No one will argue hard against preserving the Amazon. The region is acknowledged as comprising the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world. Yet deforestation and environmental damage are extensive, due to farming practices, livestock pasture clearing and settlements. Many efforts have been put into place to save the Amazon rainforest, but much remains to be done.
Martin von Hildebrand and his Gaia Amazonas Foundation are steadily working to establish protected areas, managed by indigenous communities. Hildebrand recognizes the ability and value of indigenous populations to preserve their own environment.
Hildebrand first moved to the Amazon of Colombia in the 1970s to do research for his PhD in ethnology. There he witnessed the effects of environmental devastation from rubber extraction, gold mining and the processing of cocoa. In the 1980s he worked to obtain land rights for indigenous groups, and in 1994 he established Gaia Amazonas to help “these communities gain control of their territories, livelihoods and development based on their traditional knowledge and cultural values,” according to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurhip. Since then Gaia Amazonas has secured 24 million hectares of Colombian Amazon for the 60,000 indigenous people who live there. It has also “set up 16 local indigenous organizations, with legal status and exercising local governance; 84 indigenous community schools; 9 indigenous health programs based on traditional medicine; and official spaces for negotiatons between indigenous organizations and goverment, which has led to the decentralization of state programmes and joint policy decisions.”
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