Jatun Sacha – the long, sneaky arm of Pfizer et al.

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Jatun Sacha is a lovely place. Comprising 2500 hectares of easily accessible primary rainforest, it is one of the last little paradises around Tena.

Jatun Sacha Research Station

Or so it seems…

Promoting the conservation of ecosystems through technical training, scientific research, environmental education, natural resource management, and community development involving local peoples surely can’t be all that bad, even if it meant privatizing many square metres of ancestral indigenous territories. After all this was government policy in the 1970s anyway, and better the land goes to an eco- humanitarian project than some overweight cattle farmer. ¿No?

The place is always buzzing with young and keen volunteers who rest their tired bodies in colourful hammocks under tropical canopies after a long day of planting, digging, sowing, collecting, counting and measuring. They make friends, fall in love with each other, and buy their beer in the next village’s shop. They learn much about the rainforest and its non-human inhabitants, often returning home – happy, sunburnt, their insect bites mostly scarred – with half a dissertation under their arm.

Amazonian flower

However, the well-equipped and -staffed botanical gardens and research stations of the Jatun Sacha Foundation have been deeply involved with pharma-giant Pfizer and Shaman pharmaceuticals, channelling research results, plant samples and inventories towards their commercial laboratories. The RAFI (now the ETC Group) communiqué linked to above speaks of some projected illegal export of 9000 species – all for the profit of Pfizer and the Botanical Garden in Missouri with which one of the Jatun Sacha founders is closely affiliated. Here is an excerpt:

Biology students and professors from the allegedly Opus Dei controlled Universidad Católica in Quito have over many years been witting- or unwittingly involved in what basically amounts to trafficking Ecuadorian species to the Pfizer laboratories. For how many of the exported samples the necessary permits have conveniently been forgotten, is unclear. According to a long-standing local activist, the Ministry of the Environment continues to lament the fact, yet points its finger at its lacking funds and control capacity.

Smuggling plants, however, is not just a violation of national and international legislation, but also part of the processes undermining indigenous peoples’ efforts of self-determination and their rights to the protection of their collective bio-cultural heritage – (for the best recent summary of the issues involved in protecting indigenous peoples’ heritage from erosion and misappropriation, please download “Banishing the Biopirates” (.pdf) from IIED).

Apart from its links to the pharmaceutical industry, Jatun Sacha is also a partner of Conservation International, which is accused of “neocolonialism, green imperialism, and being a “multinational conservation company“:

[A] growing number of people are questioning Conservation International’s credentials as an environmental organisation. The complex global web of partnerships, collaborations, initiatives and projects which Conservation International weaves is as expansive as it is mind boggling. Its major corporate supporters include Cemex, Citigroup, Chiquita, Exxon Mobil Foundation, Ford, Gap, J P Morgan Chase and Co., McDonalds, Sony, Starbucks, United Airlines and Walt Disney. Conservation International claims that its corporate supporters “know that their customers, shareholders and employees share a common concern about protecting the environment.

With such friends one should think that the Foundation had, if not a sustainable conscience, at least a sustainable cash-flow – which leaves you wondering why certain of their (indigenous) full-time employees have not received any remuneration for the last several months of their labour. Jatun Sacha charges it volunteers substantially, of course, which makes it even more awkward to leave their workers unpaid.

So – in case you were thinking about volunteering in Ecuador, think twice about where exactly you want to do that and spend some time finding out more about Jatun Sacha or any other glittering organization luring in to quench the thirsting youth of the global upper/middle classes. There isn’t really a ready-made program to save the trees and fight the global pharmaceutical corporations who steal, pillage and plunder the Amazon and indigenous peoples all around the world. Organizations like Jatun Sacha are nothing less than another long, sneaky arm of capital, greenwashing its most ruthless perpetrators.

Coming to Ecuador we recommend you consider volunteering for smaller, independent foundations, such as Fundación Ishpingo in the Amazon or for example Golondrina, if you want to see the North-West of Ecuador.

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65 thoughts on “Jatun Sacha – the long, sneaky arm of Pfizer et al.

    yucca said:
    Thursday, May 3, 2007 at 06:12 (300)

    hey, you forgot to tell us what’s so bad about smuggling plants… i thought we were all for smuggling plants, this side of capital ;-)

    colona responded:
    Friday, May 4, 2007 at 20:12 (883)

    Hey, I wouldn’t call smuggling plants bad per se. (Nor any other kind of smuggling!) However, I thought I did sort of explain, or at least point to the reasons why the kind of plant trafficking that Jatun Sacha and others engage in ought in my opinion to be opposed.

    To clarify:

    1. That smuggling plants is against certain legislations does not by itself make it a bad thing, it just makes it an illegal thing. Many good things are illegal, too, of course.

    2. What makes this practice bad is that plants and other biomass are being channelled into the laboratories of one of the world’s biggest and most ruthless pharmaceutical company. Pfizer, like most other big pharma, is constantly suing to prevent generic imitations of its products, thereby prohibiting poor and not-so-wealthy ill people to get better with the help of its drugs. (Not that I recommend any of their synthetic chemicals as real healing agents!) Pfizer is very vocal also in those forums in which obligatory licenses for patents are being discussed (for example in case of an epidemic) – in favour of tight intellectual property rights and controls of course. And so forth. Surely most people reading this will know all the stories. Here’s another one from Oligopoly Watch: http://www.oligopolywatch.com/2004/08/23.html

    3. Helping the pharma industry to increase its knowledge/power/wealth complex is one thing, undermining indigenous rights to participate in the decision making processes regarding what ought to happen with their bio-cultural heritage (which includes plants of traditional use, for example) is another, but pretty shit too.

    4. In my opinion, economic compensation is not really an answer to the issues raised by the question of how to “protect” the ancestral knowledge of indigenous and farmer communities, but it is clearly the very least that needs to be offered if you’re commercializing biological resources of ancestral use, especially if you have learned about them through interaction with the so-called knowledge holders. of course neither Pfizer nor Jatun Sacha have done any such thing. One of their most knowledgable local workers has recently, as mentioned, not even been paid his regular wage for several months. And this is not the first time.

    5. Like I say above, please read the recent report by the IIED (international institute for Environment and Development) if you are interested in this topic. Download it here (NB: THESE LINKS WERE UPDATED OCT. 30, 2008, WHEN WE DISCOVERED THAT IIED HAD RESTRUCTURED THEIR SITE WITHOUT INSERTING PROPER REDIRECTIONS FROM):

    Intro to article:
    http://www.iied.org/pubs/display.php?o=14537IIED

    Direct link to article:
    http://www.iied.org/pubs/pdfs/14537IIED.pdf

    The "golden" Z said:
    Tuesday, May 15, 2007 at 20:08 (881)

    write more! this was very interesting and helped me locate a host mom that wasnt related to the school of the americas.

    colona responded:
    Saturday, May 19, 2007 at 14:38 (651)

    Golden Z – maybe you should write more and let people know how you located that host mom and why all the others were related to the school of the americas…!? That sounds interesting in itself!

