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Hack the Rainforest: Unique Event Connects Computer Hackers and Environmentalists in Peru

Last week in the cloud forest of Tarapoto, Peru, EIA’s partner Digital Democracy hosted a “hackathon” bringing together hackers from around the world, as well as environmental monitors, and indigenous organizations from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru to develop environmental monitoring tools suitable for use in the rainforest.

Hack the Rainforest allowed experts in mobile app development and coding to experience the challenges environmental monitors face when working deep in the forest, with little or no access to power and internet. At the event, hackers and environmental monitors collaborated closely to begin building new applications that will allow monitors to document damages caused by oil exploration, mining, and illegal logging.

The five-day hackathon welcomed 42 participants from 12 countries, six indigenous communities, and four environmental monitoring programs. By adapting open-source mobile tools to function offline, indigenous monitors will be able to better gather, manage, map, and upload information on human rights violations, resource conflict, illegal logging, and forest projects on the their land.

“Computers break, hard drives get flooded, and GPS coordinates get separated from the photos the monitors take of the oil spills. We are excited to create a system that really works, to finally get it. We have been looking for this for years,” said participant Martí Orta, a researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

As the Amazon is increasingly threatened by extractive projects and industrial agriculture, Digital Democracy’s rainforest hackathon offered crucial support to indigenous environmental defenders and monitors who risk their lives in order to protect their land and resources.

Peru was recently identified as one of the most dangerous areas of the world for environmental defenders, and these defenders are calling for support. Developing effective and secure tools for monitoring environmental and human rights can help advance environmental protections and ensure greater security for rights defenders.

The applications under development by Digital Democracy will facilitate and improve monitors’ ability to accurately document, upload, and share human rights and environmental violations on the ground, which will in turn allow indigenous communities to advocate for improved policies to protect their established land rights, call on the national government to enforce existing laws, and hold companies accountable.

“It’s exciting to bring together indigenous communities who have self-organized and mobilized to address the environmental destruction of their land,” said Gregor MacLennan, Digital Democracy Program Director. “Although they’re doing an excellent job monitoring the ongoing challenges, they have struggled with how to effectively use tech tools to tell their story to the outside world. By bringing technologists here to the jungle, we help them understand our partners’ reality. The monitors are no longer just “users” but people the technologists know and care about.”

EIA Peru Program Director, Julia Urrunaga agreed, “The best part of Hack the Rainforest is having the indigenous monitors talking directly to the hackers. To create bonds, to create emotional links that make technologists think about the human beings that depend on their work.”

The hackathon is a valuable addition to the work of the “Veeduría Forestal Nacional” (VFN), or National Forest Monitoring Initiative led by EIA’s partners AIDESEP, the national indigenous organization of the Peruvian Amazon and ECO REDD, a Peruvian civil society organization dedicated to the promotion of sustainable development, conservation, and the sustainable management of natural resources. The VFN seeks to increase monitoring of forest crime and build a network of forest technicians and monitors with a voice in both communities and national policy.

EIA Peruvian Forest Technician and Policy Analyst, Dhayneé Orbegozo and VFN forest monitor, Rogelio Casique Coronado attended the hackathon and will use the applications under development by Digital Democracy in the veedor program of Atalaya, Peru.

“These are the individuals and organizations on the front line of environmental protection,” said Annalise Udall Romoser, EIA Latin America Program Coordinator. “The only way for truly effective monitoring tools to be designed, and put to use, is with their input and guidance from the get go.”

While Hack the Rainforest was a unique gathering, it is EIA and Digital Democracy’s hope that it be replicated in the future, and in communities across the Amazon.

To learn more about Hack the Rainforest and EIA and Digital Democracy’s work together, check out these resources: www.hacktherainforest.org

Digital Democracy Press Release & Blog: Technologists & Indigenous Activists Convene in the Rainforest

EIA Press Release: New Partnership Strengthens Forest Governance with Technology

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