The Amazon Rainforest & SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras: An Alternative Approach For Sustainable Development.





Scientists are warning us of the universal socio-economic and political consequences inherent in climate change. Specifically the uncontrolled levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing global temperatures leading to rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, a growing frequency of hurricanes, droughts, crop failures, diminishing uncontaminated water supplies, forced migration and other detrimental side effects. Extreme weather patterns are breaking records around the world this year, with parts of the Midwestern U.S. seeing the mercury drop as low as minus 38 degrees Fahrenheit, 15 degrees above cero in the Antarctic peninsula, as Australia endures triple-digit high temperatures, reigniting concerns about a changing planet. Furthermore scientific analysis correlates climate change to human activity and that the dependency on fossil fuels is the major contributor and primordial factor behind this phenomenon.

According to the recently published Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, corrective attempts to counteract climate change should be an international priority, especially if irreversible damages to the planet’s eco-system are to be avoided. IPCC scientists estimate that we have a maximum period of 12 years in which to address and resolve this very serious problem, before these negative trends become irreversible.

The IPCC also informed policy makers that given the looming menace of climate change on the horizon, concerted efforts and investments in environment protection and alternative energy sources would be more cost efficient for the majority of national economies in a near future. Furthermore it was also emphasized that serious consideration be given to the humane and moral dimensions implicit in development processes.


Extractive economics in the Ecuadorian Amazon, not only produced the largest oil induced environmental disaster recorded in history, but also was directly responsible for rates of mortality that human rights advocates equate to a form of developmental genocide.

Oil drilling and production in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest is geographically located at the tributaries and headwaters of the Aguarico and Napo Rivers, upriver from the settlements of the Indigenous communities and the protected national parks. This implies that any oil spill, production discharge or other forms of contamination flows directly into the habitat of the communities.

A comprehensive study by David Dunham suggests that each process of petroleum exploration and production in Ecuador has adverse consequence on the Rainforest and its inhabitants. This starts from seismic studies and exploratory drilling up to production, transport and refining of crude oil.

Exploratory drilling generates significant quantities of toxic waste, which are deposited in open and unlined pools.  The majority of the waste either filters through to underground water tables or spills over into streams and rivers.  The remainder, approximately 42,000 gallons per exploratory well is burnt in the atmosphere, without temperature or pollution controls.

Drilling mud mixed with chemical industrial solvents are components of toxic waste. An average of over 4,000 cubic meters of toxic wastes are drained into open pools every time an exploratory well is drilled.  The environmental and health problems associated with exploratory drilling are repeated consistently during the production process.  Separating stations generate more than 4 million gallons of untreated toxic wastes, which are discharged daily into the Rainforest.

Since 1972, according to Judy Kimerling, approximately 1 billion gallons of “toxic brine” – consisting of petroleum; formation water and chemicals injected into oil wells and utilized in the separation process of crude oil – are drained annually into rivers and ground soils of the Amazon region.  The hydrocarbons and salts, components of the formation waters, are exceedingly toxic for vegetation, human and animal life.

Oil spills in the Ecuadorian Amazon have been devastating.  Official statistics released by Petroecuador indicate that 16.8 million gallons of oil were spilled between 1968-1993 alone, and the process in on going. During the period from 1993 to 2007, pipeline leakages, sabotage and accidental spillages accounted for an additional 7 million gallons.

Drinking water, bathing and fishing water and production water samples contain levels of toxic oil constituents 150 times greater than” the safety guidelines set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency,

The Harvard Medical School and the Centre for Economic and Social wrote in a confidential report that:

“We collected 33 drinking and bathing water samples from inhabited areas surrounding Petro Ecuador production sites. The samples were analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a toxic element of crude oil. Calculating that 28 nanograms per litre of water corresponds to a lifetime cancer risk of one in 100,000, the United States environmental agency recommends that the level of these hydrocarbons in ambient water be reduced to zero.