    Ed - armchair scientist and small business owner said:
    Monday, July 9, 2007 at 20:18 (887)

    Hey, I’ve always been suspicious of ‘big authorative talking” and no credentials, first hand experience or education … or daresay a name … armchair rhetoric is cheap … as I will attempt to demonstrate with my 2-bit response. Why wouldn’t it be a good strategy to let Pfizer get the plants, research the plants, test the results, advertise and market the results, build a market for anything that might prove out and perhaps save some lives … then slag them for not sharing the proceeds? Then embarass them so badly that they divert some of their returns back into Ecuador? Because the alternative seems to be to just let the plants stay in the jungles because without “captial” to exploit it for anyone (Pfizer, Investors, Ecuador or sick people) nothing will happen …. ever.

    colon@s said:
    Saturday, August 25, 2007 at 09:10 (423)

    Ed, I think you’re missing the point that your suggested strategy already unfolds in parallel as we speak – and always have been unfolding – yet to no avail: corporations are not made to share nothing, they never have and never will. From the East India Company to Pfizer, corporations are a kind of psychopathic entity reducing all values, considerations for action, guidelines and gauges to the bottom line. In other words, your ideas are anything but new and have failed as long as they have existed.

    Moreover, the plants are in use *all the time* – being used to heal people in the Amazon. Just cos there are no sales and plastic wrappings and pill box productions involved does not mean that “nothing is happening”. The only threat there is to those plants not being used anymore is Pfizer et al, rolling over the forest with their new rules of a game called “fast cash economy for the already rich” no one has consented to participating in.

    sallty said:
    Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 05:41 (279)

    hi colona
    i was interested to read your blog about jatun sacha because I had read about this when researching in Ecuador two years ago, but I thought the agreement never came to anything – the information I had was from 1995 (as is the ETC link you gave). Have you further information that it is happening now? I would be very interested to know asap because I am writing a phd on intellectual property rights and indigenous plant medicines and if it is happening would put this in.

    Ali said:
    Friday, January 4, 2008 at 12:20 (555)

    wow a really interesting article, have you tried getting it published or sent it to a magazine’s letters section? like New Internationalist? anyway, i can believe everything you said as i was there almost exactly a year ago and staff were unpaid for several months in a row. however, although there is all this shit going on, there is real hard work out in by the staff and they truly believe in what they (atleast think) they are doing. the manager/ founder of Jatun Sacha was defintely trying to hide something from the volunteers there as when we raised the issue of staff not being paid aggressive and said it was an “internal issue” hardly convicing im sure you’ll agree. It’s certainly informative and saddened me to find this out, I was planning to return as a volunteer but now I am not so sure, perhaps just to visit the friends I made with staff.

      kmaree said:
      Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 15:52 (702)

      Hi Ali,
      I know you wrote this awhile ago, but I am very interested in your experiences with Jatun Sacha. I volunteered at their Congal station for 3 months and ran into some major problems with the executive director (though I never met him). It sounds like your complaints are similar to mine. Would you mind explaining what happened? I think I have some information you may be interested in.

        colona responded:
        Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 16:56 (747)

        Kmaree –

        thanks for your comment – not sure Ali will get notified that you’ve posted a response to her (his!?) comment. Just letting you know. Unfortunately I don’t have a corresponding email address.

        Happy to hear more about your experiences of course, so do let us know.

        cheers colona

    colona responded:
    Friday, January 4, 2008 at 12:34 (565)

    Ali, yes we are good friends with some of the staff as well, and I wouldn’t want to dismiss their work and enthusiasm at all. There are lots of other projects you could volunteer with around Tena, so let us know via this page if you want some suggestions.

    colona responded:
    Friday, January 4, 2008 at 12:43 (572)

    In case anyone reading this page is interested in my answer to sallty’s comment above – here is what I wrote to her directly:

    I haven’t found out to what extent any of the plants shipped to Pfizer or other pharmaceuticals might have ended up as part of a patent or something. That is near
    impossible to find out anyway, especially nowadays given no one wants to be seen as a “biopirate”… But a friend and staff member (who has worked there since its foundation and has now resigned cos they never pay him) knew that that was part of what Jatun Sacha did. It was set up as part of three biological research stations – the other two in the mountains and on the coast – with the involvement of this guy from Missouri Botanical Gardens. You will know how much Botanical gardens were implicated in the colonial project of knowing, classifying, and appropriating plant species – channelling important information of industrial application and less obviously important information of simply the variety of species away from the colonies and into the colonial centres (see e.g. Bronwyn Parry’s “Trading the Genome”). This accumulation of knowledge is also an accumulation of power. Now, even if it might be true that no commercially viable products were developed directly as a consequence of plants smuggled out from the JS research stations, I don’t think that it makes a qualitative difference to the critique…

    Nick said:
    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 04:17 (220)

    Hi Colona

    I am a 20 year old New Zealander, I volunteered at the Jatun Sacha biological station from november 2006 – january 2007. I am intrigued ( and deeply concerned) by the possibility that the foundation may be involved in bio-piracy.. I am hoping to organise a fund-raiser to raise money for the foundation which they could use to buy land to add to existing reserves but now I’m hesitant. I want to find an impartial person in ecuador who I can get advice from as to whether fundacion jatun sacha is dodgy or not.. Would you happen to know of someone like this?also, i have a few other questions about local people and organisations that i want to ask with a view to finding out how I can help the cause of conservation in the region. i couldn’t find a contact e-mail for you guys here but I was wondering – would you be able to e-mail me at the address i provided above so i could e-mail back with a few queries? I would be really grateful if you could.

    Thanks, Nick

    colono said:
    Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 07:06 (337)

    The entry didn’t mention another story that locals will tell you, namely that when the Jatun Sacha land in the Amazon was “bought” it was inhabited by several indigenous communities who were simply displaced. Get out!

    Becca said:
    Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 11:57 (539)

    Hi,
    this is a very interesting article, i was a volinteer there just over a year ago, it is terue that the volunteers were not being paid, and the stuff you have found out is intriguing. i am incredibly saddened by this, as i would never have thought that something like this would be afiliated with big companies such as Phizer (perhaps rather naive, i know) however, i am interested where you got all this information from about it’s relationship with Pfizer etc. are you based in Tena? are you still in communication with the workers there? they are such a fantastic group of people and i wonder if you could gve me an update of what has been going on in the reserve? i would really appreciate it. if you don’t wish to put it up here then please feel free to email me.
    Thanks!

    Jonathan said:
    Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 15:00 (667)

    Hello,
    I am close almost ready to commit to volunteering for Jatun Sacha this summer and this article makes me hesitate. I need to solidify my plans very soon and I would greatly appreciate your recommendations for alternative organizations/projects to volunteer for near Tena or elsewhere in Ecuador (or even in another country if you feel very strongly about an effort somewhere else). My interests are very broad: scientific botanical rainforest research, reforestation, and most of all working with local communities on projects that support sustainable agriculture in conjunction with the preservation of native rainforest ecosystems. Again, I would be so grateful for whatever insights and recommendations you could provide. Please email me at j.hallet@earthlink.net and/or post a response on this page. Thank you!!

    Jonathan said:
    Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 15:23 (682)

    Colonos,
    I missed an important point in my post. I’m very interested in working with you or others on efforts to reclaim indigenous rights to their own bio-cultural knowledge. This is surely a field of work for which you could give me recommendations/insights. Thank you.

