Save the rainforest e.V.: tropical forest purchase in Paraguay

Since the end of 2008, Save the Rainforest has been supporting the forest purchase for the indigenous Ayoreo in Paraguay through the association Iniciativa Amotocodie. Preserving tropical forest and protecting it from clearing, ensuring the survival of the Ayoreo, buying time and stopping land speculators are some of the goals of the forest purchase. But ultimately, the Paraguayan government must take responsibility. The clearing of the jungle must be stopped and the Ayoreo must be given rights over their ancestral lands, as provided for in the constitution.

The Chaco is a very species-rich region in the interior of South America, covered with dry forests and thornbush savannahs. It includes the north of Argentina, the western part of Paraguay and the southeast of Bolivia. The Chaco is home to many endangered animals and plants such as tapir, puma and giant armadillo, as well as the endemic Chaco peccary (Catagonus wagneri). The climate is tropical with very high temperatures during the humid summers and cool winters with pronounced drought.

Chacowald from airplane, river course in between © Jieun Kang/IA

For a long time, the Chaco was undeveloped and considered unsuitable for agriculture. Since the end of the 19th century, the Paraguayan government had been granting vast tracts of land to foreign companies, speculators and large landowners, but hardly anyone wanted to settle in the wilderness. Only immigrant Mennonites of German origin found a new home in the Chaco. But now the dry forests of the Chaco are falling victim to the soy boom in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay as a result of the global soy trade, rapidly increasing soy imports from the EU, and the hunger for meat and charcoal. Protein-rich soybean meal is used to fatten European chickens, pigs and cattle, and soybean oil is added to local diesel fuel as agrofuel. Soy cultivation is pushing cattle ranching deeper and deeper into the Chaco. In recent decades, the Mennonites have established dairy farming according to European standards.

Maned wolf from the Chaco in Paraguay © Junior Alarcón/IA
Land theft from the indigenous peoples

It is not only nature that is threatened by soy cultivation and cattle farming, but also the 2,500 indigenous Ayoreo and 16,000 Enxet. In the vastness of the Chaco forest, indigenous people have survived to this day, including uncontacted groups living in voluntary isolation. Paraguay is home to South America’s last uncontacted Indians outside the Amazon. The Ayoreo’s diet is based on hunting and fishing, gathering tubers, fruits and honey. During the rainy season, they practice agriculture on small plots of land in the forest. With their nature-friendly way of life, the Ayoreo have preserved the forest until today. But they are not rewarded for it, on the contrary: between 1957 and 1986 they were forcibly deported from their habitat and settled further south. For this purpose, the land robbers made use of missionaries from various religious sects such as the North American New Tribes Mission. The missionaries have long experience of taking Indians out of the forest so that they do not stand in the way of capital investment. The “infidel savages” are promised conversion and prosperity. Crammed together, they must now dwell in 15 settlements. Banished to extensive inactivity and the loss of their identity and culture, they eke out an undignified existence there.
For many years, the missionaries’ strategy worked, but now resistance is slowly emerging. More and more Ayoreo want to return to their former territories.

Ayoreo woman making wickerwork © Junior Alarcón/IA
Land speculators from all over the world

The soy and meat boom has led to wild land speculation in the previously largely undeveloped northwest of Paraguay’s Chaco. Large landowners and investors are challenging the indigenous people for their ancestral land. German investors have also bought into the Chaco, and land traders like Peer Voss from Hamburg are marketing the primeval forest plots worldwide as the “last agricultural front”. Land speculators have no business with the wilderness and the bush. According to the Federal Statistical Office, Paraguay has established itself as the main supplier of barbecue charcoal to Germany. More than 51,000 tons were supplied in 2009. Beef is also exported to Germany. The aim is to make the land “arable” by clearing it. Not for long, because the cattle pastures are threatened by erosion, desertification and salinization. But after a few years, the land has reaped the investment along with a whopping return. The investors move on and feed the globally rampant land theft with new capital. By law, the indigenous peoples are entitled to recognition of their territory, but so far they have only been granted land titles in individual cases. The speculators, on the other hand, go in and out of the land registry office. It is a blatant injustice. The land grabbers are trying to create facts and clear the forest as quickly as possible in order to create pastures for cattle. Where dense virgin forest once stretched out, monotonous pastures now stretch out. The endless expanse is interrupted by fences and dirt roads.

