How access, values, and history shape the sustainability of a social-ecological system : the case of the Kandozi indigenous group of Peru



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This research examines how the Kandozi indigenous group governs access to fish and timber, how access contributes to their well-being, and if the Kandozi’s natural resource use and socio-ecological system are sustainable. The Kandozi occupy a biodiverse tropical forest in the northern Peruvian Amazon with lakes and seasonally flooded areas. This indigenous group has livelihoods that are dependent upon securing access to natural resources that contribute to their well-being; hence it represents a good case study to investigate access and its relation with social-ecological sustainability. Access is defined here as the ability to derive benefits from natural resources. The analysis of sustainability was done by integrating research on both access and well-being. Multiple methods and a comparative examination of access to fish and timber were used to explore historical processes that shape access. The analysis of qualitative data on well-being and quantitative data based on income from fishing activities in 2009, helped evaluate if the Kandozi benefited from the use of resources and clarified the evolution of their quality of life. Hypotheses regarding how spatiality shapes access and how sustainability depends upon access to natural resources were tested. Results indicate that factors such as heterogeneity, kinship, land tenure, the legal framework and knowledge all shape access to natural resources. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity in particular is a critical factor because it determines resource availability. Furthermore, this study shows how benefits from the use of resources contribute to the Kandozi’s perception of well-being, defined by them as living without worries, which includes meeting economic, social and cultural needs. Results from this study indicate that perceptions of well-being depend on human values and change over time, consequently the sustainability of the social-ecological system fluctuates. This research concludes that sustainability of this and similar systems are dependent upon the moment at which the analysis is done, because of the changing needs of people over time. This study demonstrates that the range of relations and interactions among different processes that shape access, and the historically contingent characteristic of access and its evolution over time, help better understand complex social ecological systems.