    Mucho Bano said:
    Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 00:21 (056)

    I am 22 and from the United States. As a former volunteer of Jatu Sacha (Oct 2006 – Jan 2007, along with Nick who replied above), I feel I might be able to give some insite. First, the article states “…all for the profit of Pfizer and the Botanical Garden in Missouri with which one of the Jatun Sacha founders is closely affiliated.” Well, in my time there I became close friends with THE founder, only one. How he would have affiliation with said groups, just sound rediculous. Yes he spent time in the States but that was as a young child, age 6 or 7. He has never graduated from any University, Ecudorian or otherwise. And the best way to describe him would be a South American Hippy (hell, he didn’t even wear a shirt for about the first 10 years of living in the rainforest). He went to the jungles of Ecuador to be close with nature and find solitude, which he did. Then realizing the growing problem of destrucion of the rainforest for planting purposes, decided to begin to buy old plantations and donated ones alike in the area. And over time has established the beautiful Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve (now about 25 years old I believe), including the Centro de Conservacion plantas Amazonica, a botanical garden used for educational purposes (locals and university students alike). And as the article states “Biology students and professors from the allegedly Opus Dei controlled Universidad Católica in Quito have over many years been witting- or unwittingly involved in what basically amounts to trafficking Ecuadorian species to the Pfizer laboratories”, which clearly states the most likely no one within the Jatun Sacha reserve had anything to do with the exportation of plants. Sounds like misinformed or overly eager university students are the source of this problem.

    And as for unpaid workers, it is a sad reality. The problem is that Jatun Sacha, is not only a single reserve now but a network of 8 or so reserves through out the country. Both finacial and administative duties have been reliquished to the head office, located in the urban jungle of Quito. Many people who work there seemed to have no real affection for the conservation of the rainforest and it was just a job to them. Also there were certain rumors that led me to belive of some corruption within the foundation. So yes unpaid workers is still a problem that is being delt with.

    But to discourage people from volunteering there I think is not the right thing to do. My time there was life changing and I will never forget it and plan to go back as soon as I can. The people there are amazing, friendly and warm, always wanting to see you smile. If people were to not volunteer there some 20 locals would be put out work, plus they provide them three meals a day. This resrve is essential to the community. They are soley intent on the preservation of the rainforest and the local culture. So, to any one who might be thinking of volunteering at Jatun or just visting, DO IT!!! It will be benificial to not only yourself but the reserve. Long live Jatun Sacha!

    colono said:
    Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 14:06 (629)

    Great for Mucho Bano that it was a life changing experience to be at Jatun Sacha, – it is indeed a great place (and surely that is what the people from the communities who used to live in the now privatised area that the research station has colonised also think) – perhaps learning to do critical background research (live and learn) could prove just as life changing.

    For instance, a Pace University web page reads:

    “The Biological Station was founded in 1986; the original reserve of 200 hectares was put together from four pieces of property owned by the founders, Michael McColm, David Neill, Alejandro Suárez.

    In 1989 and again in 1991, donations made by several conservation organizations, particularly Green Ink, Inc. and the Rex Foundation, allowed the Fundacion to purchase additional forest, adding 300 hectares to the original reserve. Funds for land purchase were also donated by student groups in Washington state and North Carolina, USA. Since 1993 with the donations from the International Children’s Rainforest Network, the reserve is still growing.

    For those interested in these matters, all you have to do is google around for a bit – and not believe just anything people tell you, whether they are all friendly and nice and wear a hippie shirt and tell you that they are the only one.

    There is more to Jatun Sacha than meets the eye and the connections to Missouri Botanical Garden (where *one of the* founders is curator – see below) and Conservation International (which is funded by such great environmentalists as the Ford Foundation) are very real.

    http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/Research/curators/neill.shtml – here is a list of vascular plants collected in the Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve. The reserve was established in 1986 and is located about 15 km east of Tena, Ecuador in the province of Napo. The reserve protects about 2,000 hectares (4,940 acres) of tropical wet forest. Additional taxa will be added to the list from future collecting trips and as existing voucher specimens are identified:
    http://mobot.mobot.org/W3T/Search/Ecuador/projsjs.html

    colono said:
    Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 14:20 (639)

    Since we know that people from the Jatun Sacha have actually read this entry (for a few days the link circulated on Jatun Sacha webmail – according to the WordPress blog statistics) we consider the story to be either so completely wrong and silly and ridiculous as Macho Bano suggests above – or indeed the story is just about right, since no one at the Jatun Sacha foundation has reacted to it.

    colono said:
    Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 15:02 (668)

    Here is a quote from Mobot :

    “In July 1998, Neill started a training program in botany and conservation in Ecuador, with support from the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation. The program involves post-graduate training in field reseach and conservation biology for young Ecuadorian botanists, foresters and agronomists who have completed their undergraduate studies. During August through December 1998, Neill and the Ecuadorian botany intern-trainees made several field trips to the coastal range to complete the work that had been interrupted by El Niño. All of the field work during this period was carried out in northern Manabí province, in the region around the coastal town of Pedernales. The local conservation organization, Tercer Mundo Foundation, provided logistical support and the foundation’s agroforestry extensionist Carlos Robles served as guide and helped with the field studies.

    Processing and Identification of Botanical Specimens

    The botanical specimens were dried and processed at the National Herbarium of Ecuador in Quito. The collection data were entered into the TROPICOS botanical database developed by Missouri Botanical Garden; the National Herbarium has a subset of the database with all the information pertinent to Ecuador. Duplicate specimens were shipped to Missouri Botanical Garden.

    During April and May 1998, Vargas and Nuñez of the National Herbarium of Ecuador accompanied Neill to Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. In the Missouri herbarium, the team carried out the next stage of specimen processing, sending duplicate specimens to taxonomic specialists at various botanical institutions around the world as “gifts for determination”. The specialists return to Missouri Botanical Garden the species-level identification of each specimen; this information is then entered in the database and sent on to the National Herbarium of Ecuador.

    colono said:
    Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 15:07 (671)

    ….and so, what generally happens to collections of specimens, data (genetics, DNA etc.)?

    Bronwyn Parry has studied the issue and “conducted a number of detailed research projects that have explored the progressive commodification of non-human and human biological materials including organs and tissues. This research, which began with her study of the fate of collections of biological materials gathered under a series of bio-prospecting programmes for use in the American pharmaceutical industry, illustrates how such materials – and the engineered artefacts that are derived from them – cell lines, tissues samples and sequenced DNA are now being traded internationally as part of a new global resource economy in ‘bio-information’. The findings of this project were published as a single authored monograph entitled “Trading the Genome: Investigating the Commodification of Bio-information” by Columbia University Press in 2004.

    The questions and criticisms raised in this blog entry deserve much wider attention than many might at first think – and a comphrensive analysis that includes the work of people like Parry is essential. Anecdotes and hear-say about the niceness of individuals just doesn’t cut much mustard!

    Mucho Bano said:
    Monday, April 28, 2008 at 22:40 (986)

    I stand corrected for the founding of Jatun Sacha, until you had mentioned it and from doing my own research after the fact (which as you suggested I should have done more of first) I had not heard of Michael McColm or Dr David Neill as far as I can recall. The only one I have meet is Alejandro Suarez and as far as my research and personal knowledge he is the only one who is still directly associated with the
    reserve and is the only one I can defend.

