A Collective Response for Territory and Life

Community workshop in San Martin, Peru
Community workshop in San Martin, Peru

A Collective Response for Territory and Life

Indigenous communities very often face territorial threats which call for an agile response to avoid them escalating and intensifying into more severe crises. In this second post of a two-part series, Forest Peoples Programme’s Miluska Elguera, who works alongside Kichwa communities in San Martin, Peru, shares how an innovative Early Response Fund mechanism is supporting grassroots responses to territorial conflicts.

Emergencies in indigenous territories wait for no one. During our years of work with the Kichwa communities of San Martin, Peru, Forest Peoples Programme has witnessed physical violence towards the apu (community chief) of an indigenous community, Santa Rosillo de Yanayaku, led by purported illegal loggers; the takeover of one community, Panjuy, by inhabitants of neighbouring settlements who are opposed to communal land-titling; and various attempts by suspected palm oil company workers to expand cultivation into the territories of the communities San Jose de Obrero and Los Angeles, among others. Faced with such emergencies, community leaders have responded with proposals that seek to address these problems in the near-term. 

Caynarachi workshop, San Martin
Caynarachi workshop, San Martin

An alternative for accompanying community-led processes

These situations give rise to the urgent need for a responsive funding mechanism: one capable of complementing the work of leaders, both from the communities and the federations, and which should be transferred immediately and managed by the communities to resolve their territorial emergencies. We have called this the Early Response Fund.

Grants vary between S/.1,000 - S/.3,000 (roughly US $300 - $900) for situations which put communities’ territorial integrity at risk. The community should be able to consider solutions to these “community emergencies”, even if these lie beyond their immediate scope, whether due to limited financial resources, lack of influence with the actors, or if the situation puts at risk the lives of social leaders for protecting their territory. These funding requests use a simple format and are evaluated by an internal team. The fund is subsequently transferred within seven working days of the request being made.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, Forest Peoples Programme gained experience and refined our methodology for the use of these funds, in order to generate greater benefits. These are some of the lessons we have learned.

Strategic impact

One of the issues which has been addressed, using these modest resources, is the invasion of the territories of the indigenous and peasant communities of the Caynarachi Valley by industrial agriculture. Based on the communities’ experiences of working with the Pastoral Land team, this scenario led us to believe that unity creates strength. Given that the expansion of agribusiness in the area affects various communities to different extents, we established spaces to learn about each community’s position. Trainings for around 60 people in four communities required roughly S/.1,500 (US$450), and involved capacity building in the application of indigenous justice, as well as media spokesperson training.

Success in this case was rooted in the leaders’ knowledge of the issue and relationships of trust with key people, including community leaders and coordinators. Therefore, the strategy emerged, in part, from the time we spent accompanying the communities. Could we achieve the same results with groups whom we have known for just a day or a week, in a workshop setting?

Forest Peoples Programme supports ongoing accompaniment for indigenous peoples in their self-determined development, aspiring to realise the aims of each community in turn, rather than quantitative indicators. The results are not necessarily immediate, but they do tend to be more sustainable.

Kichwa community members in San Martin
Kichwa community members in San Martin

Communication

To begin with, both the communities/indigenous federations and Forest Peoples Programme ought to clarify our needs and limitations; we need to communicate clearly in order to carry out well-organised work.

At times, we have a tendency to offer to take on actions which in fact we lack the time, resources or knowledge to complete; on one occasion, I offered to buy equipment without really knowing which to buy or even the right price. In this case, I ought to have communicated better to achieve a better outcome.

Shared responsibilities and intercultural accompaniment

Empathy and companionship with leaders have proven invaluable in this process, enabling us to support one another to complete tasks depending on our skills and availability.

One of the experiences which I consider most successful was a workshop to pinpoint territorial problems in the Caynarachi Valley, alongside a team of very proactive coordinators from the area, who were sincere and committed to their communities. Thanks to these coordinators, Forest Peoples Programme and our allies arrived to find everything organised, from the venue right down to the catering. This demonstrated to us the level of empowerment in terms of self-management and administration of significant funds. As a result, community members and leaders were trained as media spokespeople, and the apus (community chiefs) deepened their commitment to organising and expressed their desire that the next workshop be held in their community.

Conversely, in situations where all of the responsibility falls on just a few shoulders, we have failed to have the desired impact, as happened with one grant which was transferred to a single leader who subsequently did not develop the activity in its entirety.

One of the outcomes Forest Peoples Programme hopes for is that communities become increasingly stronger in the management of considerable funds; that they take decisions about joint actions; and empower themselves in administrative activities, such as the timely and transparent reporting on the use of funds. This is happening.

Strategic development of actions

Importantly, without mutual trust as a means for both parties to communicate their needs, capacities and situations, potential solutions are not forthcoming. Thus, Forest Peoples Programme cannot promise more than the available budget for example, or commit staff if they are already saturated with work.

In turn, the communities ought to evaluate whether it makes more sense to invest money in a meeting which may produce minimal results, or whether it is preferable to organise another kind of event, such as field trips to carry out monitoring. This can prove useful in involving more community members in self-organisation and governance, as a field trip requires the purchase of supplies, a plan, organising the group and a follow-up action plan.

Conclusion

Both Forest Peoples Programme and our allies trust in collective action with our partners, with whom our relationship is continually being strengthened. Through these relationships we gain shared learning from mistakes and successes, both theirs and our own. Given the prevalence of urgent situations in indigenous territories facing the aggressive expansion of the agro-extractive industries, the Early Response Fund is a simple, practical and effective measure to strengthen the defence of territory and life.