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Indigenous Women of the Ecuadorian Amazon Reforestation and Restoration Project

Tropical Leaves

Spanning across eight countries and one territory in South America, the Amazon Rainforest sustains a rich web of life crucial for both local communities and global ecosystems. Incomparable to any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, it is home to at least one-third of the world’s recorded species, including 79,600 native vascular plants and 16,000 tree species. With its biological richness, the forest releases an estimated 20 billion tonnes of water daily into the atmosphere profoundly affecting global carbon and water cycles

Currently, deforestation and extractive industries are significantly threatening the health and stability of the Amazon Rainforest, with scientists warning that it is at a critical tipping point of irreversible damage. Ecuador is facing some of its worst deforestation from mining, agribusiness, oil extraction, and industrial expansion, with deforestation being up 80% from what it was in 2021 resulting in a destroyed 18,902 hectares of forest in a single year. Additionally, as deforestation and extractive projects increase, Indigenous rights are violated, global ecosystems are sacrificed, and Indigenous women land defenders are at higher risk of violence and attack.

We are honored to have Patricia Gualinga on our team as the WECAN Coordinator for Ecuador. Patricia Gualinga, a Kichwa Pueblo Indigenous woman leader of Amazonian Women Defenders of the Jungle (Mujeres Amazónicas Defensoras de la Selva), advocates for the protection of her homelands in Sarayaku, Ecuador from extractive industries. Working with the Women’s Association of Sarayaku, the Indigenous Women of the Ecuadorian Amazon Reforestation and Restoration Project aims to safeguard the Ecuadorian Amazon’s endemic tree species within the 135,000 hectares of Sarayaku territory to ensure vital ecological integrity. Recognizing the urgent need to protect the Amazon Rainforest from deforestation and extractive industries, Indigenous women are taking proactive measures to defend their homelands, supported by the vision of the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining a relationship based on respect and reciprocity between human beings and beings of the forest.

By engaging women from seven communities within Sarayaku, this WECAN initiative aims to recover endemic tree species currently facing extinction and regenerate forest ecosystems. Implemented as a network system, these women travel great distances into remote areas and primary forests, meticulously locating and collecting a diverse range of tree species essential to the forest's overall integrity and the well-being of its inhabitants. The project prioritizes the collection of tree species on the brink of extinction as well as species that provide edible fruit for both humans and jungle animals, fostering food security for communities and sustaining wildlife populations. Furthermore, this project focuses on recovering tree species with cultural, symbolic, and spiritual significance to the Indigenous peoples of Sarayaku. By preserving these species, the initiative not only safeguards the Amazon Rainforest and traditional knowledge and practices, but also ensures access to essential resources for community well-being and resilience.

In addition to species recovery and ecosystem restoration, the initiative emphasizes the importance of species with specialized functions. These include those that filter and clean water from extractive industries’ pollution, prevent soil erosion along riverbanks, and support the general health of aquatic ecosystems. These tree species play a vital role in ensuring the resilience of riverine ecosystems, especially in the face of the escalating climate crisis. Through workshops and knowledge exchanges, participants enhance their skills in tree identification, seed collection, nursery building, and planting.

While the initiative focuses on tree species recovery and restoring forest ecosystems, it also prioritizes the protection of women land defenders. Various workshops, events, and campaigns that are integral to the initiative advocate for Indigenous rights, climate justice, and the implementation of international agreements like the Escazú Agreement.

The Indigenous women of Sarayaku are leading the charge in nurturing and restoring the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest, embodying the principles of reciprocity, respect for nature, and intergenerational stewardship.

WECAN Coordinator in Ecuador

Patricia Gualinga is an Indigenous woman leader from the Kichwa Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, and spokeswoman for Mujeres Amazónicas Defensoras de la Selva where she advocates for the rights of women, Indigenous peoples, and land defenders to protect their homelands, the forest, and the global climate. To further her advocacy for land defenders' protections, Patricia sits on the WECAN steering committee for the Escazú Agreement campaign. Patricia is also an advocate for the Rights of Nature and the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration. Patricia is the WECAN Coordinator in Ecuador, where she leads endemic species recovery and reforestation work. This includes seed collection, nursery building, and workshops that support Traditional Ecological Knowledge, address deforestation, build women’s leadership, and safeguard the ecological integrity of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Patricia Gualinga of Sarayaku, Ecuador, following a march of Amazonian Indigenous women against extraction - Photo via Emily Arasim/WECAN 

Patricia Gualinga of Sarayaku, Ecuador, following a march of Amazonian Indigenous women against extraction - Photo via Emily Arasim/WECAN International
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