Firstly, if you’re here and reading this we want to thank you. Your engagement and support in our work is what motivates us to keep working diligently towards creating a healthier and happier planet. At Rainforest Partnership, our mission is simple. We work directly with local and indigenous communities, governments at all levels, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders to protect rainforests from the ground up.
To celebrate our 14th anniversary, we sat down to have a chat with our team members whose dedication makes this work possible. To understand how our everyday work gives meaning to what we do, let’s hear from our Peru Country Director, Fanny Cornejo.
A little bit about Fanny Cornejo - Fanny Cornejo is a primatologist, anthropologist, and our Peru Country Director. She oversees all Rainforest Partnership projects in Peru.
Fanny, why did you choose to pursue primatology and anthropology?
I don’t think I chose primatology per say, it was more about wanting to do research in genetics and that is why I chose biology. Once I began studying biology, I was exposed to wildlife and became aware of the incredible biodiversity of Peru, so I started seeking opportunities to be able to understand it better. I was very fortunate. My first experience in the field was at a project about the hunting sustainability of large mammals by Amazonian communities. To be able to study in this way, one must understand both animals and the people. I believe I was 19 when I became exposed to the fact that people in the Amazon use its resources for their livelihood and that this is okay and normal. I think that moment was very important for me and allowed me to build additional skills and experiences which later allowed me to work and contribute towards conservation.
Primates came as a bonus. I was outraged by the fact that primates are such a diverse group and weren’t being leveraged for conservation. They are very charismatic and easily attract attention from the public, decision makers, and funders. There are so many aspects of primates that we can discuss that get people interested in them. They are our close relatives and so similar to us. We can understand so much about our own evolutionary history by understanding primates. I saw this as a missed opportunity. I wondered why no one was talking about primates to leverage attention and resources for conservation when it can easily be done. Anthropology came as a bonus too. In the beginning, it wasn’t really about anthropology. I wanted to pursue further studies to be able to understand how to become a better professional which is why my PhD advisor, Patricia Wright, is one of the most renowned conservationists in the world.
Is there any project from Rainforest Partnership you’re particularly proud of or that resonates with you the most?
Yes, the project is called Colán Mosaic. This is a project that aims to work at the ground level within the Cordillera de Colán (Colan Mountain Range) which encompasses approximately 900,000 acres of the Tropical Andes in northeastern Peru.
We are working with protected areas that are managed by the government and protected areas that are managed by communities with conservation concessions. Different modalities of conservation are like neighbors that weren’t speaking with each other, so we partnered with the national protected areas of Peru to change that.
Together we built this initiative to strengthen the capacities of all the protected areas that are working within this landscape to raise awareness by putting in place a sensible education plan. The plan is currently in the works with the regional education department and it is to be able to provide economic alternatives for local people to implement better practices to their agricultural activities. For example, to improve how coffee is grown and how they may do it in a way that allows biodiversity to flow through the landscape.
There are many different things being done at a very local level like strengthening the capacities of local communities and their governance to be able to provide sustainable livelihoods. We’re also doing biological assessments in the area which will inform us about how diverse an area is and how agricultural practices may or may not be facilitating the movement of biodiversity. We’ll also be starting a study of birds soon, so there are so many things I’m proud of. It’s very nice to see so many elements that we believe in coming together in a single project.
I know you’ve just come back from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Can you tell us why you think it is important for Rainforest Partnership to be represented there?
We’re not official members of the IUCN. We should be, but we’re not. It’s about networking and getting to know the people that are doing things on the ground. When you set up online meetings, you only talk about the agenda. Meeting in person allows you to socialize and build relationships which is important for fundraising and getting partners onboard.
Can you tell us about the Primate Specialist Group and your role in it.
IUCN has a species survival commission which is a network made of volunteers who contribute with their experience, knowledge, and understanding of different species and ecosystems. There are specialist groups within the species survival commission. Specialist groups are specific teams usually organized by taxonomy and other categories. Specialist groups are like a de facto scientific authority on particular groups of wildlife species. We can make comments, provide information, and do objective assessments of the state of conservation.
In the primate specialist group, we focus on primates. To understand our work, you must understand the state of conservation. For example, when we describe a species as endangered the term has a very specific definition. There is a validated process in place to be able to use the term endangered. Within the primate specialist group, I am the vice president for the Andean countries. I’m in charge of managing the members from countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia. Another part of our work is promoting the need to work on a specific plan of action. My role also involves being able to work with and contribute to different governmental organizations, facilitate country assessments, and get action plans underway for the most at risk species.
What were the major outcomes of the Congress and what impact do you think they will have on the forest conservation world?
There’s been a lot of important commitments made by numerous countries. An important thing to note is that the IUCN does not belong to the United Nations so countries are members by choice. One exciting outcome of the Congress is that subnational governments can now be a part of the IUCN. This means that if an entire country chooses not to join but a particular state of that country does, they can. There are many local government organizations that understand the need to work on conservation so now they can express that by belonging to spaces like IUCN.
Another outcome everyone is excited about is that indigenous people have been called to protect 80% of the Amazon by 2025. This is all really exciting, but it means nothing if real action is not being implemented. In short, this is an important first step and I see Rainforest Partnership as one of the organizations that can contribute to making this happen.
Overall, how will our projects be affected by the decisions and commitments made at the IUCN? Do you believe these conferences have a real impact on conservation?
Like I said, it all depends on the folks who make decisions. Spaces like the Congress have the power to inspire people and decision makers. An example of this would be the Mayor of Marseilles who was pushing for the subnational government motion. The mayor was also very welcoming and you could see signs about the congress all over the city. He was also urging other mayors to speak with countries to comply with his commitments. The mayor was also expressing his excitement about attending the climate change and biodiversity United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP). So when you have people like the mayor who are willing to do something and spaces like the IUCN congress, impact can and will be made. Overall, knowledge and a sense of partnership really pushes people to get things done.
Before you go, please tell us what you enjoy the most about being a part of Rainforest Partnership?
One of the things I like the most about Rainforest Partnership is how different we are to other conservation organizations. We work, fundraise, and operate differently and that’s what makes us efficient. We are also a multidisciplinary team which allows us to speak with and engage broader audiences.
Thank you for supporting Rainforest Partnership. Your support means the world to us. For more information on Climate Week, we invite you to our social media platforms and the official Climate Week website at www.climateweeknyc.org. Stay tuned for more interviews from our team in celebration of our anniversary and climate week.