    But from what I have gathered from the above posts, the original collecting of plants by Dr Neill was for the intention of plant research and cataloging, not for the direct use of Pfizer. And the first link provided in the blog only states that the idea was proposed by Pfizer to obtain land to collect information on species but nothing was stated as for actual obtaining of land in Ecuador, let alone Jatun Sacha (not to mention the article is over ten years old). And I have not been able to find anything to state that they have pruchased any land or benifited directly from Jatun Sacha. And Shaman pharmaceuticals did go about researching through indigenous people in other parts of Ecuador but not through Jatun Sacha’s people. But yes information originally collected by Dr Neill has probably gone down the line to the pharmaceutical corporations,including Pfizer, which is the sad truth. But I think
    to call Jatun Sacha the long sneaky arm of Pfizer is far fetched and reaching for something controversial. I think it would be more appropriate to say that Jatun Sacha’s research has been abused and miss used. As you are aware corporations have been misusing and abusing the well intetioned and innocent for quite somethime now and I think that is the source of the problem, not 2400 hectras of rainforest nesltled in eastern Ecuador. But if once again I am missing something here please inform me of the connection I have over looked.

    Thank you for time and research

    Oh and as for the name, Much Bano, it has nothing to do with your
    article but was a running joke while I was volunteering at Jatun
    Sacha.

    colono said:
    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 12:01 (542)

    Of course we are reaching for something controversial. That is the whole point of this post, really, and the blog in general. Controversy is not something to be avoided, especially not if it might bring to light issues that would otherwise go unnoticed. If you don’t fancy controversy there is always the corporate media.

    Reading Bronwyn Parry’s work might provide you with a historical, political and cultural framework that might make you think that it is rather a long sneaky arm than a mere coincidence that founders of Jatun Sacha are connected to Conservation International (which is in part a green wash front for Ford) and a botanical garden which collects a lot of species through the Jatun Sacha territories (some of which used to be inhabited by local people, now displaced). If you do some cross-referential googling you should also be able to find the name of a woman who has been doing research at Jatun Sacha and also been working for Pfizer.

    The world and human societies work in networks – people hang out with like minded people and connections are made all the time. Conservation International is not your radical environmental organisation, but a front for old school industry – a means with which they wash their hands. How come Jatun Sacha is not working closely with permaculture networks of hippies, but with professional institutions sponsored by top corporations? How come they help collect species for a botanical garden in the north/rich world, rather than working with eco-warriors in a seed saver network?

    Apart from personal affiliations, money is likely to figure prominently in the answer. Money, maybe, to run the foundation, which is now of course also a resource for students and local people interested in plants and conservation, and that is presumably a good thing. So, if you like, and it makes you feel better, you could look at Jatun Sacha’s corporate involvement as a necessary evil. Necessary for its existence.

    To appease you even further, we also believe that most people do mostly what they think is the right thing. Creating plant registers and inventories the information of which can then be sold or given away to research institutes and companies, is most likely thought of as a great service to humanity by those who do it. Wonder drugs against AIDS or cancer might be discovered that way! They can then be developed and produced by big pharma and sold to those afflicted with the disease, who have enough money to pay for them. Those who can’t afford the drugs developed will die in their beds as they have always done – and many innocent people will be victims of the chemical by-products and toxics from the factories that run into some river somewhere and slowly enter the human food chain. Ever heard of the concept of “environmental justice”?

    The local Jatun Sacha staff will still go unpaid, the volunteers will still have a great time in a beautiful place with lovely people (none of which we ever denied), and conservation work will continue to be generally more of a business proposal than a love relationship with forest spirits.

    We know Alejandro only marginally, but he seems like a nice guy. Being a nice guy doesn’t protect you or the organisation you work for from criticism, however. Jatun Sacha’s research has not been abused and misused, it has just been used. Business as usual.

    Jatun Sacha does not have any policy or guidelines as to whom its research should benefit or not benefit, and so far they have not showed any sign of a political analysis of biodiversity business guiding their activities. That is why they are a sneaky arm, from where we stand. A partially blind sneaky arm, maybe. But blindness shouldn’t be an excuse, it should be a reason to open your eyes and the rest of your senses. There is certainly no shortage of critiques of “bio-prospecting” – and much active resistance to it as well – so to say that “we know nothing of it” is a bit far fetched and reaching for non-controversy in a complicit manner.

    Hope that sheds a bit more light on where we are coming from – and the ideas and opinions about life in the Amazon that we have gathered during the three years we have been involved in the struggles of this part of the world.

    S.P. said:
    Friday, May 9, 2008 at 14:00 (625)

    Greetings to the colonos. I, like some of the others here, have stumbled across this entry somewhat randomly, out of an interest to find out more about Jatun Sacha. Also like some of the others, I will soon be one of those young and keen volunteers you described, although not at this particular reserve. (Forgive my desire to remain anonymous for the time being– if it is true that people from Jatun Sacha look at this page, I would just as soon play dumb when I get there.)

    I must admit, I was a bit disappointed to read this. Honestly, I would have done research on the foundation prior to committing to volunteer with them, but the organization I am going through to do this does not give any specific information about their Ecuadorian host organization, or even mention its name, until volunteers have applied and paid their application fee. At this point I think it’s a bit late to cancel my plans, and part of me is still very curious to come down there and see the work being done firsthand (no doubt feeling conflicted and a bit guilty all the while).

    I was interested in learning more about this Golondrina Foundation, but the link provided above now appears to redirect to some casino page. Do you know what happened to their page? Or are there any other local organizations you would recommend?

    Anyway, I’ve poked around this blog for a bit, and I wanted to thank you guys for the good work. It seems that we’re interested in some of the same issues, and part of the reason I am planning to go to Ecuador myself is to (ideally) begin developing some sort of a basis for a prospective near-future graduate research project. I will definitely check out Bronwyn Parry’s book. Keep up the good work.

    colona responded:
    Monday, May 12, 2008 at 13:53 (620)

    Hi S.P, it seems that the Golondrinas Foundation own website is no longer up, but on this page there is some info and at the end there is an email so you could contact them and ask for more info.

    http://www.earthrestorationservice.org/page/46/fundacion-golondrinas.htm

    Don said:
    Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 15:15 (677)

    I am planning to take my 19 year old son to JS next week. Could someone with recent experience please email me directly? nospamdsorsa gmail.com You have to remove the nospam from my name. Thanks very much

    toraisona said:
    Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 09:10 (424)

    just curious, what exactly is the problem with a pharmaceutical obtaining rainforest plant specimens for medicinal research and development?? the discovery of rainforest species with real medicinal value is one of the main economic reasons driving people to protect these rainforests. To say simply that someone is profiting from it and it is capitolistic and therefore evil and bad and you shouldn´t support it is shortsighted and naieve, whether its true or not.

    colono said:
    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 12:18 (554)

    It is shortsighted and naive to think that there is nothing wrong with capitalism – first it was a political process that drove people off their lands, into graves, boats, colonies and factories – then, as an economic process, it began crashing around the turn of the 20th century with fascism as the prime example of capitalism and liberalism in action, then came WW II, since then oil crises, more invasions and more death systems implemented..

    If you think that it is shortsighted and naive to say that it is a bad thing to exploit people, steal from them, destroy the environment, avoid paying taxes, employing lawyers to distort the legal system, and to influence states to make natural medicines (i.e. those that are not industrial, processed, patented or whatever) illegal – well, then you are either yourself extremely uninformed or, indeed, one of those bad people that the world is better off without.

    Hopefully we’re dealing with a case of the former – which kind of implies that you didn’t even really read the article and the comments – in case of the latter, well, what can I say?

    Nothing personal, but Bob Dylan comes to mind – Masters of War, Masters of Bioprospecting:

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand o’er your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

    mary kate said:
    Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 15:48 (700)

    I am interested in doing work in the Pedernales area, near Mache Chindul. Do you keep contact with local groups there like Tercer Mundo or any other good local group?

