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Iyarina Amazonian Forest Preservation Plan


Tod D. Swanson


In addition to its role as a research station, Iyarina (Ee-ya-ree-nah) is a land trust whose mission is to develop a model of  Amazonian forest preservation that will function successfully under future pressures in one of the most biodiverse and endangered areas of the world.     It is located in the Amazonian headwater region between the Napo and Pastaza Rivers just west of the Waorani Reservation in the area around 1°05’00”S  77°38’00”W with two extension campuses in the Waorani Territory at Gomatan 1.16618°S  77.06535°W on the Rio Nushino and Geyepare on the Rio Curaray 1.28585°S  77.16754°W.    The Waorani reservation, in turn, overlaps with Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, home to as yet un-contacted tribes living in voluntary isolation near the porous Peruvian border.

       According to the most recent international research at Brazil's Large-​Scale Biosphere-​Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia, presented in a January 2023 New York Times article the Amazon is at its tipping point.   Without change, it can no longer sustain even its rising indigenous population.  From long experience, we are convinced that the forest can only be preserved  if its flourishing provides a viable option to migration for the indigenous people who live here.  If the social cohesion of the indigenous communities breaks and their young people are forced to migrate other actors move in.   In this area of weak state control, forests are at risk of being cut down to extract hardwoods, gold and petroleum and then replaced with environmentally destructive agribusiness unless locally defended.   

       Iyarina has successfully preserved forest in this area for 30 years.   Our goal is to develop a scalable pilot model for preserving Amazonian forest by managing it so as to produce both abundant forest foods  and green employment for indigenous community team members.   In doing so we seek to integrate respected traditional knowledge with evidence based science and, where possible, to carry out our work in the indigenous languages following indigenous forms of convivial labor that sustain social cohesion.  Reaching these goals requires cutting edge scientific innovation. It also requires traditional indigenous knowledge and life experience in dealing with the challenges facing local communities. 

     Iyarina has key personnel who meet these criteria.  Its Director, Tod Dillon Swanson is a Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State’s Global Institute for Sustainability as well as a member of the UN Science panel for the Amazon.  He grew up in the Ecuadorian Amazon, is fluent in the Kichwa language,  and is married to Josefina Andi, an Amazonian Kichwa woman with whom he has 4 children.    The Swanson-Andis manage Iyarina with a team of Kichwa family members skilled in traditional forestry.    Over the years Swanson has put together an interdisciplinary academic team that gathers physically at Iyarina in the summers and then virtually throughout the year.   In addition to the North American academics these include the storied Ingeniero Forestal Juan Ruiz from the Herbarium at the Peruvian University of the Amazon who has worked with most of the great Amazonian ethnobotanists since the 1970s and Cristhian Chacha Tixi who previously worked previously worked controlling legal trafficking of hardwoods and animals for the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment with regular consultants such as Gilberto Nenquimo, current president of the Waorani Nation and Alvaro Monteros of INIAP , Ecuador’s (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias). The quality of this team is evidenced by the reception of numerous prestigious grants including a present 5 year National Science Foundation Grant for integrating indigenous and scientific knowledge.  Together this team has successfully managed the Iyarina forest for over 25 years generating employment for the Kichwa team members who protect the forest throughout the year.   We propose to scale Iyarina’s proven strategy for protecting forest by making strategic purchases radiating outward from the current Iyarina forest toward the Waorani reservation.  These purchases will be opportunistic but prioritize watersheds and corridors between existing private reserves.   

Our plan includes the following provisions:

  • Contributions for forest purchase will include the hiring of additional indigenous personnel proportionate to the increase in forest area protected.

  • These persons will collaborate with our academic team on a variety of forestry projects geared to generate an alternative green economy.   These include:

  • Active reforestation and upgrading of biodiversity by moving seeds and seedlings from undisturbed areas near our Waorani campuses to the more depleted forests.

  • a wild animal rehabilitation and release center to repopulate areas where species have been lost.

  • A living seed bank and nursery for trees on the endangered species list

  • These in turn create a human and physical indigenous infrastructure capable of collaborating with and providing services for funded research teams and volunteers who bring in additional income.











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"Sustainability Assessment of Smallholder Agroforestry Indigenous Farming in the Amazon:A Case Study of Ecuadorian Kichwas,"

Marco Heredia-R, Bolier Torres, Jhenny Cayambe, Nadia RamosMarcelo Luna and Carlos G. H. Diaz-Ambrona,  Agronomy15 December 2020.


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