The countries in Oxfam America's South America regional program are the poorest in the Andes. Indigenous people, who make up 46 percent of the population, are victims of social and racial discrimination, and are routinely denied access to government services. Most live on ancestral lands that are biologically diverse and fragile.
Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru cover 2.7 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles). Oxfam divides our regional program there into two geographic areas: the Andean highlands and the Amazon lowland areas.
In the highland zones, the peaks and altiplano extend from Bolivia into southern Peru, and range as high as 15,000 feet above sea level. In both the highland and inter-mountain valley zones, indigenous people grow crops suited to the high altitude, raise livestock, and fish for their livelihood. Water is scarce, and the altitude makes growing crops a challenge.
The South America regional program also spans the western Amazon Basin, which includes rain forests, the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains, and the dry tropical forests of Bolivia. Lowland people in the Amazon Basin are traditionally hunters and gatherers, but are currently learning new ways to earn their living, including farming and forest products.
Rich lands and culture
Faced with growing financial pressure, governments are eager to exploit the resources that lie beneath these three countries' lands—such as oil, gas, gold, silver, and copper—as well as valuable trees and diverse plants on the surface.
Governments in South America retain sub-surface mineral rights, so indigenous territories can be passed to international oil, gas, and mining companies. International laws require consultation with indigenous people about how their lands are used, but this is not well enforced in the region.
The indigenous people of the South America regional program have a rich culture and history that spans centuries; however, modern society makes them feel backward, and devalues the way they live and work. They live in extreme poverty, despite the richness of their lands.
Oxfam in South America
For over 20 years, Oxfam has been a leader in the support and development of indigenous peoples' organizations in South America. Oxfam is one of the few development organizations operating in the region with such a long history of commitment to the indigenous peoples’ movement.
The South America regional program maintains an office in Lima, Peru, where it is recognized in the region for helping local organizations revitalize indigenous knowledge and culture, restoring pride in their customs and traditions. Not only are indigenous practices best suited for the harsh Andean highlands and fragile forest lowlands, but pride and self-worth are essential to community organization, gender equity, and successful long-term development.
Oxfam currently works with more than 40 partner organizations, many of which are focused on strengthening the social and economic positions of indigenous peoples in the region.