The Ecuador drinking water samples were found to have concentrations ranging from 33 nanograms per litre to 2,793 nanograms per litre. Samples of fishing and bathing water found concentrations ranging from 40 nanograms per litre to 1,486 nanograms per litre. Samples taken of water leaking out of waste water pits ranged from 46,500 to 405,634 nanograms per litre.”

Primary pollution sources are unlined waste pits, earthen tanks filled with a toxic stew from the oil production and separation process — contaminated water, mud and oil.”

These Water tests also confirm that the amount of salts present in Amazonian streams and rivers varies between 70,000 and 110,000 ppm, reaching 200,00 ppm near the major oil fields.  This represents a level of salinity six times greater than ocean water.

Drinking water, bathing and fishing water and production water samples contained levels of toxic oil constituents many times greater than the safety guidelines set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency,

The quantity of petroleum present in the principal tributaries varies between 500 to 5,000 ppm, an oil discharge of between 2,100 to 4,200 gallons of crude per day.

In conclusion, the Ecuadorian oil industry is accountable for 23.8 million gallons of crude polluting Amazonian rivers. A further 4 billion cubic feet of gas has been burnt without the emission controls required to avoid contamination of the atmosphere.

Within this context, NRDC lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr writes:

“Like most U.S. citizens, I like to believe that when American companies go abroad, American values go with them. Today, American-owned companies are leaving an ugly legacy of poverty and contamination in one of the most important forests on Earth.

I flew to Quito, Ecuador’s capital as part of a team of environmental Experts from the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) and survey damage caused by oil exploration in the Amazon. Because of my longstanding interest in tropical rain forests, I have made fifteen previous trips to Latin America and my work as an environmental Lawyer had brought me to some of the worst toxic waste sites in New York. I did not expect to be surprised. However, nothing in my experience prepared me for the scenes I witnessed in the Ecuadorian Amazon.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.





Ten identified Indigenous civilizations, approximately 115,000 people, inhabit the Ecuadorian Amazon- Achuar, Ai´Cofan, Huaorani, Quichua, Secoya, Shiwar, Shuar, Siona, Taromenani and Zaparo. Their culture, economy and welfare are synonymous with the protection and integrity of their ancestral lands. Deep rooted in Amazon culture is the belief that the source of life lies in the balance and reciprocity between humans, flora and fauna. The Rainforest is the genesis of traditions, spiritual life and ancestral medicine, and constitutes the essence of cultural values.  Subsequently an ecologically balanced and uncontaminated environment is synonymous with the rationality of their existence and survival.

In the case of Ecuador, the impact of oil drilling and production in the 1960’s was disastrous from the start. It was the principal cause for mortality rates reaching nearly 90% in five specific communities, a tragic reality that concurred with the loss of approximately 80% of their ancestral lands.

What had traditionally been a culture of hunters and gatherers following migration patters of animals in an unrestricted area unmarked by national boarders and state concessions, was transformed, in less than 20 years, into semi-sedentary extended families settled on isolated river banks in de-facto reserves, and whose basic needs could no longer be provided exclusively by the rainforest. With the exception of the communities living in voluntary isolation, those who came into contact with western interests, were forced to survive by cutting down the Rainforest to grow and market coffee and cocoa, introduced by the state and oil companies. The carrot root structure of these crops did not flourish in the sandy and hard clay Amazon soils, and diminishing returns had to be supplemented by short cycle subsistence crops, and a small monetary income from working occasionally as “unskilled” labour. In 2008 family incomes averaged $ 29 per month, a clear indication of the extreme conditions of poverty in which these communities were forcibly immersed: an ominous impact of globalization, to say the least.

Poverty and health are indivisible. SVSF medical teams determined that the mortality rates were associated to the following diseases and conditions:

  • Protozoan infections, chronic amoeba infirmity in particular;
  • Helianthus bacterial infections;
  • Vector-parasite conditions;
  • Tuberculosis;
  • Malaria and hepatitis, which afflicts 25% of the population;
  • Health problems related to oil pollution and toxic waste contamination. These include fever, diarrhoea, headaches, dermatitis, nausea, dizziness, abdominal pains, blindness, premature abortions and foetus deformation, skin and stomach cancer;
  • Mortality rates amongst mothers and infants were accentuated by the absence of appropriate pre and postnatal care.




