Why a tribe in Panama rejected pay for their carbon-rich forests

5 September 2014

There isn’t a word or phrase in the Kuna language for "carbon trading,” and much less for something as complex as REDD+. Standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, REDD+ is the worldwide UN backed climate change mitigation scheme that relies on carbon trading within forest landscapes for funding. And yet, since 2008, the Kuna people have been hearing lots about it and referring to it often in their private conversations.

"It has something to do with the value of our forests to non-Kuna people,” said a young man to me recently, trying to explain REDD+. "I only know that I don’t agree with it.”

A majority of the indigenous Kuna reside on just under 40 of the 365 islands that comprise the San Blas Archipelago in eastern Panama, an area known as Kuna Yala, or 'land of the Kuna.' They depend on fishing, subsistence farming — including crops like banana, coconut and sugar cane — and eco-tourism for their livelihoods. On the mainland the Kuna also possess rights to a vast old-growth coastal forest, which they have managed sustainably and communally for hundreds of years.

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