Shipibo Permaculture: How far have we come and where are we going?

This is a post written by several hands, by Shipibo permaculture leaders Marcos Urquia, Roberto Muñoz, and Fernando Cauper. These are the voices of the Shipibo with and for whom we work.

In 1996 “modern permaculture” came to San Francisco community, brought by some Western teachers who accompanied us until 1999. Then, for various reasons which it would be unfair to delve into in this way, the project declined almost to the point of extinction. Alianza Arkana in 2012 through the Nii Bena (New Forest) initiative re-started the permaculture program with some of the [Shipibo] people previously trained, collecting the lessons learned.

seed courseIn the beginning we resumed the teaching and learning of permaculture at the SEED Project in 2013: an initiative to regenerate the landscape, improve livelihoods and preserve our culture. It started with an intensive permaculture design and then an implementation of what we learned in the communities. Other projects that allowed the continuation of the program then followed suit.

Throughout this process, whenever the projects were written-up [by Alianza Arkana] they always have consulted us – this is the first time we have felt heard by a development institution. For example, we cautioned them not to reforest in areas affected by fire, as several projects had done before and now those trees are dead. In response, they planted the living fire breaks with us.

swaleSome proposals seemed like crazy gringo things, but we gave them the benefit of the doubt – at least they were new ideas. For example, the infiltration trenches (swales) – which cost us quite some effort. But in just the first rain we found that the soil remains moist longer. Santa Clara planted manioc between the trenches at the same time as our neighbor, under the same soil conditions (but without swales). Now, our manioc averages 1.8 meters tall and our neighbor’s is only 1.2 meters tall.


Now, after more than two years working in the communities of Nuevo Egipto, San Francisco and Santa Clara, we feel that the theoretical and practical bases of the rediscovery of permaculture as an old and new science have been strengthened. We say “rediscovery” because in reviewing the ethics of permaculture (care for the land, care for the people andsharing equitably), we realize that we were always practicing permaculture as Shipibo people, although the name is new; Traditionally we have always been concerned with taking care of people, our forests, lakes and rivers, and of course we have always generously shared what we have with our neighbors. On the principles of permaculture, we recognize that they collect the common wisdom of our grandparents, who maybe we have stopped listening to as we should. Permaculture seems to have listened to all indigenous elders around the world and summarized their thoughts.

Another breakthrough is the self-governance of the initiative; Through planning, we have reached a progressive leadership structure. In these spaces, the idea came out to form an organization. Then in June 2014 we founded the Network of Indigenous Amazonian Permaculturalists – RIPA, with more than 15 members, all indigenous, and with a mission to reestablish an indigenous permaculture as a means of development according to our culture and environment.

Bena Nii teamNow we have permaculture designs installed in 03 demonstration centers, totaling nearly 10 ha, with all their respective components and evolving associations: 02 fish farms, strategically placed firebreaks, nurseries, infiltration ditches (swales), alley-croppings of guava, annual crops, fruit trees, a productive forest, and more! Plus 09 family farms are in the process of adaptation to permaculture. To those farmers we will provide increasing benefits in the medium and long term, and even the ability to access local, national and international markets. Additionally, the interest of other members of the community is awakening, and we hope more fellow community members will join us.

camuIt is a fact that in the medium and long term these systems will produce enough; and we know too that there are daily needs going unmet. So much so, that the questions with which we live in our communities are: What are we going to eat tomorrow? With what money I will send my children to school or to the doctor, and buy clothes? In the next stages, with tools that permaculture has given us, we will focus mainly on some local markets with safe products that allow us to answer those questions.


Since we now have established systems and production conditions favorable for moving forward, there is the possibility of chicken coops and fish farms, for example, that couldensure labor needs site and promote self-sufficiency, while reducing the need to secure external funding to keep projects on track. For example, every demonstration center only needs to produce 15 “farm hens” (free-range) per week to cover the financial needs of 01 local permaculture expert and 02 workers that are also understudies. There are also several crops ready for market in the nearby towns such as cocona, sweet pepper, cucumber, medicinal roots, etc. In both the short- and long-term we need a good production for the local market. We do not want to fall into the alienating cycle of selling our labor far away from our communities, which is a common practice that frequently takes us away from our families and traditional way if life.

Finally we want to thank Alianza Arkana and institutions that made it possible for us to get where we are: USAID, Biolabs, National Geographic, International Analogue Forestry Network, and LUSH Cosmetics.

nat_geo_logo  NEBF_logoLush_logo  RIFA_logoUSAID_logo

Marcos Urquia, Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *