Awa Ethnic and Forest Reserve

The Awa are an ancestral indigenous nation residing in the north-western regions of Ecuador and the south-western regions of Colombia. With their own unique culture and their own language, the Awa have twenty-two legally established Awa communities in Ecuador under the direction of the Federation of Awa Centers of Ecuador (FCAE). FCAE has been granted a total of approximately 115,330 hectares of land, which is located in the Ecuadorian provinces of Esmeraldas, Imbabura and Carchi. The biodiverse Awa Ethnic and Forest Reserve forms part of FCAE land.

The Awa Ethnic and Forest Reserve is an area of unspoiled natural forest on the Columbian border of Ecuador that is home a number of settlements of the Awa indigenous group, who strive to preserve their traditional way of life. The reserve is also home to a multitude of species of interesting flora and fauna. These include jaguars, spectacled bears, macaws and trogons, as well as the red flower anturio and superb examples of chandul and guaiacum trees.

In an effort to conserve the rainforest areas of Ecuador, the Choco-Andean Rainforest Corridor Project is creating a vital link between the Andean cloud forests of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve and the Awa Ethnic Reserve’s lowland forests. These finely-tuned ecological havens are recognized internationally as biodiversity hotspots that are in danger of destruction by encroaching logging, mining and farming activities. The maintaining of biological corridors is vital to allow migration of animal and plant species, thereby ensuring healthy population levels.

Recognizing the value of preserving these areas, and with a desire to retain their traditional way of living, the Awa are committed to protect the land within the Awa Ethnic and Forest Reserve boundaries. This is no easy task though, as unscrupulous loggers, oil palm farmers and traders try every means possible to exploit the natural abundance of the area for financial gain. As the world’s fossil fuel resources are being exhausted, the use of oil from the oil palm as a biofuel is becoming a lucrative business. This has resulted in land which was previously being used for food crops, now being planted with oil palms. This short-sighted approach to solving the fossil fuel crisis is a highly controversial matter as the practice begins to impact on the environment and food availability. The Awa are determined to prevent this wholesale destruction of essential rainforest in their designated areas and are well versed in tackling the legal system in this regard.

Eco tourism is welcomed in the Awa Ethnic and Forest Reserve and visitors never fail to be astounded at the abundance of plant, animal and insect life that is found there. They soon come to appreciate why the Awa are so passionate about preserving this paradisiacal region of Ecuador.