• In indigenous lands, forest loss is significantly lower than in other areas and regions of the Amazonian countries
  • Landmark “Pact from Madre de Dios” strengthens rule of environmental law in Peru, safeguarding indigenous rights and lands and advancing conservation
  • Pope Francis to visit and address current threats to the Amazon’s indigenous communities and ecosystem health 

In December, the Peruvian Government and members of Peru’s civil society signed a landmark agreement to increase and improve access to environmental justice and strengthen the rule of environmental law in Peru, particularly for indigenous communities. This month, the pact will be in the international spotlight when it is formally presented to Pope Francis during his visit to Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital of Peru’s Madre de Dios region. The Pope will travel through Peru and Colombia, bringing attention to the plight of indigenous men and women and the consequences of deforestation.

A threatened trove of biological and cultural diversity

With its exceptional diversity condensed into a little more than 30,000 square miles, Madre de Dios is a microcosm of the Amazon’s broader biological and cultural diversity. With more than four million square miles of forest cover, the Amazon claims the richest biodiversity and most extensive rainforest habitat on Earth. It is home to 30 million people, at least 300,000 of whom are indigenous. Approximately 56 percent of the Amazon is now designated as some type of protected area or indigenous land. The Amazon provides critical resources and ecosystem services to local people and national societies and holds global importance regulating and maintaining Earth’s climate.

But in Madre de Dios, as in the region as a whole, many of these natural resources and ecosystem services are under threat. In recent decades, Madre de Dios has seen a spike in in illegal gold mining. This spike has contributed to the loss of more than 123,000 acres of forest and widescale pollution of rivers and river-dwelling species, including fish and other sources of subsistence for the communities who reside in the area.

According to the Indigenous Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries, Madre de Dios has been occupied by diverse ethnic and cultural groups for some three thousand years. In recent years, these communities have been witnessing unprecedented environmental degradation in their own and neighboring territories. Indigenous peoples of the region issued a joint statement in 2015, leading up to the Paris Conference of the Parties: “We believe that Madre de Dios region can be a source of change in the regional vision of the Amazon Basin,” they said, “with international recognition as the most important provider of ecosystem services in the region.”


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“Recognize, preserve, rescue, and strengthen the cultural and natural heritage of Indigenous Peoples”

Understanding the important role that indigenous communities can play in advocating for and implementing better management of their natural resources, the Moore Foundation’s Andes-Amazon Initiative has, for more than a decade, supported groups working to safeguard indigenous rights and lands. Across the biome, indigenous territories often border formally designated parks and protected areas (see “Indigenous reserve expansions connect Colombia's largest national park and indigenous reserve”), and are home to much of the region’s biodiversity. In indigenous lands, just as in protected areas, forest loss is significantly lower than in other areas and regions of the Amazonian countries (see “Tacana indigenous people of Bolivia reduce deforestation and win prestigious Equator Prize”).

By designating various forms of community land use—wildlife corridors, communal areas, or protected river or watershed areas—indigenous lands can help secure wider landscape integrity. By delineating indigenous lands and establishing effective governance protections for them, communities effectively secure their cultural heritage, including opportunities and rights to manage their own natural resources more sustainably, for present and future generations. 

A pact to improve environmental justice

“This is the time for action,” explains Pedro Solano, executive director for SPDA. “We can no longer assume this is someone else’s problem. It is ours, and it is our responsibility—in our own roles and capacities—to commit and act to improve environmental justice.”

That’s why, through funding to Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law or SPDA), we helped support the inaugural International Congress of Environmental Justice last November. The meeting brought people together from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, the United States, Peru and Argentina and yielded the new Pact from Madre de Dios. Among its contributions, the Pact creates a new environmental court in Puerto Maldonado, to which groups, including the indigenous peoples of Madre de Dios, may now present cases of human rights abuses and indigenous territory incursions, like those propagated by illegal mining operations.

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Related Grants

date grant program term amount
Nov 2014 Strengthening environmental governance in the Madre de Dios Region, Peru Environmental Conservation 32 months $1,200,000
Jul 2017 Long-term Conservation of Protected Area Systems in Peru Environmental Conservation 12 months $1,000,000
May 2017 Consolidation of Andes Amazon Mosaics Environmental Conservation 30 months $6,700,000
Jul 2014 Consolidate Manu-Tambopata Conservation Corridor to mitigate forest conversion in Madre de Dios, Peru. Environmental Conservation 31 months $2,100,000
Oct 2016 Protected Area Consolidation and Integration into Regional Development Planning in the Madidi Tambopata Mosaic Environmental Conservation 24 months $1,900,000

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