Deep in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, accessible only by boat or plane, the Kichwa people of Sarayaku are advocating for Indigenous rights and protecting their ancestral territory. They are pursuing a sustainable lifestyle that sees nature not merely as a resource, but as a living and sacred entity worthy of legal rights and protection.
Indigenous peoples have been contributing to nature conservation in diverse and sustainable ways for centuries. As a result, they have built a rich repository of traditional knowledge that can serve as a source of innovation to initiate local actions that provide nature-based solutions for the multiple global crises that we are facing today: climate change, biodiversity loss, and the global pandemic.
After decades of facing industrial development pressures, in 2018 the Kichwa people of Sarayaku took a historic step when they travelled to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito to officially present their Kawsak Sacha, or Living Forest Declaration, which recognizes the forest as a living and conscious being, endowed with universal rights. The declaration asks for national and international recognition of a new legal category for the permanent protection of Indigenous lands, free of industrial extraction and with policies for sustainable hunting, fishing, agriculture, housing, transportation, and traditional medicine.
According to the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Kawsak Sacha is the primary source of Sumak Kawsay, a concept that can be translated as “good living”. By emphasizing the intrinsic physical and spiritual relationship between people and all other beings that inhabit the Living Forest, the declaration presents an ancient yet innovative way of life in harmony with nature that goes beyond traditional views of development and conservation. This represents a truly nature-based solution initiated by Indigenous peoples and local communities that could play a key role in tackling climate change and achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, as well as other important global agreements.
Celebrating local action
In July 2021, the Kichwa people of Sarayaku were awarded the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) prestigious Equator Prize in recognition of their decades-long efforts to protect their territory and their advocacy for Kawsak Sacha – a concept and logic with global relevance. The Equator Prize recognizes innovative nature-based solutions for local sustainable development that address biodiversity loss and our climate crisis. The Sarayaku were selected by an independent Technical Advisory Committee as one of 10 winning communities from over 600 nominations.
The prominent Indigenous rights advocacy by the Kichwa people of Sarayaku has also earned them the support of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP), which is implemented by UNDP. Since 2018, SGP has been assisting them through a rights-based approach to promote biodiversity conservation, sustainable livelihoods, and resilience to climate change. Read the full story here.