    [...] have previously posted about Jatun Sacha twice (1/2) and when looking in the stats today I noticed that quite a few people were clicking on the [...]

    simon said:
    Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 04:44 (239)

    i was planning to go to san cristobal (galapagos islands) to volunteer for jatun sacha… but now i’m not so sure about that any more.

    does somebody know something about the situation on this station?

    colono said:
    Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 09:30 (437)

    In general, colonos will be able to connect you to groups or networks of people that do bottom-up, grass roots work in Ecuador without having sold their soul to Euro-American developmentalism – get in touch via this comment page and tell us a little bit about what you are looking for, for how long and so on and we will do our best to help.

    simon said:
    Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 02:15 (135)

    as I wrote to nina:

    I’m looking for an environmental project, where I can see and learn how reasonable work for the local environment and people is done. It would be great if it was a smaller “grass roots group”, so I could really get involved.
    I would love to do this on the galapagos islands, since this is a really special eco-system. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be there. Other interesting projects or people in Ecuador would also be great.
    I’m intensely learning Spanish right now, so I think I will achieve a good conversation level, but no more. Of course I know that under this conditions it’s hard to find something, but I’m glad for any advice.

    Thanks very much!

    Jules said:
    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 05:52 (286)

    Hi,

    I was just thinking about committing (like so many of us!) to JS, but that’s currently being thrown out of the bag…I’m taking a gap year and wanted to do something good for the plannet, ideally in reforestation and conservation of the rapidly deminishing natural environment in South America…

    I’m not bothered about where I go, except I’m learning Spanish so somehwere Spanish speaking (my level will be good conversational by the time i go)…any suggestions?

    I’m aiming to go for 3 months in February, I don’t have a vast amount of experties, just a severe amount of enthusiam, I’m a fast learner and will work hard for a good cause. if anyone has any advice they want to share…?
    please email me: julia_levi_2@yahoo.co.uk

    sandra said:
    Monday, January 5, 2009 at 20:35 (899)

    On 1985, Jatun Sacha Foundation become the first conservation organization in creating an international volunteers program in Ecuador. When other Ecuadorian organizations noticed how successful Jatun Sacha’s volunteer program was, they tried to copy and compete by discrediting JSF’s work over and over again. I believe this article is not an exception.
    I have known David Neil, Michael McColm, Alejandro Suarez and Walter Palacios for more than ten years while I worked for JSF. During that time, I had the opportunity to see they all always worked in the best interest of the organization, rural communities and biological stations. They are honest people, hard workers and unique scientists and don’t deserve to be dishonored unfairly. You all should know that the JSF’s volunteer program is very important for the organization. Volunteers support not only JS’s conservation programs, but also locals by enabling poor people with jobs and knowledge, otherwise not provided. Every day, organizations such as Jatun Sacha Foundation, a highly respectable conservation agency, struggles to survive by keeping themselves away from corruption in Ecuador. According to Transparency International, Ecuador is one of the world’s most corrupted countries. However, Jatun Sacha Foundation has managed to keep alive and successfully manage more than 7,000 ha of protected forest while increasing standards of living of surrounding communities. Ecuador has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation in Latin America. The annual deforestation rate is approximately 3% of currently existing forestland which remains at roughly 10 – 11 million hectares. At this rate the country will be completely deforested within 30 years. Ecuador also has South America’s highest population density (45 inhabitants/sq. km.) and highest rate of population growth averaging around 3% per year in recent decades.
    Having said that, I encourage you all, specially “Colona”, to be more responsible with the comments and statements that you post on your site. If you want people to believe what you say, please provide facts and not only second hands information. If this article were true, why any national institution like the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment or other legal figure hasn’t taken legal actions against Jatun Sacha Foundation yet?

    colona responded:
    Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 16:43 (738)

    Hi Sandra – thank you for your contribution.

    I understand that especially people who have worked at or with Jatun Sacha might find some of this information upsetting. However, we have FIRST HAND (not second hand) contact with local people (those who you say benefit from the jobs and knowledge) who are not as convinced of all the benefits you list that Jatun Sacha supposedly brings to the area.

    Also, we have provided links and references to research by groups that have no interest in vilifying conscientious conservation organisations, and that aren’t at all based in Ecuador, so are definitely not vying for the same kind of volunteers and have no need to discredit JS out of envy or anything like that.

    Some of our differences of opinion really just stem from a different kind of general political analysis. You seem to think that conservation and income for local people is per se a good thing. We are trying to argue, in this post as in the rest of our blog, that whether or not such changes are an IMPROVEMENT to life in the forest depends on a whole set of wider conditions. How is conservation implemented? Who gains from the activities? Is income really the most important thing for local people? In my opinion, you are glorifying JS contribution to life around Tena. The forest is disappearing, and very fast, that is for sure. But privately managed reserves are just one potential answer to such a crisis. And they create other problems. If you have really worked for 10 years with Jatun Sacha, how could you have missed local people’s grievances there?

    Regarding your point about the Ministry of the Environment, let me quote from the above post that you don’t seem to have read very carefully: “According to a long-standing local activist, the Ministry of the Environment continues to lament the fact, yet points its finger at its lacking funds and control capacity.”

    Biogenetic resources (such as plants and their derivatives) are impossibly difficult to track, hence the whole international shabang on trying to create a binding regime for the protection of traditional knowledge and associated genetic resources. Hence the funding for my PhD research. Hence our connection with people and organisations in Tena. Hence this post.

    Your side of the story gets told everywhere. Ours not so much. But at least it rouses emotions.

    colona responded:
    Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 17:11 (757)

    Interestingly, there is no trace of Jatun Sacha ever providing any evidence that the story first brought by RAFI (now ETC. Group) is untrue.

    Neither has JSF contested the stories brought here – and it is clear from the statistics of the blog that the link has circulated within the foundation.

    If it was really an unjust smear campaign one should think that they might have complained?

    sandra said:
    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 15:43 (696)

    Assuming you are right. My next questions would be: What is your proposal, solutions, alternative to deforestation,poverty in Ecuador? Obviously, preservation, economical incentive, research, ect is not the right solution according to your statement?

    colona responded:
    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 18:05 (795)

    You are right, economic incentives, top-down private or quasi-private research, and preservation that does not involve the communities are, to my and many other people’s mind, only short-term, displacement solutions. They’re like plasters on a deep and festering wound. It’s the profit-driven system of socio-political relations concerned with global resource control that we blame, not JS in and of itself. JS just replicates the same old non-solutions and makes them look nice.

    Regarding the solutions you think we should have: colonos is not proposing a program or blue-print for poverty alleviation and nature conservation, but trying to highlight the ways in which capitalism manifests itself in the Amazon and the rest of the world, and the pain and destruction it causes, often in not-so-obvious ways.

    We are also trying to promote some critical thinking. Economic incentives can always only entrench and reinforce a way of thinking that values the world economically. If you want to (like us) see fundamental transformations in the socio-economic system increasingly spanning the globe, then you need to start creating relations and projects that are not (primarily) based on money. Elsewhere in this blog (and beyond) we have been promoting the creation of community-run botanical gardens, participatory action research, grassroots knowledge-networks.

    That’s the kind of thing we’d like to see more of, in the Amazon and everywhere else. Such things are by no means real solutions. They are tiny steps on a massive journey towards building intelligent life on earth. The whole point is – *there are no solutions*. There are only such small steps.

