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Indigenous People are Saving the Amazon with Drones

Source: Oxfam/AIDESEP
Source: Oxfam/AIDESEP


Indigenous People are Saving the Amazon with Drones


The indigenous people of the Amazon have recently succeeded in blocking the construction of an illegal road on their land by accumulating video evidence using a drone, it has been reported.

It was last year that residents of communities between the town of Yurimaguas and the village of Lagunas in northern Peru found that construction of a new road on their own land had commenced, and there was every reason to believe that a company had undertaken the project without gaining approval from the appropriate authorities.

They quickly learned that the Peruvian government had not authorized the construction of this road, which had it been, would have been done through a consultative process with members of the affected communities.

Instead, the road was being constructed by a palm oil producer.

However, the burden of proof rested with the complainants. They had to demonstrate to the Lima authorities that a road was indeed under construction. Only then would the government take the necessary steps to stop the work.

With financial support from Oxfam, the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), an indigenous rights group based in Lima, has launched a drone equipped over the territories of injured communities a video camera.

The device has allowed them, in recent months, to document changes in their lands and provide accurate and reliable location data.

Community leaders now had the necessary evidence in hand, which they showed to government agencies. And as they hoped, “that led to the shutdown,” said Waldir Eulogio Azaña, a representative of AIDESEP.

Oxfam’s drone program is still just a pilot project, said Neal McCarthy, a director with the organization.

AIDESEP, which represents more than 100 communities, received approximately $ 25,000 from Oxfam to acquire the drone and teach leaders from different Amazonian communities to use it.
This first drone we financed was actually an experiment. But now that the experience has worked, one has to wonder how to make the program evolve.

AIDESEP had previously struggled to document cases of land rights violations.

The government was not satisfied with witness statements. And even geolocated photos picked up by smart phones were not enough, as they could have been tampered with, manipulated.
“They found that the evidence they were presenting was always questioned or pushed back on,” said McCarthy.

What drones can do is to present continuous images, without editing, from a known reference location and moving to the place of the offense to be documented.

“It’s pretty unimpeachable data,” said McCarthy.

While the drone program is still its infancy, Azaña says he’d like to see give a drone to each of the 109 federations the AIDESEP assists, and McCarthy agrees.

“This first drone we funded was really an experiment, but now we’re at the point where we see that the experiment has worked, and the next thing to do is to figure out how to bring the program to scale,” he said.

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Cite this article as: Sarah Whittaker, "Indigenous People are Saving the Amazon with Drones," in, June 12, 2018,

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