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As Rio+20 kicks off, locals on the front lines of conservation

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'New voices'

Indigenous peoples in Latin America have gained new voices in the past two decades, defending their lands against large-scale development projects. Protests from Peru to Ecuador to Bolivia have derailed projects, like roads and oil exploration, and communities have demanded that “prior consultation” laws be enforced before companies can commence resource extraction.

On the sidelines of the Rio+20 conference, the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Territories, Rights, and Sustainable Development is expected to draw some 600 participants from across the globe.

But if once the conservation ideal was to leave areas untouched, there is more recognition today that some degree of development must take place – and the goal is to incentivize governments, corporations, and citizens themselves to keep forests standing. The point here is that you have to show people they are better off saving the forest, so that, for example, they can get profits year after year for an ecotourism project, instead of the one-time fast cash of cutting down trees for timber.

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