RIPA: Regenerating the Amazon One Mind at a Time

It has been 50 years since their forest was cut down. To the Shipibo of Yarinacocha, the rainforest is a fading memory of their grandparents. They have only ever known grassland, where swidden agriculture tactics—also passed on from generations past—have wreaked havoc on the modern landscape.

Uncontrolled blazes burn homes, fields, time, and effort in mere minutes, requiring everyone in their wake to start up from scratch. Despite the fact that these fires are started by friends and neighbors, there is no fine or collective outcry when someone’s fire sweeps the neighborhood. Most Shipibo accept the cyclical destruction unquestioningly, having grown up with it is as a normal force of life, and unquestioningly continue to use the same approach.

Shoveling carbon

We might be tempted to condemn the technique and seeming resigned acceptance. But on a larger scale what is happening is an incongruity between landscape management tactics designed for neolithic lifestyles in the vast Amazon Rainforest and contemporary society nested within the current invasive grassland ecosystem.

Enter RIPA (the Spanish acronym for the Indigenous Amazonian Network of Permaculturists), a group supported by Alianza Arkana to foster local collaboration, innovation, and experimentation in the service of community development, and holistic regeneration of the Amazon rainforest bioregion. Currently, the network serves as a stage to share appropriate techniques and technologies for converting degraded grasslands into permaculture forests. Monthly meetings constitute a space for conversation and learning, and include interactive workshops demonstrating topics ranging from broad scale earthworks to biofertilizers.

Swale talk

But, perhaps counterintuitively, regrowing the Amazon doesn’t just start with planting trees: it starts with seeding new paradigms. We are each born into a particular ecosystem that shapes our perspectives, determining our values and establishing our perceptions of the possible. RIPA’s participants are very interested in recreating a forest ecosystem that doesn’t rely on destructive management tactics and reestablishes the cultural connection with the landscape. How can a Shipibo person born into a land of grass advocate for the forest of their ancestors…or to even imagine such a thing to be possible? By creating viable alternatives and the support to replicate them.

RIPA envisions farmer-to-farmer dissemination of permaculture best practices and germplasm banks where people can trade seeds and stakes for pay-it-forward working hours at different community demonstration sites. This has the potential to ensure food sovereignty and allow for the development of community growers’ cooperatives wherein neighbors collaborate to reach economies of scale to market Amazonian cash crops. Ultimately this could lead to group investment in processing infrastructure and the creation of microcredit initiatives with money from co-op sales. Our hope is that these pathways will encourage and facilitate hubs of village activity that can fractal out into webs of eco-social entrepreneurship and resilient local economies, breathing life back into the notion of the Amazon rainforest.

Deborah Rivett, Friday, 18 July 2014

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