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Land trafficking threatens protected forests and communities in Ecuador

Rainforest Concern began working on the Choco Andean Biocorridor in northwest Ecuador in 1995. The aim has been to connect the unprotected forests to the south of the Cotacachi Cayapas National Park, where two globally important biodiversity hotspots, the Tropical Andes and the Chocó-Magdalena-Tumbes merge.

In 2001 Rainforest Concern started work to protect 5000 hectares of cloud forests in an area of exceptional biodiversity in the Biocorridor called Paso Alto. At this time, Rainforest Concern was the only international NGO working with the local organisations and communities in this area. Through local partnerships with AACRI (the local coffee growers association in Intag), Consorcio Toisán, and Grupo Allpa and the extensive participation of the communities, the Paso Alto management plan was developed, alongside a parallel agroforestry project. This process culminated in the area being declared as a Protected Forest by Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment in December 2009.

Since then, the importance of the Paso Alto and adjacent Cambugán protected forests have been recognised and included in the Andean Bear Ecological Corridor in 2013, the Andean Chocó Biosphere Reserve designated by UNESCO in 2018, and the Mojanda-Cambugán Conservation and Sustainable Use Area declared by the Municipality of Quito in 2022.

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Map showing the Paso Alto area, outlined in red, within the Choco Andean Bio Corridor.

In 2015 an application to declare an adjacent area called Quinde, comprising of 6000 hectares, as a similar community-protected forest reserve, was denied. This outcome acted as a catalyst to uncovering what has been a series of violations of the rights of legitimate landholders without their knowledge. This was based on a fraudulent land title obtained by a company that “corrected” the boundaries of an 80-hectare property to become 9190 hectares. These 9190 hectares include half a dozen communities, over 150 landowners, parts of three existing protected forest areas (Taminanga, Cambugán, Paso Alto), and most of the area proposed for the new Quinde protected forest. It was discovered that this title was then used to obtain conservation incentive payments of over US$150,000 from Programa Socio Bosque, a national forest conservation incentive programme; payments that should have rightly gone to the communities who live there to support their conservation efforts and livelihoods.

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Map showing the area affected by Programa Socio Bosque (2009-2015).

In 2015, affected parties filed a civil suit to annul the false 9190-hectare land title. In 2017, a penal suit was filed for the falsification and fraudulent use of a public document to obtain government funds. As of February 2023, neither the civil nor penal suits have been addressed by the Ecuadorian judicial system. The communities are standing up for their rights, now they need our support.

Today, the challenge to conserve and restore the Choco Andean Biocorridor is greater than ever. We need to help communities and local organisations protect their territories from destructive outside interests, and to transition to regenerative land management. Rainforest Concern believes it is essential to work with – and not against – local communities, based upon respect for their fundamental rights and socio-economic needs.

Please help us to do this by donating today

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For more information on our work in Paso Alto, please see the articles published in our Rainforest Review (see page 12 Winter 2001, p. 6 Spring 2003, p. 10 Spring 2006, p. 7 Autumn 2007, p. 19 Spring 2009, p. 18 Autumn 2010, p. 13 Winter 2012/2013).

To see a video about the communities campaign please see: