Ayoreo-Totobiegosode Biosphere Reserve: Forest Protection
The forest that provides the livelihood to the Totobiegosode and shapes their way of life is currently threatened by massive deforestation for cattle ranching, illegitimate appropriation of land (land grabbing) by settlers and international corporations, and illegal invasions by loggers.
The current challenge of our project is that the already secured land parcels (111’000 ha) for the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode do not yet form a contiguous area. Five more parcels (107’000 ha) are still missing to permanently protect the entire core area. It is up to the Paraguayan Government - possibly in collaboration with private sponsors - to find means and solutions to secure these parcels and restitute them to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode as their territory and protected area.
With the restitution and protection of a larger still intact forest area (220’000 ha) to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode in the Departamento Alto Paraguay, a significant contribution is being made to the conservation of the forest and the protection of the commons in the Chaco, both in ecological and social terms. Through responsible and sustainable utilisation, based on the ancestral knowledge and their own experience and values, the Totobiegosode protect the dry forest and its biodiversity from deforestation and overexploitation in the long term. At the same time, the management and monitoring of the forest area by the communities allows the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode to secure their livelihood, self-determination and rights.
The Totobiegosode (self-description: "people from the area of the wild boars") are among the last indigenous people of Paraguay who make a living with hunting and gathering and still have relatives who live without a permanent contact with the colonising society. They are a regional group of the Ayoreo-speaking indigenous people, who count today about 6,000 members. Their homeland are the dry forest and palm savannas of the northeastern Gran Chaco, which today forms the border area between Paraguay and Bolivia.
Several groups were violently contacted and forced to settle on mission stations in the 1970s and 1980s. Another group had to give up their lives in the forest in 2004: access to water was blocked to them because they had been occupied by cattle ranchers.
Since 1993, in order to preserve the lives of their relatives still living without contact with the colonising society and to protect the forest, the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode have been claiming part of their original homeland from the Paraguayan Government. This is about 220’000 hectares of their former territory, which covered a total area of about 2’800’000 hectares. The land claim of the Totobiegosode is based on the rights of indigenous peoples guaranteed in the Paraguayan Constitution and the historical obligation of the Paraguayan State to restitute land.
Land purchase: Between 1999 and 2008, our Foundation purchased the parcel of land of a German corporation (28’600 hectares worth US$ 1’100’000) and restituted the land to the Totobiegosode, who established the village of Chaidi there in 2004.
Securing and management of the land and forest: In view of the massive and rapidly progressing deforestation, the permanent securing and control of the territory on site is a priority. As a measure, a control post managed by forest rangers was set up in 2016 with our help. From here trips, camps and patrols are carried out within the territory. At the same time, we finance access to satellite images, through which cartographer Peter Sawatzky and his son Alfred have been voluntarily monitoring the entire area for years. This makes it possible to detect illegal invasions and encroachments by settlers, cattle ranchers and loggers as well as the illegitimate appropriation of land by companies at an early stage. The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode document them on site and their lawyer Julio Duarte reports them in court.
Legal support: We finance part of the work of the lawyers who represent the Totobiegosode. They do this both before Paraguayan courts and before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regarding land restitution, the maintenance of protective measures, and in cases of rights violations.
Health Fund: Due to the lack of state infrastructure in the peripheral areas of the Chaco and the exclusion and discrimination of indigenous communities, the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode have little access to health care. Since 2015, thanks to support from our organisations in Switzerland, medical treatment can be provided to the Totobiegosode in private hospitals in the Mennonite colonies for serious emergencies (mainly chronic lung conditions, which occur as a late consequence of tuberculosis, among other diseases).
Improvement of living conditions: The purchase of two all-terrain vehicles for monitoring the territory and a tractor with plow and trailer for the cultivation of crops in the rainy season are an essential aid.
Goals already achieved
Establishment and preservation of protection measures: Since 1993, the territory claimed by the Ayoreo-Totobigosode has been placed under protective measures (so-called medidas cautelares y de no-innovar or a ban on sale and alteration) that prevent immediate deforestation and enables government repurchase negotiations, compensation procedures, and transfer processes to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode.
Progress in land restitution: Since 1997, the Paraguayan Government has transferred the land titles of six parcels to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode. A total of 155’298 hectares of forest land have been secured to date; of these, 110’698 hectares have already been deeded to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode.
Return to the territory: The transfer of the first land title enabled the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode to found their villages of Arocojnadi (about 45 people) and Chaidi (about 140 inhabitants).
National and international recognition of the project:
In 2001, the territory of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode was recognized by law by the Paraguayan Government as Patrimonio Natural y Cultural Ayoreo-Totobiegosode (PNCAT).
In 2005, the territory of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode was included in the Biosphere Reserve of the UNESCO’s ‘Man and the Biosphere’ (MaB) program.
«We didn't leave the forest voluntarily. It was another group that tracked us at that time (1986) and forced us to move to the mission station. If I had known the life of the coñone (whites), I would have stayed in the forest. I'm fighting for the restitution of our land and defending my people and the places where we live.»
«Even though we now live with the coñone (whites) and know their things, we want to preserve the forest. The forest gives us everything we need to live, the forest feeds us. A cattle pasture may be good for the coñone, it means nothing to us. We need the forest to survive.»
«It is unfair that our relatives are driven from their homelands because the coñone (whites) set up cattle ranches here. We have always lived here, but they do not respect us. We have the same right as the coñone, like every Argentinian, Brazilian and Paraguayan who buys land here.»
Further projects and goals
Land Restitution to the Nivacle-Manjui: Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Use
Together with the community of Yacacvash we are looking for alternatives that strengthen self-sufficiency and ways to implement sustainable small-scale land use. We also advocate for an ecological and careful use of land, crops and animals.Read more ...
Gran Chaco: Colonisation and Deforestation
The Gran Chaco (approx. 1'000'000 km2) is the largest forested area in the lowlands of South America after the Amazon basin. It has a subtropical climate and is a unique and fragile ecosystem of dry forests and savannas with an exceptional biodiversity. The Chaco is also the homeland of indigenous people (about 250’000 persons): groups that were colonised and resettled since the mid-20th century and groups of the Ayoreode, who still live without permanent contact with the colonising society.Read more ...