People, Environment

Panama Tribes Using Drones to Monitor Deforestation

Panama Tribes Using Drones to Monitor DeforestationPanama Tribes Using Drones to Monitor Deforestation

Indigenous people in Panama are using drones as a new weapon to monitor deforestation, as thousands of hectares disappear every year in one of the world’s most biodiverse rainforests, the United Nations said.

More than half of Panama is covered with tropical rainforest, home to various indigenous groups who rely on the forests to survive.

“The monitoring is carried out in areas under deforestation and degradation pressure, which are only observable with high resolution spatial images,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a statement, Reuters reported.

Indigenous people make up nearly 13% of Panama’s population of 4 million, with about 200,000 living on autonomous tribal lands, known as comarcas.

“These tools enable us to better know the forests’ characteristics and resources we have in our territories,” Eliseo Quintero, a leader of the Ngabe-Bugle tribe, said in a statement.

Panama’s indigenous groups first started using drones to monitor their ancestral lands last year.

The project focuses on seven ethnic tribes in Panama. Up to three representatives of each tribe, including women, are trained to use drones, download and interpret images, produce detailed maps and collect data.

Giving indigenous groups tools like drones to help them protect their forests is also one way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by deforestation, the FAO said.

For Panama’s indigenous groups, like others in the world, forests are a key source of water and food.

Panama loses about 20,000 hectares each year to deforestation, according to the National Association for the Conservation of Nature, a Panamanian non-profit.

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 2 million hectares of rainforest disappear every year, largely due to illegal logging.

Since the 1980s, Panama has introduced legislation to protect indigenous rights and land, including a 2008 law that gives indigenous communities living outside the comarcas the right to request official recognition of their lands.

Still, swathes of indigenous lands have been lost, taken over by hydroelectric dam projects, private mining companies and cattle ranchers, and destroyed by illegal loggers who cut down precious timber such as redwood and mahogany.