Times are not as they once were when there was plenty of food readily available in the forest. Yellow fruit is no longer found in the forest. We have been looking for them, but never found any. They have disappeared and there is no way for us to reproduce them.Gloria Ushigua, Sapara Women’s Association Ashiñwaka, Ecuador.
Tropical forests store carbon, regulate water cycles, have profound influences on weather patterns, mitigate natural disasters, support biodiversity, provide food, and ensure human health and well-being. Most of the world’s intact and biodiversity-rich tropical forests remain on the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples. For the Sapara people of Ecuador, adapting to climate change means strengthening their relationship with the forest, or Sasha, by restoring the traditional land-based practices that sustained their ancestors before slavery, disease, and Christianization all but destroyed their culture. But to rely on their rainforest for climate change adaptation, the Sapara must save Sasha from destruction caused by logging and oil development. In other words, for the Sapara, both climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation are interdependent parts of the same strategy of Adaptigation.
Sapara Climate Change Adaptation Response
Sapara’s climate change adaptation work is centered around Traditional Medicine and Mobility.
Traditional Medicine abounds in rainforests and helps keep local people healthy. For example, the development of quinine, the modern anti-malarial medicine, would not have been possible without the traditional medicinal knowledge of the Sapara’s neighbours, the Quechua Indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia, who originally discovered the healing properties of the bark of the cinchona tree. Extreme weather events in tropical rainforests, such as flooding, are becoming more frequent as climate changes, leading to an increase in parasites, as well as skin and gastrointestinal infections. Traditional forest medicines, known to the Sapara Elders, help treat these diseases. Today, Elders and youth in all Sapara communities are working to make these traditional cures available in their communities by planting medicinal gardens—a much more dependable strategy in this remote place than relying on expensive and inconsistent supplies of western medicines.
Mobility increases options available to local people. Traditionally, before being forcefully settled by the state, Sapara would regularly move from place to place throughout their territory. They built and maintained a network of trails, while planting and harvesting fruit trees and medicinal plants along the way. By creating such a spatial diversity of sources of food and medicines, the Sapara enhanced the ability of their communities to adapt to change, so that when there was an extreme weather event, like flooding, they could always find food and medicine in another part of their territory. Today, Sapara Elders are reviving their traditions of mobility, by teaching youth to build and maintain trails, as well as how to grow food and medicinal plants in order to enhance their food sovereignty and security. This network of trails helps Sapara protect their Sasha, by keeping a watch on any possible incursions into their territory by oil companies.
I felt festive-like, really happy. We left all the pollution of the city [Puyo] behind, and now it was just our forest and us. It all felt very good.Gloria Ushigua, Sapara Women’s Association Ashiñwaka, Ecuador.