The last uncontacted Ayoreo

In addition to the sedentary Ayoreo, who now live in 15 villages, there are still four or five groups that live in voluntary isolation. These are families or small groups, no more than a total of about 100 people. They continue the original nomadic life of the Ayoreo. However, most of the territory currently inhabited by these groups in the administrative regions of Boquerón and Alto Paraguay is in private hands and is acutely threatened with clearing: Paraguayans and foreigners, large landowners and investors, individuals and companies are the “landowners”. Less than 10% of the territory is in protected areas and national parks.

Iniciativa Amotocodie and UNAP

In Paraguay, the non-profit association Iniciativa Amotocodie (IA) supports the Ayoreo to ensure their survival as an indigenous minority. The association’s goals are to protect and preserve the indigenous people, including their culture, their territory and its natural resources. IA has experienced personnel and maintains close contacts with the Ayoreo and their organization, the Unión de Nativos Ayoreo del Paraguay (UNAP). UNAP, which represents about 95% of the Ayoreo Indians in Paraguay, has united 13 Ayoreo villages in Paraguay. In order to ensure the survival of the isolated nomadic groups in a larger and, wherever possible, contiguous territory, the Iniciativa Amotocodie coordinates land acquisition for the Ayoreo. Legally, the virgin forest lands are transferred to UNAP. With a binding clause, the UNAP commits itself to protect the biodiversity and nature on the acquired land areas. These may only be used by the isolated Ayoreo groups in the traditional way for hunting and gathering forest products such as tubers and fruits.

Purchase of virgin forest for the uncontacted Ayoreo

Bis heute konnten IA und UNAP mit Spendengeldern aus dem Ausland drei große Landstücke im Chaco erwerben, insgesamt 15.538 Hektar. Das erste Urwaldstück wurde bereits per Dekret vom paraguayischen Staat als Naturschutzgebiet und Erbe der Ayoreo (Área Silvestre Protegida y del Patrimonio Ayoreo) anerkannt. Seit Ende 2008 unterstützt Rettet den Regenwald die Iniciativa Amotocodie. 95.000 Euro für den Kauf eines insgesamt 5.000 Hektar großen Urwaldgrundstücks am Rand des Nationalparks „Dünen des Chaco“ hat der Verein schon gespendet. 1.800 Hektar wurden davon bereits Ende Dezember 2009 zusammen mit Spenden von Brot für die Welt und SOS Regenwald erworben (siehe c auf der obigen Karte). Mitte April kamen weitere 2.000 Hektar hinzu. Wir sammeln weiter Spenden. Der Preis beträgt 120 Euro pro Hektar. Ein Hektar sind 10.000 Quadratmeter, das heißt zehn Quadratmeter kosten 120 Cent. IA verwendet maximal 5% der Spendensumme für Arbeits-, Landvermessungs, Anwalts- und Notarkosten, Behördengebühren sowie notwendige Schutzarbeiten im Gelände wie das Anbringen von Hinweisschildern und Zäunen. Viele weitere Urwaldflächen müssten noch hinzukommen, damit aus den bisher gesicherten Waldinseln ein zusammenhängendes Territorium entsteht, das den isoliert lebenden Ayoreo-Gruppen das Überleben sichern kann. Vor allem muss der paraguayische Staat das angestammte Land der Indigenen anerkennen. Erste Schritte in dieser Richtung gab es bereits im Januar 2008. Damals haben die Staatsbehörden das Naturreservat des Ayoreo-Stammlandes „Punié Paesoi“ als Gebiet zum Schutz der isolierten Ayoreo-Gruppen anerkannt. Im November 2009 präsentierten die Ayoreo und IA die Studie „Der Fall Ayoreo“ zur Geschichte und aktuellen Situation ihres Volks im Parlament in der Hauptstadt Asunción.

The animal protection foundation Wolfgang Bösche gives away tropical forest in Paraguay

The animal protection foundation Wolfgang Bösche has provided the funds for the purchase of 250,000 square meters of tropical forest in Paraguay.

Rainforest certificate © Regenwald e.V.
More information:

Rettet den Regenwald e.V., Büro Berlin
Klaus Schenck, Wald- und Energiereferent
Jupiterweg 15
D-22391 Hamburg
Tel. +49- 40 – 410 38 04; Fax:+49- 40 – 450 01 44

Iniciativa Amotocodie
Calle Picaflor # 59 – Barrio Primavera
9300 Fernheim, PARAGUAY
Telefax +595-4914 32632