Over the past decade, SVSF has been implementing two major programs to address the medical crisis and to create an alternative sustainable development process aimed at satisfying the basic needs of the indigenous communities.



The Amazon fluvial medical services was created by Mr. Lourens de Groot, Chairman of Vrienden van SVSF, the Netherlands. Mr. de Groot has successfully negotiated donations to fund i) three fully equipped medical canoes and one refurbished vessel and ii) to purchase the medicine required to treat members of five Amazon communities.

Annually SVSF organizes an average of 20 fluvial clinics providing medical attention to the remote and isolated regions of Sucumbios and Orellana. Special emphasis is given to pre and postnatal care. The program is based on the principal of offering a service that requests “Nothing in Return”; patients do not pay for the treatment they receive, nor are they required to adopt a particular religious belief or a specific political affiliation.

The number of patients is growing significantly each year. In 2018, approximately 5,000 people attended the clinics, 20% comprising children under the age of 5 years, while children in-between 6 to 14 years amounted to 25% of all patients.

In view of the increase in demand, and in order to improve upon medical attention, in 2017 a land-based clinic was inaugurated on the Amazon Reserve for Peace, SVSF’s main operational base in the Rainforest. Our medical team of Ecuadorian Doctors and nurses have been supported by the medical faculty of the University of Longwood and by Norway’s Amazon People’s Nurses.

Results speak for themselves, and we are proud of the fact that an important number of communities and extended families are now officially parasite free, especially as these types of infections were responsible for the high number of deaths registered in the region. Major inroads are also being made to combat the deadly plasmodium falciparum strain of malaria.



The SVSF Program “Bamboo & Vegetable Ivory- the essence of sustainability,” implemented jointly with Vrienden van SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras NL, was conceived in 1992.

In 1996, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affaires and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) decided to support SVSF in promulgating a pilot project in sustainable development, which could be viable for the Amazon Rainforest eco-system. The principal objective was to empirically demonstrate that concrete alternatives exist to extractive development practices, oil in particular; given, and as we have illustrated, the disastrous impact the latter was having in the Amazon River basin.

Particular importance was given to this initiative as all parties agreed that Rainforests are vital for global climate control and despite the delusions of contemporary populist politicians, this is common knowledge based on scientific fact. Metaphorically speaking they are the lungs of the world, producing 40% of the oxygen we breathe. At the same time Rainforests are indispensable regulators of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The Amazon Rainforest represents over half of the Rainforests remaining on this Earth today. Ecuador’s Amazon region, comprising 13 million hectares, is home to 30% of all biodiversity. Approximately 40,000 plant, 3,000 fish, 1,560 birds, 430 mammals, 420 amphibians, 380 reptiles and an almost infinite number of insect species have been classified.

Nurtured by the Andes mountain range, the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest forms a particularly significant part of the headwaters of the Amazon River basin, which is the source of 18% of our daily fresh water supply.

Located in the Amazon and Pacific coastal regions, naturally growing Bamboo forests cover approximately 600 thousand hectares in Ecuador; two per cent of the national territory. An additional 30,000 hectares are comprised of sown or cultivated bamboo, predominantly the Guadua Angustifolia variety.

Within this context, approximately 20 % of cultivated bamboo – in-between 5,000-5,800 hectares located in the Amazon Cuyabeno, San Pablo and Pisuri regions – corresponds to SVSF’s bamboo initiative.

Environment protection is an important consideration when emphasizing bamboo in the Amazon as we consider the expansion and consolidation of bamboo cultivations to be a very concrete and vital manner whereby the negative effects of climate change can be mitigated.

What is the significance of bamboo in an Amazon Rainforest setting? On the one hand the answer lies in the specificity and positive features of the plant itself.

