Ecuador: Training the Trainers

Drs. Wayne Walker and Alessandro Baccini recently traveled to Puyo, the capital city of Pastazo province in Ecuador to conduct field work. The WHRC scientists were not there to collect data with a view to publishing their results, but rather to teach and train forest dwellers. They are convinced that, given the necessary training and technology, indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin can play a pivotal role in mapping and monitoring the rainforest with a view to its preservation.

Having recently published a paper in Nature Climate Change that presents an unprecedented characterization of the global distribution of carbon contained in tropical forests, these two scientists are committed to taking their research to the next level and to equip people whose lives are interwoven with the forest to measure and monitor carbon. The ultimate goal is to enable tropical nations to meet their emissions reporting requirements.


Kleber Santos, indigenous technician from Brazil, practices with a sighting compass while laying out a forest sample plot near Puyo, Ecuador. Credit: Dylan Murray

It is no surprise that indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have a special stake in the maintenance of tropical forests. As Amazon forests are cleared for timber production, cattle ranching, and industrial agriculture, forest-dwelling peoples risk losing their homes, livelihoods, traditional ways of life and, hence, their cultural identity. Through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other international initiatives, progress is being made on the design of incentive-based policy mechanisms to compensate tropical nations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). Indigenous participation in the development of REDD is recognized as critical to the success of any emissions-reduction program.

As part of a new multi-year project lead by COICA, the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin, and funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, Walker and Baccini are working to advance community-based training in REDD readiness through the development of a cadre of indigenous technical trainers representing four South American countries. Their time in Ecuador was spent training these technicians in the fundamental tools and techniques used to map and monitor forests while estimating the carbon they contain.

Training included both classroom (theoretical) and field (practical) components focused on developing knowledge and skills in a range of methods that have been developed by WHRC to monitor forest cover and associated carbon stocks across the tropics of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Once the “training of the trainers” is complete, the cadre of specialized indigenous technicians will work locally within their communities as multipliers to train the “grass roots” in the role that information on forest carbon can play in indigenous-led forest management, while developing skills needed for effective indigenous participation in REDD policy discussions.