The inspiring way Indigenous leaders in the Amazon are fighting for the planet


Written by:

Editor’s note: Since we published this piece, Ramiro Ortiz’s uncle Eduardo Mendúa was shot and killed in what is believed to be a targeted attack on activists fighting to preserve the rainforest. Ortiz and others continue to fight, despite the dangers.

The descent from Ecuador’s Andean foothills to the Amazon is breathtaking. The rainforest unfolds in front of you — a lush sea of seemingly unending green. But before long, the dense jungle gives way to a mix of oil infrastructure and cattle operations and the landscape is fouled by abandoned oil derricks, rusting pipes and chemical settling ponds.

The entire northeast corner of Ecuador was once inhabited by the A’i Cofán people, but the population has dwindled as the land has been fragmented by development. “The A’i Cofán Dureno territory is an island of green surrounded by oil wells and monoculture,” says Ramiro Ortiz, 31, a young A’i Cofán leader.

Two years ago, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the A’i Cofán against Petroecuador, the national oil company, seeking to shut down gas flares due to air pollution. They won in court, and the company was supposed to stop flaring months ago, but when A’i Cofán guardians mapped sites using cell phones, they counted 447 still operating. 

Then, last year, when news spread that Petrocuador planned to drill more wells on A’i Cofán territory without consulting the Indigenous community, activists armed with spears shut down the access route. Protecting their land has become a constant, sometimes dangerous, struggle for the A’i Cofán who rely on the forest for food, medicine and to preserve their way of life. 

Scientists warn that further degradation of the Amazon pushes it closer toward a dangerous tipping point in which the whole ecosystem collapses, turning lush jungle into a dry savannah that emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs — supercharging global warming with catastrophic consequences for humans and wildlife. 

But there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. 

It’s called LEAF (which stands for Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance), and it’s the largest-ever public-private partnership that invests in protecting the forest, rather than extracting its resources.

LEAF is part of a broader trend of companies and governments paying to preserve tropical forests through the purchase of high-quality carbon credits.

These credits have the potential to drive a significant amount of private sector money to forest conservation, but quality is key. That’s why the Environmental Defense Fund, along with seven other major environmental and Indigenous Peoples organizations, created the Tropical Forest Credit Integrity Guide.

“We can’t limit climate change to safer levels if we don’t keep forests alive,” says Steve Schwartzman, senior director of tropical forest policy for EDF. “And we can’t do that at the scale and speed the climate crisis demands without the support of the private sector.”

So far, the LEAF coalition, which EDF helped create, has mobilized more than $1.5 billion to support rainforest communities. Early backers include Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as major international companies, such as Amazon, Nestle and Unilever, that are eager to strengthen their corporate emissions-reduction strategies. 

When the money starts flowing, Ecuador is expected to benefit — being paid if the country achieves reductions below their five-year baseline of deforestation to encourage greater ambition over time.

The coming challenge is to ensure that money also reaches Indigenous communities. 

Over the past several months, EDF has been leading workshops with government officials and Indigenous leaders like Tuntiak Katan on the development of mechanisms to guarantee fair participation of Indigenous groups in the implementation of forest conservation plans. 

Katan’s message? If you’re trying to save the rainforests, you have to work with the people who know them best.

Indigenous Peoples manage more than 30% of the Amazon rainforest. Because they typically practice sustainable forest management, through agroforestry and low-impact agriculture, satellite imagery shows that deforestation rates in their territories within the Amazon are roughly half of what they are in similar surrounding lands.

But reward for that stewardship is often lacking. Over the last decade, the international community has poured $2.7 billion into rainforest preservation. Yet, according to Rainforest Foundation Norway, less than 1% of climate assistance lands in the hands of forest communities.

“We’re finally getting recognition for our role managing forests,” says Katan, who was recently elected general coordinator of COICA, “but we need to be seen as partners.”

Santiago Garcia, EDF’s Indigenous Peoples specialist, agrees. “Indigenous organizations must be directly involved in decision-making on how funds will be distributed,” he says. “It’s more than about trees and carbon. It’s about people and communities.”

 Learn More:

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

More from MediaFeed:

7 ways to be both frugal & eco-friendly

7 ways to be both frugal & eco-friendly

Being frugal and being eco-conscious often work hand-in-hand. Here are some cheap and affordable ways to be a little more eco-conscious.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. 