    Bill Steele said:
    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 23:24 (016)

    I have been reading these posts for some time and did not feel an undeniable need to respond until I read your exchange with Sandra. Like Sandra, I know McColm, Neil and Suarez. Unlike Sandra, I have not worked at Jatun Sacha and owe them no special allegiance. I do owe an allegiance to the truth and can say that without question there was never any deal between JS and Phizer, and had there been a deal it would have benefited the people in the communities where Jatun Sacha works. That has always been the case and to my knowledge there have been no exceptions to this point. They have assisted thousands of people in the poorest regions of Ecuador over the years. Many thousands of volunteers have come to Jatun Sacha reserves and the experience has expanded their minds, many going on to help people around the world using the methods they learned at Jatun Sacha.

    I am not clear what the Colonos agenda is but based on the comments posted here my advice is that they turn off the computer, get out into the field and do the work that makes a difference in people’s lives and stop bashing a group that has been at the forefront of the conservation movement in Ecuador. Colonos has a problem with Conservation International and that may be a discussion worth having, but Jatun Sacha is a grass roots organization that has to compete with the large multi-nationals for funding and official attention. If Colonos has a point to make, fine, but understand that there are consequences beyond their office door. Real people that depend on Jatun Sacha as a core community member are hurt when this kind of chatter takes place. It is not always appropriate to put stuff like this out without the whole story, and I can say for sure they do not have both sides of the story. Colonos says Jatun Sacha has not responded-guess what, they are working to advance the lives of their countrymen and WOMEN and CHILDREN throughout Ecuador.

    Political agendas are fine, even helpful, but there is a responsibility that comes with having a forum. If Colonos has decided that in order to advance their political agenda it is OK to hurt poor people in Ecuador that will be their burden to bear.

    When an organization deals with the numbers of persons Jatun Sacha does there are bound to be a few nay-sayers

    colono said:
    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 23:59 (041)

    Wow – thank you!

    For the record: We have spent about two years in the region – talked to a lot of people and worked with a wide range of Kichwa (and other) people on grass roots and political organisational levels as well. Additionally, we have worked voluntarily in social movements in Europe for more than a decade.

    Anyway..

    The locals are the ones who have told us these stories – out of their own volition when we spoke to them about how interesting Jatun Sacha’s work were, as we first thought – they responded rather negatively. Then we started doing some research, which turned up the involvement with Pfizer, which is documented by the Etc. Group (then called RAFI), to whom I have just written in this very moment to get some clarification.

    That Missouri Botanical Garden is involved with CI and the Ford Foundation can be googled by anyone in less than ten minutes. The pattern is obvious.

    What is remarkable is that neither Bill nor Sandra responds to any of the documentation – only provide their word for JSF’s non-engagement with Pfizer. That is also a clear pattern.

    What concerns the benefit to the local community – how do you explain that a local indigenous person told us that he didn’t get paid for many months and in the end had to leave JSF, because he had to find a way to feed himself and his family (ie couldn’t work for nothing)?

    How do you explain that locals say that several communities were displaced? What form of benefit is that?

    How do you explain that the local people see JSF as yet another of the white man’s impositions and privatisations of land? Are they all so blind that they can’t see the great benefits that JSF bring to the region? And if that is the case, then perhaps JSF should inform the locals better, since they just don’t understand that they benefit.

    This story is from the local people – we merely brought it out in the open for them.

    Let’s see if ETC Group responds.

    colono said:
    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 00:10 (048)

    I just forgot to ask: where are all “those thousands of locals” that have benefitted, when the locals you meet are disgruntled?

    And where can we found documentation for your claims?

    Bill Steele said:
    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 03:58 (207)

    Please do not miss the point. Surely Jatun Sacha is not a perfect organization, but it is balance I am seeking. As a person somewhat advanced in years who has daily contact with younger people trying their hardest to make a measurable contribution in the world I am struck by how often one believes what they read, especially if it comes from what seems to be a reliable source-like yours. I have learned to check things out for myself before claiming it as my truth. Anecdotal information does not qualify as truth for me. So, a bit of history to supply a context-you do the math-one deal with Phizer-never completed or executed-versus the following.

    In 1985 the road supporting the pipeline outside Tena was being constructed. This allowed the timber companies and independent contractors (poachers) access to the forest. The trees were dropping like flies until Fundacion Jatun Sacha started it’s first reserve. With very little funding and volunteers the reserve grew and outreach began with conservation education, organic gardening, a botanical garden supplying the reserve and surrounding farms with plants and trees for reforestation projects. Locals were employed as park guards, cooks, educators, guides and more. (As a footnote may I add that Dr McColm set the standard for using the funds Jatun Sacha received for projects-putting it straight on the ground- by refusing on many occasions to use any money to purchase a car, noting how many more trees could be planted if everyone took the bus.)

    Since those humble beginnings the reserve has continued to serve the nearby communities by negotiating with the oil company to supply internet connectivity in two locations, supporting the local school and other businesses in the area. Since 1985 there have, from time to time, been lean times, people have not been paid, or paid less than promised. As a veteran of several nonprofits large and small may I just say that this can happen to the best of us in hard times. Been there-lived through it.

    Once they began there seemed to be no end to the challenges. To site a few more examples briefly I’ll mention Guandera, a magical forest in Carchi Province near the Columbian border. Like no other forest in the world, Guandera clings to the slopes of the Andes ranging from about 9000 feet to 15000 feet. The Paramo (we call it Tundra in the north) is a spectacular wetland bridging the continental divide with sharp treeline separating it the forest. Had it not been for Jatun Sacha this forest would have been lost to the potato farms pushing up from the valley below. A valley that is home to the highest rates of stomach cancer in Latin America due to the use of chemicals on their mono-culture crops. Jatun Sacha is working to mitigate these human and ecological problems.

    Let me mention the Bilsa Biological Station (Esmeraldes Province) in the Mache Chindul region, the southern most intact area of the Choco Darian forest, a global biodiversity hotspot by any measure. Before Jatun Sacha created the station there the loggers were having their way with the forest and after the station was established they even tried violence to keep the tree huggers out. Jatun Sacha was bad for the timber business, but they did help establish the Mache Chindul National Ecological Reserve (12,000ha), and the health clinic at la Y de la Laguna that serves 32 surrounding communities, about 5-6000 people, and they do outreach to those communities in conservation education community and organic gardening, health care, support the woman’s bank, protect the larger forest from squatters and poachers and other programs and research projects.

    And there is Congol reserve protecting Mangroves, Lalo Loor with it’s dry forest, Tsuraku and it’s mahogany, La Hesperia and it’s moist inter-Andean forest. All this not to mention scores of smaller initiatives throughout Ecuador, and membership on committees of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Ecuador’s Environmental body.

    And when you talked to the locals you mentioned, was it with the deep knowledge needed to understand the local dynamics and jealousies that inform a fact finding inquiry? The most experienced journalists often get that wrong. Did you visit Capirona or other indigenous communities and check with them? They may have told you of the assistance they received as they began their Eco-tourism venture.

    My point here is to examine the thorough-going nature of your investigation and the balance you bring to your reporting. If you have a political agenda to promote, fine, but say so. If a friend of yours, or you, has had a problem with Jatun Sacha, fine, say so and we can talk about that.

