Managing Ecuador’s Yasuní Biosphere Reserve

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A shorter version of this lesson has been featured on the booklet produced by the MDG-F Environment and Climate Change window "Seeds of Knowledge - Contributing to Climate Change Solutions". - Read more about the booklet or download it in English / Spanish / French / Arabic.

Contents

Summary

The Yasuní Program was based on a highly participatory conceptual management model. It faced the challenge of implementing it in a complex environment. The Yasuní Biosphere Reserve is a place of exceptional cultural and biological richness, but it is also a place in which extractive activities and military interventions are developing at large scale (oil, timber, etc.). It is a space where various communities live together and there are high levels of poverty and poor access to education and health.

The Yasuní Programme clarified the legal and institutional framework for the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve, and for three other biosphere reserves in the country. Its work has been boosted by official recognition by the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador; by the legalization and formal recognition of the Management Committee and by the conformation of the National Network of Biosphere Reserves.

The Management Committee of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve was formed nearly a decade ago, with the participation of more than 120 indigenous organizations from the Kichwa, Shuar and Waorani communities. It also included agricultural organizations, NGOs, local government bodies, and provincial departments representing different ministries and other public and private entities.

The decision making of all stakeholders in the territory are equally represented by the communities, organizations and institutions. The committee’s work serves as a model of participatory management for the National System of Protected Areas (NSPA). 

The program concentrates on consolidating the Management Committee in order to better manage and conserve the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. The intervention strategies were designed addressing local demands and strengthened the efforts of local and national stakeholders.

Our experiences and lessons learned can be of particular importance to others trying to work within Biosphere Reserves. The key lessons learned from our program are as follows:

  • To create awareness both nationally and locally about the meaning of living in a Biosphere Reserve.
  • To identify public, private and civil society organizations working in the area and focus on optimizing and developing ongoing processes through capacity building and the search for common ground.
  • To design strategies in order to meet local demands and realities and to strengthen the efforts of local and national actors.
  • To use a common language. You need a mechanism for dialogue with local communities and government organizations, to build a common language that generates simple and clear ownership of the project. In this regard it is essential to develop a communications strategy for understanding the processes. It should be developed by all involved.
  • To establish clear responsibilities and rules that allows a participatory and inclusive management process.

Purpose of the activity

The purpose is to integrate the conservation and natural and cultural heritage policies of the biosphere into the investment plans of the regional and local government and social organizations operating in the Yasuní Program.

Original issue addressed by the activity

The category “Biosphere Reserve” was proposed by UNESCO in 1970. Since then, it has been granted to several countries, but in Ecuador, the implementation and institutionalization of the biosphere management lacked clarity particularly as related to the management responsibilities.

The Yasuni Biosphere Reserve was not clearly defined and did not have processes for the establishment of development models based on land planning that allowed the creation of sustainable livelihoods. At local level, problems like the commercialization of wildlife and other environmental crimes were rife.

The participation of diverse actors lacked legal channels and official recognition to be taking part in the decision-making process. The inhabitants, many of them elder leaders, had great difficulty communicating. This was due to their use of native languages . The communities also had little confidence in outsiders. The lack of trust is caused by unfair experiences the communities had with industries involved in large-scale mining activities. They have also had minimum sway in national institutions.

Strategy / approach chosen to address the issue

The Program identified public, private and civil society organizations working in the area and focused on optimizing and developing ongoing processes through capacity building and the search for common ground. It concentrated on the consolidation of the Management Committee through coordination of actions and positive collective efforts to manage and conserve the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. The intervention strategies were designed addressing local demands and strengthened the efforts of local and national actors.

Implementation of the strategy / chosen approach

At a legal level, the Yasuní Program focused its efforts to clarify the legal and institutional framework in all the biosphere reserves in Ecuador through its official recognition from the Ministry of Environment (Ministry Agreement 168) and the conformation of the National Network of Biosphere Reserves (June 2008)

Politically, the focus of the Yasuní Program was to inform the people nationally and locally about the meaning of living a Biosphere Reserve. And to ensure government arrangements were officially recognized. For example, the Management Committee was promoted and given strength with the approval of its status on July 7th, 2011 through Ministerial Agreement #114. These were defined by the local community members in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. They established clear responsibilities and rules that allow the management of the conservation and sustainable development of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve.

Locally, the program helped strengthen the Management Committee through the conformation of:

  • A representative and inclusive Board with the participation of 10 members of the Association of Women Waorani of Ecuador, who are implementing a successful conservation of the Chambira palm, processing and marketing handicrafts (see video).
  • A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to support its institutional, academic, and scientific experience.
  • Four thematic working groups: Land use planning, control and surveillance, sustainable lives and tourism. The work of these groups was translated into concrete proposals for the management of the YBR.

