In this episode of Developing Carbon Stories, we are speaking with Diana Mori Gonzales, a representative of the Shipibo-Conibo Indigenous group in the Ucayali Region of Peru. Diana is a leading spokesperson for Indigenous rights and works across local government and civil society to promote the role of Indigenous communities in sustainable forest management. She is closely linked to the Nii Kaniti REDD+ project in Peru, also called ‘Forest management with Shipibo Conibo and Cacataibo Indigenous communities of the Ucayali Region’, which works to conserve over 127,000 hectares of threatened Amazonian rainforest from deforestation and degradation.
Question: Can you tell us about yourself and your community in the Peruvian Amazon?
Answer: My name is Diana Mori Gonzales, I am a member of the Shipibo-Conibo community in the Ucayali region of Peru. I have a mission which is to protect the resources we have been given. I believe everyone is born with a mission and protecting the environment is mine. I am also a teacher and an educator.
Question: What are some of the challenges that indigenous communities in the Amazona face?
Answer: We have to defend ourselves because the government isn’t present in our communities. We have to defend our territories. We are defending our lives. Another issue we face is that our waters are getting polluted, this is really affecting our ways of life and depleting our fish stock. A lot of people in the community start to wonder if they shouldn’t move to the big cities, because there is development there. We need to find synergies with the way of living in cities, not abandon our way of life. We don’t have technology but we have knowledge, the forest is the biggest laboratory we have. We have so many medicines available in the forest.
Question: Are you seeing the impacts of climate change where you live?
Answer: Yes! Climate change isn’t only affecting large cities, it is also affecting our communities. It affects our fish, it affects the microorganisms that keep everything in balance. It’s all about sharing knowledge and I think we should work closely together with academics. Today the main challenge is that I don’t have the resources to put together academic research and evidence to put together proposals that would help my community. We have the capacity and the resilience, but we need financial support to adapt to the changes that are happening. The other important thing is education, we need to invest in our children and we need to teach them about environmental matters. We don’t have anything about the environment in the curriculum. We teach our kids their community’s language but we don’t teach them how to protect their natural resources. We need to do better.
Question: How did you first learn about carbon projects and the project developer AIDER?
Answer: I was really young, I was 14 years old. They arrived in my community and started talking about sustainable forest management. For us it was an entirely new topic. My community was one of the first to work with AIDER and because we were so successful, other communities wanted to join as well. One of the biggest successes is that we had more fish and more fruits.
Question: How does your community work with project developers?
Answer: We organise regular community meetings to discuss the effects of the projects. Things have changed a lot because before the developers did all the work, now we are very involved. We have been trained on the technical aspects of project management, we have our indigenous engineers who are able to co-manage projects. But it takes time and I often wonder what would happen if the support would stop? What if these other governments stopped supporting us?
Question: How does your community perceive the projects?
Answer: I work closely with other women from the community. As women we see things from a different perspective, we think about our kids, we think about the future and we plan. We analyse the project together and we discuss through community assemblies what type of project we want to be involved in. I think that every project should have a clear focus on women.
Question: When we met in Egypt during COP27, you spoke on a panel and I noticed that a lot of people cried. What did you tell them?
Answer: They were crying because they were in a magical world. People think of forests as magical worlds. But that’s not true. We fight every day for our lives, we fight against illegal fishing, we fight against illegal logging of our forests. There isn’t a single police officer around. It’s just us, and we don’t have weapons, all we have are sticks to defend our lives. That is what I told them, not as directly as this, but that is the truth. When we get ill, we don’t have access to medicine, all we have is our traditional knowledge and it’s our strength. But sometimes, when our waters are polluted by companies, what do we do, how do we get water?
Question: What was your main message at COP27?
Answer: I went to share my experience as a woman in my community and tell people the truth. One of the most important messages for me is that we need technical cooperation. Academics can learn from us and we can learn from them. We want to be trained, we want to take an active part in protecting our resources and putting together projects.
Question: Do you have a message for people listening?
Answer: We are not eternal and we will not be able to take the resources we acquire while we are alive. We need to be less selfish and enjoy our time with our families, not thinking about gold or oil. The most important resources we have are water and air and we don’t value them enough. Yet, our water is getting contaminated because of damage we didn’t do. We are under threat. We need to collaborate to decarbonise as fast as possible. The solution is with our kids and making sure we teach them about the environment.