Eilidh Munro is a filmmaker and photographer who has worked extensively in the Amazon Rainforest. Her next filming expedition, starting in November, will see her travel to south-eastern Peru to produce a documentary about an illegal new road being built in the Amazon.
A road is being built illegally through the Manu Biosphere Reserve: a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots.
If completed, it will carve its way through the reserve, on the edge of the protected Manu National Park and the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, threatening the survival of uncontacted indigenous communities and endemic wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.
What complicates matters most, however, is that the road is being physically built by indigenous people, mainly from the Yine community of Diamante, who are being encouraged to do so by their pro-development regional government. The road means quicker, safer and cheaper access to health care, education and trading opportunities. It brings hope for tackling poverty and isolation. Community members have described these benefits:
“In emergencies we could travel much faster or at night to the capital of Manu, Villa Salvación. We could sell our forest or agricultural products easier, which until now rot in our chacras (family farms). Products could reach us for which river transport is too expensive.”
But will these dreams be realised? And at what cost? So far, the results are not promising.
In 2015, road construction was stalled due to legal action issued by The National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP). And, to make matters worse, the existing unpaved track has not yet brought the promised influx of tourists, agricultural trading opportunities or increased wealth. Instead, it has welcomed an increase of illegal activity such as logging and drug trafficking which the remote and relatively unregulated, yet resource-rich, route allows to flourish.
Despite these challenges, it is likely that the road will be built, with or without official government consent. The will for it to be done is too strong. Estimates suggest that this will result in an further 43,000 hectares of deforestation in Manu should it continue unchecked.
With this context in mind, the aim of our expedition is to answer the question: can there be any positive outcomes?
In November, we will embark on a filming expedition, Voices on an Amazon Road, to the Manu Biosphere Reserve, seeking perspectives from local people on the road as well as learning about their hopes, aspirations and fears for the future of their communities and families. Through the making of a documentary, we want give a platform to people living in Manu and hope to unearth potential solutions. With this knowledge, we are aiming to support discussion and collaboration locally so that a sustainable future for Manu can be realised.
We are embarking on this expedition with the generous support of our funders, the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) and Neville Shulman CBE to whom we are extremely grateful. The SES was founded by John Blashford-Snell in 1969 who was awarded the Livingstone Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 1974.