Partnering with the Sapara to Assess the Impact of Climate Change

Background: Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative (IPCCA) is an international indigenous research initiative arising out of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. To empower indigenous peoples to develop and use indigenous frameworks to assess the impact climate change on their communities and ecosystems and to develop and implement strategies for building indigenous resilience and adaptive strategies to mitigate impacts while enhancing biocultural diversity for food sovereignty and self determined development or “Buen Vivir”.


Indigenous peoples living in the most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems of the planet are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to both their direct reliance on local, natural systems for their well-being and their disadvantaged socioeconomic standing caused by historical, and often ongoing, political and social processes of discrimination.

Although it is recognized that indigenous peoples are vulnerable to climate change, and are currently facing the most severe impacts, including relocation of entire communities, current mitigation and adaptation measures do not address the local realities of their bio cultural systems.

Likewise, indigenous knowledge and cultural practice is recognized as important for the conservation of biodiversity (Article 8j of the Convention on Biological Diversity) and more specifically as valuable in contributing to the understanding and evaluation of impacts and adaptation options of climate change (COP 9 Decision IX/13).

Yet, frameworks for assessing the impact of climate change on communities and building adaptation strategies do not recognize indigenous worldviews and practice. The IPCCA has emerged out of the participation of indigenous organisations and leaders in key international processes related to climate change and indigenous peoples such as the UNFCCC and the CBD. Their response to the need to develop alternative, indigenous approaches that consider local perspectives and bio cultural realities has led to the IPCCA.

Land is Life & Sapara Nation

In 2012, Land is Life recommended that the Sapara Nation be chosen as a Local Assessment of the IPCCA. Holding collective rights to 380,000 acres of land that are duly recognized and defined by the Ecuadorian government, the Sapara people maintain their traditional management practices that allow for hunting, gathering and agriculture, as well as preservation of the diversity and equilibrium of their forest home. With about 400 members, the Sapara represent the smallest indigenous group in Ecuador. The communities where IPCCA work was conducted are comprised entirely of Sapara people. It should be noted that the majority of people living within Sapara territory are not Sapara as they are members of other tribes (Achuar, Kichwa).

During the last century, the Sapara have experienced many changes including the rise and fall of the rubber boom and encroachment on the Amazon frontier for oil extraction. As a result, the Sapara’s numbers have dwindled from about 20,000 in the early 20th Century to 400 today. As the Sapara are completely dependent on their territory and its resources for their survival and well being, the Sapara Local Assessment works to strengthen cultural governance of Sapara territory and strengthen communities’ knowledge about climate change.

To these ends, Ashiñwaka and Land is Life organized forums in the communities of Llanchama, Jandiayaku, Ripano, Nina Moricha and Mazaramu. The success of the IPCCA project can largely be attributed to the fact that its very implementation included strong engagement from all sectors of Sapara society. Men and women, both old and young, worked with one another at every level - from project initiation to its development and execution.

Preparation and Planting of a Medicinal Plant Garden

Creation of the first medicinal plant garden was a major component of the IPCCA project. With the medicinal gardens, the Sapara aim to protect and promote traditional knowledge and to be better prepared for the impacts that climate change may have on health. As stated by the Sapara communities, the medicinal plant gardens would be used toward the following objectives:

- Respond to new diseases brought by climate change with traditional medicines;

-  Collectively identify traditional medicinal plants that should be cultivated;

- Promote traditional knowledge across generations to ensure that these medicines are readily available when needed by Sapara communities.

In January 2012, a community meeting in Llanchamacocha was held to plan for the first Sapara medicinal plant garden. Community leaders affirmed the importance of the garden to strengthen traditional healing systems, bolster traditional medicine output in order to support community health needs, and foster exchanges with other communities about traditional medicines. Between January and April 2012, the garden in Llanchamacocha was designed and planted. The Llanchamacocha garden covers an area of 1 hectare (100m x 100m). Garden construction and daily care has involved men, women, and youth. It is notable that the collection of the plants traditionally happens when men, women and youth commence long hunting journeys where they collect plants throughout their journey to be transported back to the garden. The same collection strategy was used for this project, during which they would normally go hunting twice a week. It took roughly two months of collecting to complete the garden.

An inauguration ceremony was held with other Sapara communities in May of 2012 in order to promote the use of traditional medicines and to foster an exchange of traditional knowledge associated with health and healing. Once the communities were informed about the garden, they all were free to visit the garden to collect medicines as needed.

The same process of designing and realizing a medicinal plant garden was carried out in the community of Jandiayaku during the month of October 2012. The garden directly supports 50 people who are now better equipped to use their knowledge of traditional medicine against diseases that are correlated with climate change.

Preparation and Planting of a Manioc Garden

Manioc is a staple of the Sapara diet, serving as the base for a variety of foods and drinks. Since manioc is considered essential to Sapara food sovereignty, it was decided to build a manioc garden to maintain different varieties of the plant and to create a genetic stockpile of the plant in anticipation of an unstable or unpredictable climate.

In April 2012, the manioc garden was planted in the community of Ripano. The women of the community collectively identified the different types of manioc currently used by the Sapara, leading to the decision to plant over fifteen varieties of manioc in the 1 ha (110m x 100m) garden space. To preserve their vast knowledge of the plant, the women of Ripano are now engaged in a process of cataloguing the different uses of manioc. The planting of the garden included a ceremony to ensure its fertility and an official inauguration in November 2012 when the first harvest of the garden took place.

Preparation and Realization of a Seed Bank

With the aim of strengthening food sovereignty into the future, a host of communities in Sapara territory, invited by a group of Sapara women, participated in the development of a 1-square ha seed bank garden in the community of Ripano from March to June 2012. Participating communities helped select plant varieties for the bank, and offered seedlings to be transplanted in the garden. The importance of manioc and yucca to the Sapara played a prominent role in the design of the garden.

The seed bank is a repository of agricultural traditional knowledge, protecting them from being lost. The Ripano community manages and protects the seed bank but also allows surrounding communities to access it. The bank offers an opportunity to study how plants, such as yucca, are responding to changes in the climate. Currently, the Rípano community is working to identify and better understand manioc species that have resisted river floods, plagues, and other extreme events that have occurred in the territory. This knowledge will aid in selecting additional species and varieties for the seed bank, as well as improve on long-term food sovereignty and adaptability.

Long-lasting commitment

Since 2009, the IPCCA Indigenous framework for the Local Assessment has been implemented in Sapara territory following the specific steps outlined in the IPCCA community-led process. The Sapara Women’s Association-Ashiñwaka and Land is Life have worked together on this project since the IPCCA project’s inception in 2009. Between 2009-2013, the collaborative efforts between Ashiñwaka and Land is Life, as the Local Assessment coordinator, have focused on furthering the goals of the IPCCA initiative to enhance the ability of the Sapara people to practice self-determination, protect their territorial and resource rights, and respond to challenges presented by global climate change.

Land is Life and the Sapara Nation are proud to announce that the IPCCA initiative in Sapra territory will continue throughout 2014.