In Colombia, indigenous peoples have hunted wild meat, or bushmeat, for thousands of years. In many rural areas, bushmeat continues to play a vital role in ensuring food security, supporting household economies, and sustaining cultural traditions and identities.
Colombian law allows for the hunting and consumption of bushmeat for subsistence among indigenous communities. But a gray area appears when communities or individuals try to sell the meat, often to urban buyers.
Some hunters sell small amounts of surplus meat from hunting to pay for household needs, such as health and education costs, or basic items like soap, sugar and salt. But according to government regulations, any sale of game is considered a leap into the banned practice of commercial hunting, even if that hunting remains small-scale.
Because it is illegal, trade of bushmeat in Colombia is pushed into the shadows. Authorities have been known to conduct raids on markets, restaurants, street-side stalls, university eateries and other places where bushmeat is being traded.
Scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) studying the livelihood and conservation dimensions of bushmeat in Colombia have made the case for a legal distinction to be drawn between large-scale commercial hunting and small-scale sale of surplus. They say that these two practices differ considerably in terms not only of scale, but also systems of governance and distribution of benefits.
“If the trade is legal, then it could be properly regulated to ensure sustainability. Authorizing the legal trade of bushmeat does not necessarily mean free open trade. This, though, implies that good governance systems need to be in place ,” says Nathalie van Vliet, a CIFOR associate and lead author on several of the Center’s publications on bushmeat in Colombia.
If the trade is legal, then it could be properly regulated to ensure sustainability
A series of videos were produced on CIFOR’s bushmeat research in Colombia, bringing to light the voices of those closest to the issue. A selection of these are presented below.
For some rural communities, hunting is part of their social and cultural identity, as well as a source of livelihood.
Diomedes Silva, an indigenous hunter from the Ticuna people belonging to the Amazon, says that hunting is his culture. He traps animals like the armadillo to bring home to his family for food.
“All the Ticunas hunt, we live off that,” he says.
FOOD SECURITY AND NUTRITION
Hunting communities say that wild meat is far healthier than the processed foods and farmed meat sold in cities. They attribute consumption of wild meat to good health, including strength of body and mind.
Maximina Mena, a Tutunendo housewife, credited a diet of bushmeat to what she sees as a high rate of longevity in her village.
“Yesterday we buried a 105-year-old woman,” she told researchers. “[Her long life was] because she did not eat food with so many chemicals in it.”
BETWEEN LEGITIMACY AND ILLEGALITY
Colombian law allows indigenous communities to hunt for subsistence, but no bushmeat is allowed to be sold for profit. For urban buyers who have migrated from rural areas, it can mean losing connection with the tastes of their childhood. For rural sellers, it is a lost opportunity to make a living.
“The police made me cry at least three times,” says Gabriel Murayari, a Yagua traditional hunter. “They confiscated 50 kilograms [of meat] off me. Another day 40 kilograms. Another day 30. I barely had any left for home consumption and my children were hungry.”
Both traditions and technology are turning up solutions for sustainable use of bushmeat and conservation of species into the future. Traditional hunting practices are regulated by beliefs, taboos and knowledge that ensure species are not hunted to extinction. Mobile applications are also being developed to help hunters track the rise and fall of wildlife numbers.
Ticuna hunter Rubén Fernández says he uses an app to track his hunts and coordinate with others.
People should know that hunters do not kill every day
“We have a monitoring system here in the cellphone,” he says. “I look at the map. I register the other people hunting with me. Ask them if they caught anything.”
“People should know that hunters do not kill every day. Just sometimes,” he adds.
Researchers say that another important way forward is to include hunting communities in participatory debates about the legal framework that affects them.