Community development and progress are common words in the Peruvian Amazon these days. There is a plethora of developers and development promoters in the region, all with different ideas of what development really is. In the face of grandiose development schemes that advertise and promote progress as increased levels of consumption and unsustainable standards of living, we feel compelled to support and promote truly sustainable solutions to the challenges that our generation faces.
Our community based solution plan aspires to provide the support to foster real development, that which improves the quality of life for current generations without sacrificing the same for future generations. We aim to provide sustainable income generation opportunities as alternatives to income from industrial development (such as oil exploration and production) by encouraging the use of technologies that use clean energy through environmental education programs and technical training focused on sustainable development.
Community participation and support are crucial to development. We respect community autonomy with an invitation first policy, that is, we respond to community interest in our projects and only work in communities where we have been personally invited. The pillars of our work consist of Resource Management, Innovative Agriculture, and Integrated Healthcare all reinforced through Intercultural Education Programs to nurture sustainability. In one all-encompassing term - Permaculture. Our initial work in community based solutions is with resource management and we then intend to develop innovative agriculture and integrated healthcare projects after first establishing the following program in 12 Shipibo communities:
The basis for sustainable resource management and true community development is waste management, a necessary component of all working systems. Human beings would cease to exist if our kidneys or liver stopped working and our automobiles would stop running if we did not change the oil periodically. Without a waste management plan, any system becomes overrun with unused byproducts that can clog pipes, halt gears, and cause cancerous growths and corrosion, which can lead to complete system failure. Over millenia, the Earth has evolved its own complex management strategies with decomposition leading the way. However, largely since the industrial revolution, humans have rewritten the rules in such a way that even Earth’s sophisticated methods cannot keep up. While the Earth’s biological processes are built upon complex symbiotic relationships based on natural laws – in which the “waste “ from one process is always the raw material for another, our series of technological revolutions have created natural unknowns, referred to as inorganics, which the Earth and humans have had little success in sustainably managing.
In the past, small tracts of land were cut and burnt for farming, (known as slash and burn agriculture), that would be harvested for a year or two and then abandoned to merge with the forest around it. This practice allowed the soil to regenerate the nutrients that were taken away while it was farmed, similar to leaving a field in fallow. The Shipibo, with ample space, would then move on to another area of the forest to make a new garden following the same practices.
With the past century’s rubber boom, a continued desire for Amazonian hardwoods, and now the world’s demand for oil and natural gas reserves, the Shipibo, much like the first nations of North America, have found their territories repeatedly shrunken and exploited. Combined with increasing deforestation and population densities, the Shipibo must now protect dwindling resources and replenish the soil of their territorial lands. This is where waste management becomes such an important factor in the wellbeing and survival of the community, by assisting in the conservation and future fertility of their territory through the sustainable management of all potential resources.
There is another option to large-scale industrial projects…and it starts with cleaning up the messes left behind by previous industrial development. Many Shipibo households threw out most of their refuse behind their houses or in out-of-the-way locations. This was the original method for waste disposal that has served their communities for so long, until modern industries began introducing plastic and other pollutants into the waste stream. Many of these dumps were in fact the original family compost heaps, with a variety of foods growing from the nutrients of the discarded organic matter.
However, today it is a common sight to see the family fruit trees with heaps of refuse piled around them, both organic and inorganic. With the addition of inorganic and toxic wastes, such as used motor oil and batteries, the old dumpsites are now health hazards, providing habitat for disease causing mosquitoes and bacteria, while contaminating local waterways.
The solution is as simple as cleaning up, identifying polluters and setting out a management plan to prevent further contamination and begin to recover wasted resources. Organic fertilizers can be quite costly and unreliable in Peru, and when they can be made at home with little or no cost, there is no reason to waste the money. With the help of some friendly bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes, all of the organic refuse can be reused to maintain nutrient rich soils for future harvests and generations particularly when coupled with innovative agricultural practices.
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