The more use we get out of items the more we save money and the more we reduce our footprint on the earth. Less garbage, less energy when getting new items, less waste. All these things go hand-in-hand.

Doing my part to reduce consumption

 I am not what you would call a super eco-friendly person. For example, I do use a lot of plastic dishes and silverware, even though it something that I try to cut down on. Going zero-waste or plastic-free is not really in the cards right now but it is something I can aspire to at one point! Of course, being able to make choices like that is a privilege in of itself.  I do try to do my part to save the earth and save money at the same time.

Here are seven ways to be frugal and eco-friendly.


Cheap, easy, and sustainable. I have an old milk crate (I honestly have no clue where I got it from- possibly from my husband’s previous job) that I fill with all the old papers, leaflets, boxes, etc. that we receive. Plastic packaging, things that we get in the mail, toilet paper rolls, all get dumped into the box. I have also put in some crayons, markers, tape, glue, and safety scissors. My child can sit and play with it for hours. I am always throwing in new materials so there is something new to play with. My kids can sit and create tons of stuff from all the “junk” in there. They rarely get new, white paper to color with. If I have to print out papers for something- the extras and mess-ups get put in as well. Think school notices, old worksheets, etc. all of them have nice clear backs for the kids to color and stick stickers on. The papers from the stickers get colored on or cut when the stickers are gone as well. While a lot of these will still end up in the trash eventually it still gives us a whole entirely new use to it.

NataliaDeriabina / istockphoto

Speaking of crafts, are my kids the only ones who destroy crayons constantly? Every so often I go through eh crayons and collect all the small and broken pieces. These get saved until we have a nice amount. We then put them into muffin tins (I actually have some silicon muffin cups) and melt them to create new crayons. It gives them a new life and is an exciting activity as well. Even when things seem to have finished their usefulness there is still something you can do with them!

lyingv43 / istockphoto

 I save my kid’s clothes and try to use them as hand me downs as much as possible. Even if you are very particular about dressing your kids nicely or following strict gender norms out of the house there is no reason why pajamas or play clothes can’t be the “wrong color” or a little faded or out of date. Many of the clothes actually remain in great condition so they are perfectly able to be used from kid to kid. White shirts are particularly able to be passed down as they are easy to bleach and keep clean.

airspa / istockphoto

Speaking of clothes lasting, I try as much as possible not to use a dryer. I hang all my clothes. (I do dry towels, socks, and underwear). This reduces the number of dryer loads I have to do (save on electricity) and the clothes last much longer when hung to dry rather than put in the dryer. Light clothing, in particular, stays shinier and fresh when hung to dry in the sun. Of course, in winter when there is minimal sun this does force us to be more on top of the laundry so that things dry in time for when we need them.


Clothes that are beyond repair, ripped or otherwise dead get cut up into rags. I have a drawer full of rags of various sizes and materials. I can cut my paper towel supply significantly using the rags I have in my house. Old undershirts and pajamas work particularly well for this, as do kids’ T-shirts.

zimindmitry / istockphoto

As I said, I do buy stuff in plastic. Since many spices and other items come in plastic jars I try to reuse them as much as possible. I use them for other food or for toys or to organize the junk drawer. If I can’t find a good use for them I give them to my kids to play with. They can play kitchen or use them for dirt or for water pouring activities. I also sometimes give them old shampoo bottles to use as bath toys.


I wrote about this before but it’s worth re-mentioning. I take fruits and vegetables that are going bad and put them in the freezer for smoothies, pies, or stock. If you save vegetable scraps, like peels or tops and bottoms of vegetables, you can combine it with chicken bones and scraps to make a delicious chicken stock to be used as a base for chicken soup or for other chicken recipes.

luigi giordano / istockphoto

When you live a life of frugality and are intentional with your items and your material needs, then I think you are naturally going to be eco-friendly. I also think that it is OK to do these things just to save money.

There are so many things that naturally frugal people do that are also eco-friendly. Think about things like using reusable water bottles so as not to waste plastic bottles. You may do that because of money but it is also eco-friendly.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

Prostock-Studio / istockphoto

Featured Image Credit: JarnoVerdonk/istockphoto.