In Part I of this series, Amy Rosenthal described the current challenges for environmental and human health in the southwest Amazon. In Part II, she addresses some of the most promising solutions.
What can we do?
First, we need to admit that we don’t know the single right answer – the silver bullet that will shift the balance between development and environment from discord to harmony. Challenges continue to confront the region, and solutions elude us. But, we can point to some early successes at the landscape scale that can be sustained and replicated.
The Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), a consortium of Peruvian, Bolivian, and U.S. conservation organizations with a joint mission, is at the forefront of this work. In 2008, ACA pioneered an innovative strategy to address the changes on the landscape and the threats to the Amazon forest and human welfare. Bringing together a range of stakeholders from civil society, government and private industry, the team laid out a plan to avoid or minimize each threat at a scale that could preserve the benefits from nature that people and animals depend on: pure drinking water, clean air, plentiful and healthy fish, access to forest products like Brazil nuts, stable water supply, forest landscapes that protect from flooding and erosion, and natural beauty that gives us peace of mind, opportunities for recreation, and potential income from tourism.
The MAP[i] plan takes on threats at multiple scales – from the local to regional – by relying on a landscape approach. It incorporates several strategic areas of work:
- seeding and supporting smart policy – locally to nationally,
- engaging local communities through education and organization,
- fostering and investing in sustainable economic activities and sectors, and
- directly protecting critical resources through conservation and improved land management.
What does the MAP plan look like?
To communities, it looks like a new community-managed forestry and agro-forestry systems – including 185,000 trees planted by ACA staff and communities in the Andean highlands and, in the Amazonian lowlands, 38,000 new trees and 80 families trained to care for them and earn revenue from native fruits and fibers.
To the local government, it looks like workshops to train representatives on the newest techniques and international policies they can now take advantage of and technical support developing maps for new regional parks – of which there are now more than 15 created or proposed.
To sustainable industry, it looks like improved management and quality control for supply that can now be sold for better prices locally and overseas – including dryers and processing plants for several associations of Brazil nut harvesters that serve 509 Brazil nut concessions on 600,000 hectares of forest, managed by 420 families.
To indigenous groups, it looks like more sovereignty over their traditional lands and more protection for their resources from invaders – including 2 new indigenous areas for the Wachiperi and Q’eros groups, and several more that are proposed.
To tourists, it looks like natural bounty never before seen: Forests full of exotic, rare birds – over 1000 species. Meadows of brightly colored butterflies and frogs. Hundreds of fresh, juicy tropical fruits. Waterfalls, cliffs, and blankets of forests. And, Indigenous-led tourism that showcases their rich cultural traditions. This includes more than 5 new tourism sites, focused on cultural tourism, science tourism, and ecotourism.
To those of us in environmental conservation, it looks like a new model – one that creates a holistic program that is greater than the sum of its parts. A model that creates allies from business, government, and communities, rather than enemies. One that has to potential to be built – albeit through great labor and skill – brick by brick into a new system for the southwest Amazon.
ACA calls it a mosaic-based conservation corridor initiative. On a map, like the one below, it looks like a patchwork of areas that radiate from a core – a trifecta of some of Peru’s most treasured protected areas: Manu National Park, Alto Purús National Park, and a National Reserve for uncontacted indigenous peoples. These corridors connect ecosystems that create spillover benefits for people – the clean air and water, the natural beauty and forest products mentioned above, as well as desperately needed stores of carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change – which also provide critical habitat for many species, including the jaguars, arapaima, Shihuahuaco trees and harpy eagles, and peccaries that have been under threat.
The three corridors are made of conservation areas – managed by government, communities, or civil society – and zones dedicated to sustainable uses, like agroforestry, Brazil nut harvest, fish farming, community forestry, and ecotourism. And each corridor is designed to confront a different set of threats and opportunities. The Manu–Tambopata Corridor limits the negative social and environmental impacts of the new Interoceanic Highway and destructive mining. The Castaña Corridor secures habitat for jaguars and traditional livelihoods for Brazil nut harvesting communities under threat from rapid in-migration, logging, and ranching interests. And the Andean Cloud Forest Corridor runs an elevational gradient from the lowlands to the tips of the glaciers to give people, plants, and animals refugia under the hard-to-predict changes of global warming (or, as I’ve heard it referred to, “global weirding”).
Although I’m really excited about these efforts, I can’t claim that the problem has been solved. We still face bureaucratic hurdles to managing corridors since they have no legal status in Peru and Bolivia. The forces that are degrading environmental and human health continue to multiply, and the partners that make the MAP plan a reality are comparatively resource-poor and politically weak. And, in some cases, there remain tradeoffs that can’t be harmonized among the immediate needs of people and the environment. If we want final solutions, we need to figure out ways to change the systems in which these activities are embedded. And, we’ll need to band together to push for the institutional building blocks that can make efforts like these accessible and sustainable over the long-term.
For more about these initiatives, check out Amazon Conservation Association or an upcoming article in the journal Ecological Restoration.
[i] Madre de Dios, Peru; Acre, Brazil; Pando, Bolivia. This is the southwest Amazon region, which faces similar threats and communities, outlined in Part I of this post. ACA’s MAP plan also includes critical initiatives in Cusco, Peru.