RSO Internship in Ecuador/Amazon on cocoa/sustainable livelihood

Heavy hunting pressure to supply up to 10 tonnes of wild meat every year to Ecuador’s largest wild meat market in Pompeya has led to the rapid depletion of all the large animal populations found in the nearby Yasuní Biosphere Reserve, a region consisting of more than one million hectares of rainforest in the Ecuadorian Amazon, with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Such exploitation places at risk the food security and livelihoods of the local 3000-strong Waorani people, an indigenous group living within the Reserve, who are committed to making efforts to conserve their resources, culture and way of life. Conservation of the region’s dwindling resources is therefore of the utmost urgency.

To this end, the project “Strengthening Biodiversity Conservation and Management in Waorani Territory: creating sustainable economic alternatives for diminishing wildlife trade” was initiated by TRAFFIC and the Association of Waorani Women of Ecuador (AMWAE) in 2010 that aimed to identify economic alternatives that would replace incomes generated from the sale of increasingly overexploited wild meat resources and maintain the variety of wild animals and plants that live in this region. TRAFFIC worked with some nine Waorani communities to devise strategies that would have multiple positive environmental and social impacts, not only to improve livelihoods and enhance food security, but also to promote sustainable use, empower women, offer job/income opportunities and increase territorial stewardship and economic integration.


A package of economic practices, the project says, has served to reduce the unsustainable use of resources while preserving and reinforcing the identity of an indigenous group and its cultural values, which too often in the region have been eroded or lost. In South America, traditional approaches for regulating the wild meat trade have been dominated by interventions which prioritize enforcement and control systems. The innovative initiatives described here, which are directly benefiting some 660 Waorani people. It demonstrates, according to the project, that, in the context of such high biodiversity, poverty and lack of institutional capacity to deal with illegality, implementing innovative sustainable economic alternatives, while simultaneously developing enforcement strategies, is the most viable way to reduce illegal wildlife trade and address resource depletion. Further, one of the key achievements of the project has been the empowerment and participation of the Waorani women in important decision-making processes such that they now command strong and prestigious roles which has been critical in revitalizing these communities.

One of the economic alternatives identified was the planting of cocoa trees to produce ingredients for top quality chocolate, which would not only provide a sustainable source of income but also raise the social profile of the Waorani.

Internship/thesis will be in one of the following fields

a) Organic production methods and certification
b) New economic activities and food/place security
c) Socio-economic and livelihood analyses of new economic activities

We are looking for students with knowledge in one or more of the following areas: organic agriculture, certification, rural sociology and sociology of food systems.

For more information contact Els Hegger ( of Joost Jongerden (