Lesson Learned

Jaime Levy, Executive Director, Fundación Altropico

With Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund support, Altropico is coordinating a collaborative working group conserving the 14,000-hectare Golondrinas Forest Protectorate in Carchi Province, Ecuador. The group includes local communities, government officials, and nongovernmental organizations. The nation's Ministry of Environment is planning to use the Golondrinas process as a precedent for other forest protectorates around the country.

What was the most important lesson you learned?

Even if your partners agree to processes such as inclusive participatory planning and conflict resolution, it can often take a long time to understand what that actually means.

Describe how you learned this and whether/how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

Although the protectorate was declared in 1995, there was no good management plan, and there had been little local participation in the process. In 2003, the four local governments that share responsibility for Golondrinas became alarmed at the area’s uncontrolled deforestation and invasion by outsiders, particularly as watersheds in the area supply potable water to many communities downstream.

From the very beginning of the project, it was obvious that the main problem was that local farmers had settled around half of the area before the area was officially protected in 1995. Many local farmers feared they would be forced to leave the area, which generated mistrust and a lack of confidence in the entire process.

Even though we were aware that the only way of saving the area was working with the local communities – and factored this into our project plan – it took some time before the Ministry of Environment actually realized what this meant. We extended the project timeframe in order to keep the process rolling.

But when the government officials were willing to let local people to take part – working with them to mark the boundary of the protected area and putting up signs for example – we established a better relationship, even if it took longer.

We could then move on to resolving unclear land tenure issues and establishing a support group of local people who had a say – and crucially, a vote – on all decisions regarding management of the protectorate.

- November 2005