In terms of challenges, the initial mistrust the Management Committee had against the program and the language barriers were overcome through a participative evaluation and implementation process that allowed us to address the design problems of the Program whilst developing local strategies addressing local demands and local needs and strengthened the efforts of local and national actors.

Results and Impacts

The conservation challenges of Yasuní Biosphere Reserve continue to be varied and serious, but we have made progress to in addressing them, especially those dealing with institutional weakness. As a result of the joint programme initiative, local stakeholder are increasingly working together to enhance the conservation of this exceptional ecosystem.

  1. The Yasuní Program succeeded in strengthening a governance structure. The Management Committee actually leads all stakeholders in the territory and encourages their participation and contribution to public policy relating to Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. Different actors can agree and compromise in support of the management of the Reserve.
  2. The Yasuní Program led a campaign to prevent environmental crimes arising with the mining activities in the Yasuní Biosphere. Actions and products were generated from the campaign to prevent environmental crimes which included; a set of communication products p (television and radio spots, billboards, etc.) that are complemented by inter-agency work, with the establishment of mechanisms of control and surveillance.
  3. The development of the Management Plan of the Yasuní National Park was led by the Chief of the Park, through the Management Committee. He gathered a technical group to support the institutions willing to participate in this process. This is indicative of good practice relating to inter-agency and inter-institutional work.
  4. The Ministry of Environment of Ecuador expressed the need and willingness to articulate local level planning, i.e., joint local development plans with the planning of protected areas, which were previously amiss. The intervention was timely because at the time local governments were developing their plans relating to Land Management.

Evidence

A major milestone for the Management Committee was the establishment of the Fourth General Assembly, which represents three provinces, five municipalities, more than 22 parish councils and more than 60 communities. They elected a new Board for two years (2011-2013).

  1. Important agreements were reached and bilateral meetings were held with universities.
  2. The strategic guidelines to prepare the Management Plan of Yasuní Biosphere Reserve were developed. The Management Plan is with the MFA for final approval, dissemination and implementation.
  3. A mechanism study of financial sustainability was created
  4. The guidelines for Sustainable Tourism Operators, Travel Agencies, Tourist and Resort Community and the Yasuní National Park were developed.
  5. The experience of the Management Committee was published in the "Committee of Management of Yasuní Biosphere Reserve.
  6. A video of the Fourth General Assembly containing the agreements was also produced.

Yasuní products are available at: http://www.ambiente.gob.ec/?q=node/3303

Next Steps

A key step will be the approval of Ecuador‘s proposal to leave oil unmined in the Reserve. This initiative will generate resources to fund projects to improve the lives of communities and the conservation of the species, in consultation with local stakeholders. Emphasis has been placed on the participative creation of an exit strategy which should involve transferring capacities.

Potential replication / application

The experience of the Committee of Management of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve is being replicated in the remaining 3 reserves held by Ecuador. Additionally, this experience can be replicated for the management of Biosphere Reserves in other countries.

When replicating it is important;

  • To create awareness nationally and locally about the meaning of living in a Biosphere Reserve.
  • To identify different stakeholders, public, private and civil society’s organizations working in the area.
  • To strength and empower local actors.
  • To focus on optimizing and developing ongoing processes through capacity building and the search for common ground.
  • To ensure government arrangements are officially recognized.
  • To design strategies in order to meet local demands and realities and to strengthen the efforts of local and national actors.
  • To use a common language. You need a mechanism for dialogue with local communities and government organizations, to build a common language that generates simple and clear ownership of the project. In this regard it is essential to develop a communications strategy for understanding the processes. It should be developed by all involved.
  • To be familiar with the territory and create trust with the inhabitants of the region
  • To establish clear responsibilities and rules that allows a participatory and inclusive management process.

Information products

All Yasuní information products are available at: http://www.ambiente.gob.ec/?q=node/3303

  • Management Committee of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve (book and video)
  • Strategic Plan CGRBY and updated plan of action.
  • Ministerial Agreement 168 of Biosphere Reserves in the country.
  • Definition, zoning and land use of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve.
  • Improving governance in RBY.
  • Statute of CGRBY, Ministerial Agreement No. 114.
  • Methodology for Participatory Planning of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve.
  • Working papers and reports of workshops for the Planning of the YBR.
  • Proposed Management Plan for the Yasuní National Park. Yasuní Experiences delineation map and lessons along the river: a systematic Yasuní program in Ecuador.

Images

More images available at: http://www.ambiente.gob.ec/?q=node/3303

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