  • Bamboo is the plant species that absorbs the most CO2 from the atmosphere and as a fast growing grass that requires seasonal harvesting when the sprouts reach maturity, it does not release or produce carbon emissions, a major factor implicit in global warming.
  • The extensive and web like root system of Bamboo counters land erosion. This is particularly relevant along rivers and deforested lands.

p1010504Bamboo forests protecting land from erosion alongside the Aguarico River; Amazon Reserve for Peace

  • One hectare of bamboo – the Guadua Angustifolia species – stores 30,000 litres of water and subsequently is vital in recuperating and maintaining hydraulic basins and over-exploited lands. Furthermore it is estimated that 1 hectare of bamboo daily produces fresh and uncontaminated water for 150 people. Curiously, and of historic interest, Simon Bolivar and Alexander von Humboldt were the first to mention this important finding.
  • Bamboo is a fast growing grass which can replace wood thereby reducing the pressure on the natural Amazon Rain Forest and avoid, according to specialists, 10% of deforestation.


p1010428 Bamboo Guadua nurseries in the Amazon Reserve for Peace.

       p1010399Harvested bamboo – Amazon Reserve for Peace.

On the Amazon Reserve for Peace, SVSF has also made significant inroads in creating green bamboo corridors.  The bamboo corridors or migratory highways in-between “islands” of rain forest, has permitted the re-unification of previously marooned monkey populations, and in so doing avoids the problems of in-breeding evident in isolated families of this particular species.

capuchin-in-cana_-_cropped_-_horizontal_01-1Capuchino monkey migrating through bamboo corridors

Bamboo has also proven to provide an important income enabling Amazon communities in satisfying their basic needs. Indigenous families participating in the program are presently earning $ 200 per month selling the product on the local market; the construction industry pays in-between $ 3-5 per stalk.

Jointly with bamboo, SVSF also promotes vegetable ivory, which is a palm tree that forms part of the secondary layer of the Rainforest. Significantly it requires the upper canopy to thrive. By collecting the pit from the ground, after the fruit has been consumed by a number of animals, the communities receive an additional $50 per 100 pounds, increasing family incomes, thereby providing an economic incentive for the preservation of the forest.


SVSF is a non-profit NGO that relies exclusively on contributions to specific programs in accordance to direct project costs. International cooperation rarely considers or approves institutional overheads. SVSF has resisted the option to ask for individual donations, a practice that has, in our opinion, flooded, overwhelmed and abused the dialogue in-between civil society and NGOs.

As an alternative, SVSF has starting designing, producing and selling bamboo and vegetable ivory products. Each creation embodies and symbolizes the programs being implemented in the Amazon. The added value implicit in the product will be re-invested in maintaining the subsidized medical services SVSF provides for Amazon communities.

In other words, rather than asking for donations, SVSF is suggesting that any interested party who believes in what we are doing, who wishes to protect the Amazon Rainforest, who is concerned about the plight of Amazon communities, and who is worried about climate change, may want to consider purchasing our bamboo and vegetable ivory designs. The article you choose will represent your concern and contribution.

SVSF bamboo and vegetable ivory has an institutional Green label certification. This implies that chemicals are not utilized in the planting, cultivating, harvesting and drying processes.

The items we create are produced in our workshop that we have built three months ago on our Andean base located on the Ilalo volcano. The conditions of the Andes – dry air, warm sun and strong winds – provide the suitable conditions to naturally dry bamboo and vegetable ivory.

Bamboo structure built to house the workshop at the Ilalo. Technical studies suggest that the mechanical properties of bamboo, when properly dried, are equivalent to steel. German Fire Authorities tested Guadua and, guided by the European Building Code, approved bamboo as a building material for the Guadua Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover. Bamboo construction is also earth quake resistant. Earthquakes in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico demonstrated that bamboo buildings survived while post 1930 modern cement and iron construction collapsed.

Creating bamboo products to generate added value and income to be re-invested in SVSF development programs.



SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras Bamboo Art & Light Designs




 If you are interested in acquiring Bamboo Art & Light Designs, or if you require information of the other articles we are producing, please write to We will be happy to send you a complete catalogue.

By: Mariana Almeida & Pieter Jan Brouwer










~ by SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras on 1 February, 2019.

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