Mennonites accused of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon | Peru

WWere it not for the fervent fertility of Amazon rainforest Around it, Wanderland could almost be an extension of Dutch farmland from the nineteenth century; A straight muddy path divides rows of neatly spaced farmsteads with vertical homes and barns.

A typical morning begins when horse-drawn wagons driven by smiling boys with blond hair and blue eyes collect gleaming amounts of fresh milk from the farm gates to turn it into cheese.. The name given to this pastoral tree carved from the dense foliage of the forest seems to need a little translation, even from plotditcha mixture of Low German and Dutch spoken by its residents.

But there is anxiety in this rural paradise. It is one of three Mennonite communities that prosecutors in Peru are investigating over accusations that more than 3,440 hectares (34 square kilometers) of tropical rainforest have been illegally cleared in the past five years. The dispute with the law has alarmed a community of about 100 families who fear they will lose the land from which they made their home.

Abraham Thiessen, 44, who arrived in Peru with his wife and six children in 2015, is among several hundred Christian Anabaptist group of 16th-century Friesland origins who emigrated from Bolivia, along with others from Belize, where they are It has a well established population.

Thiesen, president of the Wanderland Mennonite Society, says they acquired the land in good faith for agricultural purposes with the understanding that they would be given legal titles once the area was cleared for cultivation.

Mennonites have been doing household chores on the farm since they were young.  At the age of thirteen they work full time.
Mennonites have been doing household chores on the farm since they were young. At the age of thirteen they work full time. Photo: The Guardian

But this explanation was rejected by environmental prosecutor Jose Luis Guzman. I can’t clear forests and then ask for a permit! He said.

“In order to do deforestation there — to remove vegetation of trees and forests — you need a permit from the state, and in this case, they had none,” Guzmán said from his rundown office in Pucallpa. The border capital of the Amazon region of Ucayali in Peru. He opened an investigation into whether the Christian congregation should be formally accused of deforestation.

But Thiessen said, “We’re here for good.” Entire families, usually with four to seven children, were uprooted from their communities in the sprawling lowlands of Bolivia and invested their savings in the new land deep in the Peruvian Amazon. “We don’t think of moving because we already grew up here,” Thiessen added, his glowing face surrounded by the typical straw cowboy hat worn by all men of society.

“We hope that we will be allowed to work in peace, because where are we going to get enough food if they don’t let us work on the land,” he added. Thyssen explains that farming is the tenet of their faith, they believe that God has commanded them to work the land to live since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

But these Old Order Mennonites, the most orthodox pacifist sect, who spread from Canada to India in their search for solitude and vast tracts of land to plantation, may have run into the notorious informal order and the corruption often associated with land titling in the Peruvian Amazon.

They say they initially bought 500 hectares (5 square kilometres) of land in 2015 near Pucallpa, which they replaced with a wealthy timber merchant with more than 3,000 hectares of rainforest where the three communities were set up.

“Hopefully we will be allowed to work in peace, because where are we going to get enough food if they don’t let us work on the land?” Photograph: Dan Collins/The Guardian

The remote jungle area befits the Mennonites’ preference for being left on their own. The Guardian traveled 14 hours by boat down the Ucayali River and drove another hour along a muddy path to visit the community halfway between Pucallpa and Iquitos, the world’s largest city accessible only by boat or plane.

The nearest settlement of the new Mennonite colonies, Tierra Blanca, is a poor riverside outpost that suffers occasional outbursts of violence because it lies on the cocaine smuggling road. There locals welcome dongri-clad settlers and women in long headdresses with exotic amusement. The ancients say that decades of logging stripped any valuable tropical hardwoods from the forest where the communities now live.

“It was high school [forest] Because the loggers have already used up all the wood, Thiessen said. “We don’t work with wood. We prefer soil to work in the ground, though,” he added, though he admitted to using leftover wood to build “houses, schools, churches, bridges and some little things.”

Vegetation along Lake Clavero.
Vegetation along Lake Clavero.
Photography: Kike Calvo / Alamy

Legally speaking, it’s an important distinction. The secondary forest is one step closer to Burma, the scrub that grows after trees are cut down. Purma can legally be converted to agricultural use while felling primary rainforests is illegal.

Matt Viner, chief research specialist at the NGO Amazon Conservation, disagrees with Thiesen’s assertion. “The area has been selectively felled, like most of the Amazon, but it is still primary forest,” he said.

He said that Mennonite settlements have become the “new leading cause of large-scale deforestation in Peru”. “In total, we have now documented deforestation of 3,968 hectares across four new colonies established in the Peruvian Amazon since 2017,” he added. Three of these four colonies are in Tierra Blanca.

Environmentalists worry that this may be just the beginning of a Mennonite invasion in Peru. satellite images It shows the settlement of the land for another settlement, also in Loreto, a vast region of the Amazon the size of Germany. a Study 2021 In the Journal of Land Use Science, Mennonites say they have 200 settlements in seven countries in Latin America and collectively occupy more land in the Netherlands.

Peru lost 2,032 square kilometers of the Amazon to deforestation in 2020, a figure nearly four times the loss of 548 square kilometers in 2019, according to the environment ministry.

Mennonites may be easy targets for environmental prosecutors but their neighbors have jumped in to defend them.

Dinner at Thiesen's house.
Dinner at Thiesen’s house. Photo: The Guardian

“The Mennonite colony changed the face of this village,” said Medillo Saldania, the former mayor of Tierra Blanca. “We are fortunate to be able to learn from this organized farming.”

Mennonites sell cheese and other dairy products locally and as experts in growing soybeans, sorghum and rice, their agricultural knowledge is valued by the locals.

“[They] They came to revitalize the economy of our region, where the state does not appear and does not invest,” Saldana added.

Their beliefs forbid the use of modern technology, Christians drive no vehicles except for tractors, so they rely on local transportation for trips to and from their communities, as well as long trips across the river to sell their produce at the market.

On a balmy evening, amid the loud squawking of bats and the glistening cicada, the Thyssen family sits on the porch, talking and laughing as they stare at the Milky Way gleaming in the night sky.

Their simple way of life appears to have changed little in more than a century, but conservationists fear that more of the Peruvian Amazon – second only to Brazil – could be lost as more Mennonites arrive in search of seclusion and cultivated land.

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