and sustains a living, practised, Indigenous culture. As food is grown, harvested, processed, and consumed and sold, people are making associations with the ‘protection’ and ‘conservation’ of the environment, maintenance of local culture, and income and livelihood benefits.
Traditional farming methods improve soil water and nutrient retention, reduce erosion and degradation, allow better carbon sequestration and maintain agrobiodiversity, while at the same time reinforce collectiveness, traditional knowledge and the capacity of local people to experiment and solve their own problems. As a result of the minimal use of fossil fuel derived herbicides and fertilisers, and mechanisation, and the fact that the resulting charcoal remains in the soil for many centuries to come, traditional Indigenous farming also contributes to mitigating climate change. The absence of fertilisers and pesticides means that the local water bodies remain unpolluted, maintaining healthy people and ecosystems, while avoiding the emergence of pesticide resistant weeds and insects. Crucially, one rarely encounters Indigenous people indebted to banks because of the loans they have had to take out in order to pay for the typical inputs of industrial agriculture.
Emerging global policies and funding initiatives, such as REDD+, supposedly advocate the protection of the world’s forests. The formulation (and subsequent implementation) of most of these policies have been through a top-down process, prioritising technical expert visions of ‘sustainable development'. This has often resulted in short-term fixes that undermine truly sustainable community owned solutions. Project COBRA has shown that the world’s pressing environmental problems cannot be addressed without the active participation of local communities, building on their detailed knowledge of their local environment and traditional practices that have worked for millennia. As Paulette Allicock reminds us “This is what keeps us together with one mind, in English it is known as togetherness. This is the way of the Makushis, so let us maintain our farming practices.”
COBRA Policy Report and Practitioner Handbook
Up-Scaling Support for Community Owned Solutions. A Project COBRA Report for Policy Makers: This report shows how Indigenous community owned solutions can offer practical instruments to address challenges in sustainable development and the management of natural resources. These solutions can be a source of inspiration for other communities, as well as providing an effective and popular intervention for policy makers and governments to support.
The Report is availabe here: http://projectcobra.org/up-scaling-support-for-community-owned-solutions/
How to find & share community owned solutions. A Handbook: The main aim of this handbook is to promote community owned solutions by proposing approaches that respond to current and future challenges to sustainability, natural resources management and biodiversity conservation. The handbook introduces key concepts and techniques which underpin a participatory and systems approach to community engagement. It is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French here: http://projectcobra.org/how-to-find-and-share-community-owned-solutions/
What is COBRA?
Project COBRA, funded by the EU, aimed to engage with Indigenous communities of the Guiana Shield, South America, whose territories will be affected by conservation and climate funding streams, to learn how and under what conditions they have established local solutions to challenges, in the absence of external incentives.
- "Community owned solutions" define any solution that emerges out of community members’ skills and knowledge, and has a direct benefit in sustaining these communities in ways which are socially fair and environmentally friendly.
- The Guiana Shield region of South America is the world's largest contiguous block of tropical rain forest, characterised by the highest percent of forest cover and lowest rate of deforestation on the planet.
- Over the 3 ½ years of implementation, the project worked with local Indigenous communities and national level stakeholders in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
- The project used participatory visual methods of Participatory Video and Participatory Photography to engage Indigenous communities to research and document their own solutions to environmental challenges.
- Horizontal peer-to-peer learning between Indigenous communities facilitated by the videos and photostories was a powerful way of sharing lessons and solutions, and can have significant impacts on long-term social and ecological sustainability
- Communication and dissemination were critical aspects of the project, and the MediaGate at www.projectcobra.org is an innovative platform for sharing community owned solutions.
Empowering indigenous communities in South America