Intergenerational Project for Cultural Conservation
and Environmental Education in Ecuador
Since 2001, the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development (CCSD) has worked with the Shuar and Achuar indigenous groups who inhabit the tropical wet forest region of eastern Ecuador and northern Peru, including the Cutucú and Cóndor mountain ranges, building capacity to help conserve their lands and rich cultural heritage. The two groups are closely related linguistically and share many cultural traditions, which until recently were relatively intact. During the last decade, however, as socioeconomic changes have accelerated and as younger generations experience changed lifestyles, ancestral language, customs, and knowledge of wild plants are in danger of being lost.
CCSD recently engaged about 200 Shuar and Achuar high school students at 10 rural bilingual schools in working with their elders and other community members, recording their knowledge of plant names and uses in their tropical forest environment along with associated oral traditions. Shuar botanists previously trained by CCSD mentored the students, teaching them how to conduct ethnobotanical interviews, collect and study plants, and use computers and other digital technology. Near their schools, the students, assisted by the Shuar botanists, established forest research plots, where the students interviewed Shuar elders so that their knowledge of plant names, uses, and related customs could be linked to plant specimens collected in the plots. The students recorded the information, together with digital images, on computers provided by the project, developing a database for ongoing sustainable management of the natural resources on which Shuar and Achuar traditions depend. The plots, together with bilingual plant guides and a new curriculum unit developed by the project, serve as permanent educational tools in Shuar and Achuar language and natural history for the schools nearby. For the longer term, the project has strengthened intergenerational ties within the Shuar and Achuar groups, deepening students’ engagement with and understanding of their ancestral heritage of plant use and its supporting environment.