For indigenous communities of the Northwest Amazon, the forest ecosystem is their source of living, and sustainable use is the key of their health and wellbeing. In their cosmology and worldview, everything within the ecosystem is intrinsically linked and interdependent, everything is connected. In recent years, however, their subsistence economy has been affected by the western market economy. The challenge is to generate sufficient income for basic needs from the sustainable use of local products or services, while being mindful of the economic, cultural and biological constraints.
Gaia Amazonas has many years of experience working with indigenous communities on small-scale, income-generating projects. Aside from technical advice and skills training, we have provided microproject funding for community initiatives into non-timber forest products (NTFP). These initiatives emerge from community dialogues and research, involving the shamans and elders in the selection of products to ensure that sacred natural sites, particular plants or traditional knowledge are not misused. Production is also carefully planned to that seasonal rituals and other community productive activities are not interrupted. Handicrafts, hand-made paper, natural oils and ceramics, are among the non-timber products most successfully marketed. In 2004, we joined Etnollano Foundation in setting-up the Mambe Shop, based on fair-trade principles and providing a national and international outlet for community products from the Northwest Amazon.
Gaia Amazonas has documented many of these community experiences which, along with learning exchanges, enable other communities in the Northwest Amazon to decide if and how they wish to explore their own NTFPs. We advice and accompany communities as they assess other alternatives, to generate a dignified income while respectful of their cultural values and contributing to biodiversity protection.