Since its inception in 2008, NCI has been an official partner of the Ecuadorian government’s innovative SocioBosque program, which combines forest conservation with sustainable economic development. To date, NCI has helped communities from seven of Ecuador’s 13 indigenous groups join the program, resulting in the protection of hundreds of thousands of acres of Amazon rainforest. In addition, SocioBosque makes over $7 million in annual payments to communities enrolled in the program to help them achieve their sustainable development goals.
At the helm of SocioBosque is Max Rodrigo Lascano Vaca, whom we sat down with recently to talk about the program’s successes and what he envisions for the future.
NCI: How many acres have been protected so far?
Lascano: Approximately 3.5 million acres have been protected to date with communities and private landowners. And this month we are entering another 250,000 acres into the program.
NCI: Considering its impressive results, what new goals does the program have?
Loscano: This year, we want to reach our annual goal of protecting 450,000 acres. We hope to meet this goal by October or November, which we are on track to do with NCI’s help. Next year, and until 2017, the goal will be the same. It is hard work, but we believe that we will achieve it.
NCI: How has the relationship been between NCI and SocioBosque?
Loscano: We have been working with NCI for many years, and it has been a very positive and beneficial relationship, with each institution contributing its capabilities and expertise. I believe that we have done a good job, particularly in the way our respective field staff have collaborated. The truth is that NCI is, perhaps, our main NGO partner currently. We are happy to continue working together for the benefit of the country’s ecosystems and people.
NCI: Specifically, how has NCI helped SocioBosque?
Lascano: Mainly, NCI has facilitated the entry of communities and landowners into the program. They’ve also helped reduce the costs associated with entering the program – which indigenous communities often cannot cover on their own. In certain cases, entering the program is more complicated, such as when communities don’t have the title to their land. NCI has helped resolve these issues. NCI is also mapping areas for enrollment, which is required to enter the program.
NCI: How do communities benefit from this program?
Lascano: To be part of the program, communities must propose a detailed investment plan for the funds they will receive in exchange for protecting their forest, which, in the case of indigenous communities, must be developed and formally approved by their Community Association [made up of indigenous leaders and community members who help plot the course of their community’s development]. Once enrolled, the Community Association also oversees plan implementation, ensuring that the economic benefits are realized. In general, resources are invested in sustainable development initiatives and community infrastructure, including health and education as well as conservation activities and compensation for park rangers.
NCI: How do you verify that the conservation and investment benefits are being realized?
Lascano: We have two mechanisms. The first is monitoring vegetation cover with satellite imagery and data. The second is field visits to areas where there is a greater threat of deforestation.
With respect to the investments plans, communities must submit a report twice a year detailing the implementation of their funds. They must also submit a final report in which the Community Associations verify the investments made.
NCI: Have the beneficiaries met their commitments?
Lascano: In general, we have a high percentage of fulfillment. There always will be some communities that have problems, or internal conflicts. If they are not in agreement about their investment plan, or aren’t enforcing it properly, we suspend the funds until they resolve their conflict. However, there have been few cases of this. Most of our members fully comply with their planned activities.
Through SocioBosque, we’ve been able to help protect the Amazon rainforest for as little as $5 per acre. To learn more about this innovative program and discover how you can help, visit: https://natureandculture.org/places/ecuador/socio-bosque/