The community of Sani Isla is located on the borders of the Yasuní National Park and Cuyabeno Natural Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.
Initially settled by three families, Sani Isla today boasts around 75 families and 550 inhabitants.
Threats from prospecting and drilling for oil will continue to exist in Sani Isla for the foreseeable future, barring some change in Ecuadorian constitution or law.
The Kichwa Arts and Crafts business, based on the traditional craft-making techniques of the women of Sani Isla was developed in 2009 by us, in collaboration with our Ecuadorian non-profit partner Conservación y Desarrollo and now running in partnership with the community-owned Sani Lodge.
Deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, nestled between the famed Yasuní National Park and Cuyabeno Natural Reserve lies Sani Isla. The community which falls under the Orellana Province, rests on the Napo River which flows away from the eastern slopes of the Andes through the Amazon towards Peru. Home to 302 indigenous Kichwa families, Sani Isla sits among one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.
The Sani Isla community’s main source of income, prior to working with RP, was from forestry and ecotourism through their community owned Sani Lodge, but they were not providing enough funds to support continued community development. Over the years, the community came under increasing pressure to open up their lands for oil prospecting, but they consistently refused to do so.
During the initial visits made by us and our partner Conservación y Desarrollo, the women in the community expressed their desire to focus on revitalizing traditional handicrafts. The handicrafts could provide a new income stream from sustainably sourced forest materials and help promote traditional artisan practices of the Kichwa bringing pride back into their self identity and way of life, while protecting their forest home. The Sani Warmi was thus born in 2009.
The project started with the evaluation of the forest resources and analyzing the women’s skill set. The initial workshops consisted of the re-introduction and revival of the traditional craft-making techniques, learning to collect seeds and plant fibers found in the rainforest and assembling them into handmade accessories like bracelets, necklaces, earrings and handbags.
The first few years of the project focused on building the necessary infrastructure to produce the crafts, with the construction of an artisan craft studio and focusing on native species cultivation. The studio provided a place for the women to work together and exchange ideas and a nursery located nearby was cultivated with more than 2,000 native species of plants (such as such as Calmito, Tahua, Pita and Shiguango muyu) that could be used in craft production.
Over the years, the workshops organized by us, on business development, accounting, marketing and communications helped the women acquire the necessary skills to manage their business including pricing, supply chain management and communicating with tourists and customers.
The women’s artisan business has now grown largely from initially selling the products to visitors at the Sani eco-lodge to more markets in nearby towns, all the way to new stores in Quito. Before this project was developed, the women of Sani Isla had never before earned an income. By the 5th year the women collectively were earning almost $25,000 in annual ecotourism visitor fees and thousands more in the sales of their products.
The project importantly continues to play a large role in protecting over 50,000 acres of pristine rainforest land from outside threats.
As the project has developed and handicraft sales have increased, Sani Warmi has become increasingly autonomous. The project is now generally regarded as environmentally sound, economically productive, and socially just. It was always envisioned that each RP project would have an exit strategy. And, that after the terms have been negotiated and RP involvement in a project ends, RP will of course continue to serve as a contact and counsel, as it does for the Sani Warmi women.
You can learn more about the successful development and implementation of the project in this case study and its appendices.