    I want you to succeed because I believe that our agendas are similar. But you damage both Jatun Sacha, your own organization and yourself when you take an old story and make it new, especially when you are not fair and thorough. Thank you for your dedication to those in need and may we meet some day in Ecuador and exchange love stories of that wonderful country and it’s people, after all, serving them has to be our first priority, not being “right”. Bill

    colono said:
    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 11:12 (508)

    Thank you for your kind response. Let me offer my primitive math skills, but let me also just note that you claim *your anecdotes* as truth, while we just present our anecdotes as we have encountered them – and yes, we do have deep knowledge and understanding of local dynamics, envy, jealousy and what not, after all, that is what we have spent the last 3-4 years studying in-depth in a variety of ways, not only through literature, but in many conversations, meetings, journeys, workshops, ceremonies and celebrations with people.

    While I agree that we seemingly have certain agendas in common, I do think that we also have a significant difference in opinion about the general state of affairs and the way of the world.

    You seem to uncritically embrace the essentially teleological notion of inclusion in the cash economy and development of eco(nomic)-tourism as steps “forwards” – towards salvation or some better state of affairs. I am not sure how much I agree to that, but I don’t have a black and white opinion. However, it seems that you do: giving jobs that pay cash (sometimes) and developing industry you seem to present as invariably good. I find that too simplistic and basically rather naive (and these days of financial crisis we can all see where that trajectory leads).

    Additionally, and this is the non-abstract catch with the cash economy: once you are in, then you are caught, since you no longer nurture crops for food (for survival) and, so, if your new employer suddenly don’t pay you for three-six months, then what do you do? You have no crops growing, because you were a cash economy employee for a longer period, and you are suddenly out of both loops, but you have developed a dependency on buying things.

    We have never hidden any agenda – just take a look around the blog. Having googled around a bit, I do notice that you do have at least a certain interest in keeping the image of JSF spotless, after all, so it seems, you have nominated them for an award.

    Finally, the way you put it: “one deal with Phizer-never completed or executed” is not very convincing. Was it never completed or was it never executed? More importantly, why was it even attempted? And what kind of corporation is Pfizer again? Here I begin to turn rather black and white, if not red in the face.

    All that said, you are right, it is a struggle that no one can win alone and cooperation and collaboration is necessary and it is crucial to work in grey areas beyond constraining ideologies – and we do all the time – but when it comes to Pfizer, Conservation International, Ford Foundation and the likes, that’s where we say stop. Jatun Sacha clearly does not and the entanglements seem rather extensive through for instance the Missouri Botanical Garden.

    I hope that sheds some light on our opinions and ideas.

    Bill Steele said:
    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 15:08 (672)

    Thank you for the response, now we’re talkin’, a real dialogue about ideas and actions that change people’s lives, I like it. We are not that far apart at all. I just think the damage that can be done to a small struggling nonprofit like Jatun Sacha by a posting like this is great, and that tips the balance in favor of the very groups you are fighting against. Yes, work against injustice where you find it but try not to use a shotgun to solve a parking problem.

    We agree on Pfizer (misspelled in the last post-I forgot there was an “f” in devil) and CI has grown so large that it can roll over smaller groups without feeling the bump under the tires. Ford-big but I don’t really know enough to comment.

    When organizations become self sustaining entities, so large that their existence depends on moving very large amounts of money just to survive then it sometimes feels like moving the money around is their primary objective. These multi-nationals have a hard time looking different than large for profit companies. Labor unions in the US can also suffer from this problem.

    These are not easy questions because these large entities also do good works on a grand scale such as setting aside large protected areas. But when it comes to programatic funding, large groups like CI are nearly always interested in the “can you take the project to scale?”question and because of that they pass over worthy projects. Big is not always better and, in fact, can easily do more harm than good. This is difficult for me because I know the people working at, for example, CI want to do the right thing and there is discussion about how to do that. I would recommend that the question become “What is the appropriate thing to do?”.

    Let’s keep talking, refining our work, asking the above question and, I suggest, encouraging people to volunteer at Jatun Sacha and other reserves. Let’s use our forum to point out injustice and problems and let’s give alternatives-choices to readers. Let’s elevate the conversation. let’s ask for help from the people we serve, that feels like praying when I do that.

    Gotta’ go prune trees-thanks again for your efforts.

    colono said:
    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 15:29 (687)

    I agree that we’re close, but we are also quite far when it comes to certain analytical perspectives that translate into very real social relations. For instance I do not invest much, if any at all, meaning in the distinction between not-for and for-profit. I think it is a displacement mechanism, a distraction – after all Gun Owners of America are not-for-profit. There is some relevant literature emerging in the U.S context about this, such as: http://www.incite-national.org/index.php?s=89

    There are also other reasons than questions concerning the internal organisation, bed fellows and intentions of JSF that make it very difficult for me to recommend volunteering with them. The whole idea of paying for working voluntarily and having it all packaged up beforehand simply goes against my ideas of changing the world and one’s own life. I firmly believe in finding your own way, making your own decisions through experimentation.

    We do our best to *not* work with organisations – although of course we do have to – but we have also made it our core philosophy for our work in the Napo region to work across community and family boundaries, – in order to bring people together in new ways.

    This approach has been very satisfying for us – particularly in the light of the envy/jealousy you mentioned and which was the main reason for working in this manner – and also for the people we work with. They have actually enjoyed being able to transcend their confines of communities and family ties.

    It is great that JSF has saved the trees, but I am rather doubtful about the actual impact on human lives in the region, apart from the structural consequences of having more trees remaining in the region, but, unfortunately, the trees remain private?! Who can roam the land of JSF and why is there a big fence around it? Keeping the loggers out keep the hunters out too, or how does it work?

    Also, let us see some transparency – let us move beyond anecdotes and see an honest history of JSF’s involvement with Pfizer, even if it wasn’t completed. Let us get the documents on the table – the accounts, the books, the whole works. Who makes what – what incomes and what outcomes.

    We shall happily publish in this forum such material, if JSF wants to provide it, then prospective volunteers can make up their own minds about the scenario. So far we have only anecdotes, personal accounts and the documentation of an otherwise well respected NGO that does some very good work for the environment.

    Emily said:
    Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 16:45 (740)

    First of all, kudos to the Colonos for their snooping. I am really glad that I found this article before I sent $1000 to a not completely trustworthy organization! I am another of those would-be young student volunteers and am still really interested in doing some community/environmental preservation work in Ecuador for one month later this year. I’m looking to learn about the country and improve my spanish. If you know of a reputable organization I could contact (the ones all ready posted are either defunct or not accepting volunteers) or if you need any volunteers for the work you are all ready doing, I would love to get involved.
    thanks,
    Emily

      colono said:
      Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 16:57 (748)

      Thanks, Emily! :)

      Will email you about alternatives…

    chichico said:
    Friday, December 4, 2009 at 01:01 (084)

    I recently returned from spending over a year in the station. Yes there are politics and yes people arent being paid and just like many organisations, there is alot of issues about how much you are helping the people but Jatunn Sacha has one thing that other organisations I have volunteered with havent.
    It is really a place that if you spend enough time and have a real incentive to make a difference, you can really do that. Its not like other organisations where there is a solid structure which you just continue to participate in. The area and communities around Jatun Sacha have so much potential, so if you really want to change something, and you can make your idea sustainable, its a really great place for that. Staff and volunteers are very integrated and I am now fluent in spanish just from being there. Use your incentive and you can really learn and give something back to the communities

      colono said:
      Friday, December 4, 2009 at 10:41 (486)

      That sounds great – good for you. It is nice learning a new language. (Of course, many people in the communities around there speak Kichwa and very little Spanish.)

