• Awarded: 2009
  • Issue Areas: Arresting Deforestation · Environmental Sustainability
  • Region: South America
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    Gaia Amazonas is committed to the protection of biological and cultural diversity, and the future of the Amazon rainforest. Since 1990, they have worked hand in hand with Indigenous communities of the Northwest Amazon for the recognition of their rights, territories, and local governance systems, as the most viable and dignified strategy for forest conservation.

    As a result of their efforts, Colombia now has the largest continuous indigenous territory in the world, with 26 million hectares of Amazon forest legally recognized as Indigenous territories.

    Gaia Amazonas’ community-based work in the Colombian Amazon has empowered and enabled 26,000 indigenous people belonging to 100 communities to establish inter-cultural education and health programs, and to exercise local governance over their territories through setting up their own indigenous organizations, known as AATIs – associations of indigenous traditional authorities. It is a unique model of shared responsibility for protecting the Amazon rainforest.

    Climate change and deforestation threaten to convert 30 to 60 percent of the Amazon forest into savannah, with massive impacts on biodiversity.

    Gaia Amazonas encourages policy makers to develop strategies for key ecosystems and corridors based on indigenous knowledge.

    Martin von Hildebrand believes that indigenous peoples managing their territories sustainably is the key to maintaining the Amazon rainforest.

    More than 80 percent of the Amazon is now protected in indigenous reserves, national parks, and forest reserves.

    Ambition for Change

    Titled and sustainably managed indigenous territories and other protected areas provide a corridor of protection from deforestation across the northwest Amazon.

    Path to Scale

    Policy and Capacity Building

    Creation of new and enlargement of existing territories under indigenous management; work with indigenous people to develop their negotiating capabilities.

    Business Model

    Philanthropic and public support.

    In 1971, Martín von Hildebrand traveled to the Amazon for the first time and found a people entirely dominated and exploited by rubber traders and Catholic missionaries. He established an anthropological field center in the heart of the Colombian Amazon, and lived for a decade with indigenous communities, listening to the shamans and elders, men and women, and learning about their relationship with nature, rituals, and ways of healing. After completing a doctorate abroad, he worked with Colombia’s Ministry of Education and was later appointed Head of Indian Affairs. He guided the unprecedented of handing back of 20 million hectares of Amazon rainforest to indigenous inhabitants in 1987. In 1990 he founded Gaia Amazonas to encourage the Amazon’s indigenous population to exercise their newfound rights and self-management of their territories. Gaia Amazonas encourages policy makers to develop alternative natural resource management systems based on indigenous knowledge. Indigenous people regain their rights and lands, manage their own education and health programs and design and implement environmental management plans. At the time of the Award, more than 24.7 million hectares of Amazon forest were in the hands of indigenous peoples, as legal custodians of its biological, cultural and spiritual values, much due to Martín’s efforts.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • More than 80 percent of the Amazon is now protected in indigenous reserves, national parks, and forest reserves.
    • In 2013, Gaia Amazonas and other NGOs were instrumental in getting Colombia’s Chiribiquete National Park expanded from 1.5 million hectares to 3 million hectares (roughly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park).
    • In 2011, 2012 and 2013 Gaia Amazonas’ work led to about a million hectares of new reserves or expansion of existing reserves.
    • Many Gaia indigenous partners are becoming more independent, with indigenous organizations having stronger institutions and better able to negotiate directly with the government.

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