Conservation and Sustainable Management of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve

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Ecuador’s Yasuní Biosphere Reserve is possibly one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 9,000 square kilometers of primarily rainforest. But the Reserve, with its wealth of timber and oil, is also a place in which the negative impacts of the extractive industries are becoming all too common, threatening not only the environment but also the livelihoods of the vulnerable indigenous population, who already suffer from high levels of poverty and poor access to education and health.

The category “Biosphere Reserve” was given to the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve (YBR) by UNESCO in 1989, as one of the world’s greatest areas of biodiversity, and a national priority for Ecuador. However, the how to implement and institutionalize the management of the Reserve was not always clear in the country.


The intervention strategies were designed to address local demands and strengthen the efforts of local and national participants. The MDG-F Joint Programme focused on implementing community-based economic measures to assist the most vulnerable populations, and on initiatives to deal with climate change through an adaptation policy. The UN initiative contributed to the achievement of MDG-1 for poverty reduction and gave priority to disadvantaged groups and the rights of the indigenous populations.

The Programme implemented a series of inter-connected projects in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve with the goal to recover and strengthen the sustainable livelihoods of people living in the Biosphere Reserve and to ensure the conservation and sustainable management of the natural and cultural heritage of the Reserve.

The Joint Programme identified public, private and civil society organizations working in the area and focused on optimizing and developing ongoing processes through capacity-building and consolidating the work of the Management of the Reserve.


  • Support to the creation of a new forestry law, strengthening the PIA protection policy, as well as technical support for the initiative to keep crude oil in the ground;
  • Support to productive and enterprise initiatives for the sustainable management of eco-system goods and services;
  • Community-based organizations and state institutions are strengthened with an integrated approach;
  • 2011 Action Plan for the Yasuní Reserve is completed;
  • Zoning and territorial management plan for the Reserve is completed;
  • Data base for the reserve is completed;
  • Evaluation of the current code of conduct for oil companies is completed;
  • Evaluation of the applicability of national and international norms in regard to indigenous people is completed;
  • Code of conduct for community tourism in the Reserve has been developed;
  • Tourism guide for the Reserve has been completed;
  • The Ministry of Environment’s leadership and the sustainability work for the Management Committee of the Reserve have been strengthened;
  • An agreement has been reached between UN agencies on joint expenses, which were not originally planned;
  • The Trust Law for the Yasuní Reserve is expected to bring in other donors.


The Yasuní Reserve Programme was based on a highly participatory management model but it faced the challenge of implementing it in a complex environment. The Reserve is a place of exceptional cultural and biological wealth and is located at the intersection of the Amazon, the Andes, and the Equator. It is also the home to the Amazonian indigenous group known as the Waorani (or Huaorani). Relatives of the Waorani, the Tagaeri and Taromenane still live in voluntary isolation deep in the Reserve.

In addition, the Reserve sits atop large reserves of crude oil, Ecuador's chief export, and contains an abundance of valuable timber species. The extractive activities and military interventions are developing on a large scale and there are high levels of poverty and poor access to education and health. This volatile combination has led to intense conflicts, and subsequently, increased international interest and concern.

Way Forward

Emphasis has been placed on the participatory measures of the Exit Strategy which should involve transferring activities to Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment. It is also important to align and strengthen the objectives of the country’s National Development Plan in order to foster long-term sustainability.

Read more about this JP on the MDG-F website.

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