      It makes me wonder: how do you give something back to the communities, by working on private land behind fences? This is not a rhetorical question, but a very serious question! I would very much like to know and it would be great if you shared that insight with other people who read this.

      What do you mean by “use your incentive”? What incentive? I don’t know if learning Spanish was your incentive, but it sounds like it constitutes your most important outcome.

      Also, keep in mind, that although many Kichwa people DO want to learn Spanish to be able to survive in the cash economy, there is almost universal agreement that the Spanish language is one of the biggest threats to Kichwa culture.

    DORIS YHULIANA said:
    Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 00:39 (068)

    informacion porfavor acerca de la universidad ,

    gracias

      colona responded:
      Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 19:39 (860)

      Hola Doris –

      que informacion acerca de que universidad requieres?

      gracias colona

    Max said:
    Monday, March 15, 2010 at 22:56 (997)

    I had planned to go to the Jatun Sacha reserve at Bilsa to do research/volunteer, have you heard of anything involving other stations or is it just the amazon station you are worried about? As far as I understand Bilsa is fairly isolated and on a reserve dedicated to protecting the remaining 1% of cloud forest in ecuador.

      colona responded:
      Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 20:27 (893)

      Hi there –

      Obviously the organisation is the same, so all the same criticisms apply, but we don’t know whether the land privatisation issues might be different in Bilsa – do let us know what you find out if you go there! Don’t be satisfied by too easy answers ;-)

      Have a good time, cheers colona

    Would-be volunteer said:
    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 18:56 (830)

    Thanks for everybody about the facts and opinions about Jatun Sacha. I’m trying to make a good solution for which organization I will work for 6 months …and I’ve noticed the solution it’s not as easy to do as it seemed to be. As many other would-be-volunteers I’m interested to know information about not-so-questionable organizations. Can Colona or somebody else send some links of them to this page? (to be searched by everyone interested)I would strongly appreciate if there is an additional explanation why those organizations would be more reliable.

    In general, I take a critical attitude to big organizations with ready-made-packets for rich western young people (even if I dont consider myself rich in my country – otherwise)who even have to paid for volunteering. However I see big foundations have also their good sides: eg. they probably have more functionable practices than resently-established organizations. Secondly, it’s hard to know the nature of smaller organizations: they may be even more corrupted and rotten. Anyway I think now twice and try to do a good choice.

    Thanks in advence, Colona&co!

      colono said:
      Friday, May 21, 2010 at 10:57 (498)

      Over the years we have spend a lot of time and energy helping people finding their ways in Ecuador and Peru, but too many people just ask for a lot of information, we spend a lot of time suggesting projects, providing contacts and so on, just to find that in the end people go and do their own thing anyway.

      Personally, we think that you should go and find their own way – which is precisely what a contract and payment from home before you even leave makes impossible, but which is also what makes a lot of our efforts in vain and slightly frustrating – and therefore this is the message we have to everyone wanting to volunteer:

      Do your research, be critical, be open and open-minded, go there, make friends, allies and connections and then do some good work.

      Don’t bother going for less than 6 months, for social reasons and for environmental reasons.

      Show a good example! Try to understand the very different culture and ways of life, don’t judge and don’t assume you know.

      If you are not in favour of global capital and the commodity market place, be very critical and do your reading and talking to learned people beforehand, whether they are activists, social workers, development workers or academics. Read for example a book like Massimo de Angelis’s The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capital, or Peter Linebaugh’sThe Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All” and for women’s struggles particularly see the work of Silvia Federici, especially her “Caliban and the witch: women, the body and primitive accumulation“. Finally, maybe have a look at Jay Griffiths’sWild: An Elemental Journey“.

      Most importantly of all: think and inform yourself very critically before you act – anything you do will have an impact, potentially an enormous one and easily a negative one, even though carried out with the best of intentions, if you do not know about local culture, politics and 500 years of colonisation by your fellow white people!

    colono said:
    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 11:06 (504)

    Basic things to avoid: private property, individual land ownership, and buying and selling local goods and services for your own profit!

    [...] when volunteering in foreign places with good intent. It started as a reply to a comment – part of a long thread about a conservation project in the Amazon – then expanded slightly to become this first draft of a short reply to questions concerning [...]

    Alex Wild said:
    Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 21:54 (954)

    Speaking as an academic biologist who has recently visited Jatun Sacha, I find this article to be misguided, misinformed, and mostly just plain wrong.

    If you are interested in volunteering at Jatun Sacha, seek out the opinions of people who have worked there or who live in the area. You may find a variety of reasons to work there, or to not work there, but they won’t be related to the paranoid fantasies that “Colonos” has dreamed up.

      colono said:
      Monday, February 14, 2011 at 04:00 (208)

      As an academic biologist you will appreciate that statements carry most weight when they are supported by facts.

      While you might disagree with the politics associated with the kind of story presented in this post and perhaps be unfamiliar with systemic, political economy analysis, all of the claims made are indeed supported by facts, all of which have been provided by ex-employees, local people or a reputable NGO, such as ETC Group, or Jatun Sacha itself.

      If you wish to present a different perspective on land privatisation, bio-privateering and failing to pay your employees – to mention the basic problematics at play here – then we will welcome your views.

      To claim that the posting is “misguided, misinformed, and mostly just plain wrong” and that we have “paranoid fantasies” does not make much of a case.

    Want to volunteer: http://tr33.org.uk « colonos said:
    Sunday, July 10, 2011 at 13:55 (621)

    [...] many questions about volunteering in the Amazon, the Andes and elsewhere. Discussion have unfolded here and some conclusions presented here. We have also given many answers in private emails and brought [...]

    colono said:
    Sunday, July 10, 2011 at 13:58 (623)

    Thank you for the interesting exchanges.

    We now refer volunteers to | t r 3 3 |:

    http://tr33.org.uk, who can help you get in touch with community projects.

    Alejandro Suárez said:
    Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 18:50 (826)

    You probably know me, I’m Alejandro Suárez, administrator of the Jatun Sacha Biological Station since 1985. I’ve no need to hide under a phony name. You present information that is outdated and with no date, about something that never happened. Why don’t we get together some place in Tena and have a little talk and you show me the proof of what you’re talking about. So feel free to let me know and leave a message at Café Tortuga or my e-mail.
    Alejandro Suárez

      colono said:
      Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 19:17 (845)

      Firstly, the post has references to two articles by the ETC Group, both of which are linked to. They have a date, of course, which you will find if you click on the respective links. If you have any counter-claims to make, then they are the ones to approach. You can of course also respond to it here if you like, and if the claims in this post are so clearly wrong, then you should easily be able to refute them.

      Secondly, we would of course not give out names of people we have spoken to in the past, but I find it difficult to believe that someone should lie for months and months about not being paid. But if you provide proof of always having paid all staff members, then you can also present it here and we shall retract that statement and tell the person in private that they are a liar.

      Thirdly, if the land on which Jatun Sacha is not privately owned and fenced in, then I need to go and see an eye doctor and I apologise for having suggested that it is an example of enclosure in the name of conservation.

      Fourthly, if you are in disagreement with a political analysis, then argue for it, but just as you can build fences, so can we build analyses: isn’t that the great feature of liberal freedom?

      Finally, we are not in Tena any longer, so cannot have a sit down with you – all the evidence needed is in the post, so there you go: we would be grateful if you would respond to that with substance, not merely empty claims to the contrary.

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