At the end of 2022, the signing of a digital control agreement between the company One Amazon and the organization of indigenous peoples FICSH (Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers) in the Ecuadorian Amazon was announced on social media.
It is a contract that introduces a new form of corporate control over the territories: the production and commercialization of “digital assets” derived from the Shuar peoples and territory. The negative implications of this new form of exploitation are many, many of which are unknown to indigenous peoples and most people alike.
The Ecuadorian organization Acción Ecológica launched a critical analysis document about this agreement, which brings important data and reflections on this new way of trying to control the territories.
The FICSH Shuar federation, after further consideration of the contract and its impacts at its assembly in early February 2023, decided to terminate the contract. However, this does not provide that the FICSH can cancel it before 30 years, only that One Amazon can terminate the contract unilaterally at any time if it considers that the FICSH does not comply with its provisions. As the Ecological Action document explains in detail, the contract is full of unfair terms against the Shuar, so even the cancellation itself will be a struggle.
Digital control, a worldwide trend to watch out for
Although they have already taken this decision, it is important to know the case, because there are other similar contracts proposed or signed with indigenous peoples – and even with organizations and institutions in natural areas in different parts of the world.
One Amazon is a company created two years ago, which declares that it works, among other things, in reforestation, consulting and “forest plantations for carbon offset purposes”, that is, it was formed to enter forest areas to do business, including carbon markets. On websites outside the company, it is stated that it is developing “state-of-the-art IT projects to save the Amazon jungle”. Acción Ecológica investigated the Amazon One representatives who sign the contract (Rodrigo Veloso and Ivano Westin, Brazilians) and found that they have links to the financial sector and the mining industry, among others. Westin worked for Credit Suisse for seven years and was part of the financial institution’s global mining team.
Although One Amazon was recently formed, the company’s sole investor is venture capital firm Starlight Ventures, a larger venture capital investment firm. It invests in several other worrying companies (and many polluting ones), for example several linked to information technology to operate in carbon markets.
They are also investors in CarbonEngineering, a Canadian geoengineering company founded by David Keith of Harvard, one of the most ardent advocates of climate manipulation. Keith formed the company with contributions from Bill Gates, currently its main investors are the oil companies Chrevron and Oxy and the mega mining company BHP Billiton. “Starlight, an investor in One Amazon, invests money in many companies that are in new risky businesses in terms of recovering the money invested and also dangerous for people and nature” summarizes Acción Ecológica
The One Amazon-FICSH agreement has several objectives, the first of which are very general about the protection and conservation of the Amazon rainforest, but also “to achieve investments in sustainable companies”, aspects that in the hands of companies are in fact great risks. The core of the contract’s objectives is the implementation of a “system for collecting satellite images and other technologies from the Amazon rainforest, which will allow for information (digital, via satellite, documental, videographic and audio)” and which will allow for the international transmission of “digital assets” which in the agreement are called “values” (referring to what in English they call tokens or Digital Security Assets). For all of this they will use the blockchain system as a vehicle (blockchain)
A digital asset refers, for example, to cryptocurrencies -such as Bitcoin or others- and also to the production of other digital goods such as so-called NFTs, which seems to be the objective in the case of the contract with FICSH. An NFT (Non Fungible Token in English or Non-Fungible Token in Spanish) is a digital asset that can be created, bought, sold, collected.
NFTs are created by converting an image or video into digital information and placing the digitized product as a commodity on the blockchain. The value of these NFTs will depend on the object, whether it is original or copies, etc. This type of merchandise is one of the “assets” that One Amazon intends to generate with information from the Shuar territory.
Its idea is to generate detailed information about everything that exists in the territory and about people’s lives, since the photos and records can also be of the city itself, its activities, ceremonies, leisure and work routines, which can be converted into assets. fingerprints. An Amazon has ownership of the image, which can be on the net in plain sight and for sale.
It is a new form of biopiracy, using Shuar life and territory to fragment them, interpret them, commodify them and sell them.
Like environmental services, indigenous peoples are presented as something where they will receive money and not have to do anything, but the flip side is that this implies intense surveillance and control of their territory, which may even prevent them from continuing. with activities important to them, their livelihoods and ways of life.
In addition, this research, images and other data collected by One Amazon have additional uses. By generating a large amount of information about the territories and their components, they generate high value information to sell to those who want to explore the territory, such as extractive companies, mining companies, bioprospecting programs, to plan infrastructure projects to access or other areas, etc. .
In the contract, the relationship between the image and the territory itself is ambiguous, as One Amazon claims to ensure the “protection” of the source of the image, that is, it could -even more- when combined with other abusive objectives and clauses of the contract – intervene directly to prevent the Shuar from using their territory, based on their goal of “conservation” or environmental protection.
Digital control also in agricultural fields
Something similar happens with the introduction of digitization in agricultural fields, especially in relation to peasant and small-scale agriculture. Through new digital agricultural platforms – often from transnationals such as Bayer-Monsanto, Corteva, Syngenta, etc. – farmers are promised greater efficiency in the management of their fields, in the use of pesticides and fertilizers and other practices. By collecting huge amounts of data about the communities’ lands, territories and routines, which companies can also use to sell to other companies with an interest in different aspects of the territory. Also in these cases, they use digital information to “measure” the carbon generated or absorbed by the soil, to generate potential carbon credits and sell them on the market. Here You can consult an analysis by the ETC Group with examples of how these platforms work.
Carbon trading is another additional aspect of the contract with the Shuar, in this case focused on forests as carbon sinks and the development of an “internet of forests”. For this, they will use images and digital monitoring systems.
In all cases, these are new technological forms of invasion and appropriation of territories and the lives of peoples and communities, which must be known and rejected.