The road is creating a path of destruction to the world’s top biodiversity hotspot, Manu National Park, threatening the survival of uncontacted indigenous tribes and a wealth of wildlife found nowhere else on Earth. It will increase illegal activities in the area: logging, hunting, drug and human trafficking.
But it is local people who are building the road with their own hands. They feel disenfranchised and that their basic needs are not being met by the Peruvian government – access to education, medical care, sanitation, job opportunities and markets.
The road is a promise of a better life, but will the hopes and aspirations it inspires ever become reality – and at what cost?
What’s the aim of the expedition
Through extensive interviews with a range of stakeholders across Manu, we will unearth and document the views, experiences and aspirations of diverse people living throughout the region as expressed in their own voice. These interviews will form the narrative of a documentary film, titled Voices on an Amazon Road, which will be used as an educational tool to foster dialogue and understanding so that solutions for Manu’s sustainable future can begin to emerge.
Using drone and camera-trap technology we will demonstrate the road’s status and size (currently unknown), while gaining a greater understanding of its impact on the region’s natural and cultural heritage. Through extensive interviews with stakeholders across the Manu region, we’ll undertake qualitative research to document the needs and aspirations of impoverished communities. This will be supported by quantitative data through our collaboration with Tree Top Manu (TTM), one of the largest arboreal camera-trap projects in the world. Scientists from TTM are currently analysing data on the impact that the current road is having on biodiversity.
Historically, conservationists have taken a single minded approach when communicating about construction, particularly in protected areas. But the truth is, we don’t have a clear insight into this road’s potential impact; the level of biodiversity loss and the threat to the region’s cultural heritage, or the potential for job creation and improved living standards. The road will be built, the question is: can there be any positive outcomes?
Why is the film needed
Through a compelling documentary, we will bring these issues to a worldwide audience for the first time. The aim: to show that conservation research and action in remote corners of the world are relevant and engaging issues that impact us as a global society. Beyond this, the film expedition must have a lasting legacy by fostering local stakeholder collaboration and problem-solving so that in the long-term an environmental management plan for the road can be created.
Currently, there is a stalemate: pro-road campaigners (namely the regional government and many within off-road communities) are antagonistic towards anti-road spokespeople and have been silencing opposing views. There is also very little known about the experience of on-road communities who are disillusioned as road connection has not brought the promised economical and educational benefits. Documenting and sharing these perspectives to foster dialogue and understanding is extremely difficult to accomplish, yet this is the only way we can move forward in creating a sustainable future for Manu.
About the expedition team
All team members have worked together in Manu Biosphere Reserve for several years, giving us crucial contacts with local scientific researchers, sustainable development experts and community members. We are a multidisciplinary team – journalist Bethan John, filmmaker Eilidh Munro, and scientist Jennifer Serrano Rojas – and we have extensive fieldwork experience working in remote tropical locations. We are committed to uniting compelling visual storytelling with scientific research and local knowledge for meaningful on-the-ground action.
Despite our experience, this is the most ambitious project we have embarked on to date; with constant cultural awareness and sensitivity, we must unearth authentic stories about a hugely polarising issue in the region, tapping into a myriad of economic, social and cultural matters. We must then produce a compelling documentary that is relevant both locally and internationally to engage people in conservation action.