The Achuar indigenous nation occupies a territory of roughly 1.5 million acres in Ecuador’s last large tract of primary and pristine Amazon Rainforest in southeastern Ecuador. The Achuar have a population of approximately 7,000 individuals distributed in 85 communities grouped in 16 territorial Associations.
A community is the smallest core group of the Achuar´s socio-political organization, and is usually comprised by a few families, most times related. The head political organization of this territory is the NAE (Achuar Nationality of Ecuador) which was created in the early 1990s and which embodies the political representation of the Achuar. The Achuar still live primarily of hunting, fishing, small-scale subsistence farming, and gathering from the forest and, on a small scale and in the south-western part of the territory, small-scale livestock.
Throughout their history, the Achuar have been self-sufficient and autonomous, sustaining their family groups through hunting, gathering, and small-scale subsistence gardening. Once semi-nomadic people, most Achuar now live in small villages, a result of contact with Christian missionaries in the 1960s. While their remote territory remains largely geographically isolated and protected from colonization, the Achuar have experienced some changes to their ancestral way of life since the 1960s. As contact with the outside world increased, so did the increase of potential threats to their territory, including extractive industries.
One of the last large tracts of primary tropical rainforest in Ecuador, the Achuar territory faces significant development challenges. Its indigenous communities own an important area of key biodiversity, however, their geographic isolation poses a challenge for the development of environmentally and culturally responsible economic activities. The Achuar Amazon rainforest holds key attributes and provides important ecological services that the Achuar need to seize to generate local employment, participation, ownership, and benefits that will allow them to integrate to a national scenario while preserving their cultural values and heritage.
The Achuar recognized the challenges of integration to western society and of external encroachment in the early 1990s. Committed to protecting their territory and culture, they reacted and created their own political entity, the Ecuadorian Achuar Nationality (NAE in Spanish) in 1993. Part of this self-organizing process also included the identification of ecotourism as a sustainable economic alternative. As a result, a private-indigenous partnership was created to develop their flagship ecotourism project, Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve, which was built over 2 years and started operations in 1996.
Community ecotourism in the Achuar territory started more than 20 years ago as an alternative sustainable community enterprise that protects the biodiversity and the Achuar cultural richness. The Achuar were one of the first indigenous groups that acknowledged the potential of ecotourism as a tool for conservation, and the Achuar’s emblematic ecotourism project set the basis for community tourism in Ecuador.