Wednesday 02 august 2023
The issue of conservation has changed a lot over the last 20 years, says Iván Arnold, Director of Fundación NATIVA in Bolivia. Threats such as deforestation, forest fires and pollution have increased, and at the same time environmental awareness has grown – in Bolivia and in the rest of the world. ‘Nowadays, more people understand that protecting the environment has to be a priority for humanity. There are no individual solutions: we save all or we save nobody.’ The conservationist advocates regional approaches: ‘we must work on the same scale as the problems to do our part solving them.’
Header photo: Iván Arnold at Laguna Caceres © NATIVA
Conservationist at a young age
Iván Arnold grew up in Tarija, Bolivia’s southernmost city. In the summers he visited his family living in the countryside of Valle Central de Tarija. ‘It is a place of singular scenic beauty, important for the production of grapes and other fruits characteristic to these valleys. Unfortunately, the area has a great environmental issues due to wind and water erosion. The soil suffers because of the lack of vegetation,’ says the environmentalist.
Observing the environmental impact of human activities, Arnold developed a keen environmental awareness during his youth. Although the issue of erosion has created environmental awareness among a large part of the valley’s population, not everyone dedicates their lives to protecting nature. Already during his environmental studies, Arnold established an NGO with other young people. ‘At a very young age, we created a non-governmental organisation that gave us important experience in conservation work. We also learned about the important role of civil society in defending of environmental rights.’
Gran Chaco and Ñembi Guasu
After this experience, the environmental expert held a variety of positions in Bolivia’s conservation sector, from field technician to director of different technical areas and foundations. In 2003, Fundación NATIVA (Naturaleza, Tierra y Vida) was created. ‘We decided to work in an innovative way, strengthening teamwork, creating strategic alliances and working on themes such as climate change in places with a great need for action, like the Gran Chaco Americano,’ Arnold explains.
Iván Arnold, Director NATIVA
‘NATIVA works on strengthening ACIE Ñembi Guasu, while respecting the worldview to nature of the Guarani Indigenous people.’
Gran Chaco and Pantanal, two very biodiverse ecosystems, are NATIVA’s priority areas. Stretching across Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, Gran Chaco is the largest forest mass in South America, after the Amazon rainforest. ‘The biggest milestone for conservation in the last 20 years in Bolivia took place in Gran Chaco,’ says the foundation’s director. In 2019, the first protected area created by an autonomous Indigenous government in Bolivia was declared: the Ñembi Guasu Area of Conservation and Ecological Importance (ACIE).
The Ñembi Guasu ACIE is lawfully established by the Charagua Iyambae Indigenous Autonomy, and was an essential step in safeguarding their territory. ‘In addition to being the first area led by an Indigenous autonomy, Ñembi Guasu is also an ecologically important area connecting than 6 million hectares of nature. This corridor is very important for the biodiversity of the region, including the jaguar,’ says the conservationist. ‘NATIVA, supported by IUCN NL, DOB Ecology, WLT, NCI and other nature organisations, works on strengthening ACIE Ñembi Guasu, while respecting the worldview to nature of the Guarani Indigenous people.’
NATIVA currently plays a fundamental role in the management of the Ñembi Guasu ACIE in different fields, including territorial management and sovereignty, environmental governance and advocacy among national and subnational authorities. An example of the activities, supported by IUCN NL, is the development of the Ñembi Misi Operations Centre.
Ñembi Misi Operations Centre
The Ñembi Misi Operations Centre opened its doors in May 2023. Ñembi Misi, which means “small refuge” in the Guaraní language, aims to increase the awareness, understanding and appreciation of the natural, economic and cultural heritage of the Chaco and Pantanal region, Arnold says. ‘it is an important resource to support the holistic management of the Chaco-Pantanal landscape, facilitate the operations of ACEI Ñembi Guasu, stimulate scientific research and support fire prevention and control.’
At the same time, the Ñembi Misi Operations Centre will play an important role in connecting the different actors involved in the area and its natural resources. According to Arnold, the centre ‘has already been mentioned as a strategic centre helping to establish connections between local governments, communities, the private sector and civil society organisations, applying an integrated approach that seeks to conserve the area’s biodiversity and the way of life of its inhabitants at the same time.’
Iván Arnold, Director NATIVA
‘Conservationists often talk about problems within one country, such as deforestation and pollution of rivers. But rivers cross borders, and forests are important to combating global climate change.’
The importance of a regional approach
Iván Arnold has been working to protect Bolivian ecosystems for over 20 years. Although local initiatives, such as Ñembi Guasu, have a very important role to play in the conservation of the area, the director of NATIVA considers regional approaches essential. Therefore, they are working together with organisations in Paraguay, Argentina and other countries.
‘Ñembi Guasu is part of an immense landscape that spans four South American countries. Conservationists often talk about problems within one country, such as deforestation and pollution of rivers. But rivers cross borders, and forests are important to combating global climate change. We are not going to be able to solve these problems while focusing on just one country; we must work on the same scale as the problems to do our part solving them.’
An example of NATIVA’s regional approach is its role within the Gran Paisaje de Conservación, an international initiative that protects 20 million hectares of nature. This programme unites human, ecological and other aspects of the landscape to strengthen the ecosystem. It is based on one of the outcomes of the “Shared Resources, Joint Solutions” programme: the Gran Chaco eco-regional assessment conducted in 2018.
Growing problem, growing awareness
The scale of the problem has grown: for example, there are now more large forest fires in the region and more pollution, Arnold shares. At the same time, awareness has grown: ‘when I started working in the field 20 years ago, not even government officials knew what an environmental crime was. In this sense the situation has improved.’
Environmental awareness has grown not only at the Bolivian level, but also worldwide, according to Arnold. ‘Nowadays, more people understand that protecting the environment has to be a priority for humanity. There are no individual solutions: we save all or we save nobody.’
NATIVA and IUCN NL: long-term partners
NATIVA has been collaborating with IUCN NL for more than 15 years now to conserve Bolivian ecosystems, combat the consequences of climate change and support Indigenous peoples and local communities. A few examples of programmes we have worked on together, in addition to the Ñembi Guasu project:
- We advocated for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to play a central role at COP26 in 2021.
- Between 2016 and 2020, as part of the Shared Resources, Joint Solutions programme, NATIVA worked on strategies combating advocacy and climate change, while strengthening the role of CSOs, gender and inclusion.
- Between 2011 and 2014, we worked together as part of the Ecoystem Alliance to promote sustainable alternatives strengthening Bolivian communities facing of climate change.
- Between 2008 and 2010, supported by the Ecosystem Grants Programme, we have been working on the strengthening of the tri-national Gran Chaco South American Biosphere Reserve.