Planting native trees to revitalize Peru's Amazon economy
About the project:
Peru's Amazon has suffered from widespread deforestation since the 1960s due to unsustainable logging, clearing for cattle ranching, and fires. In the Ucayali region, the land has become so degraded that it was largely abandoned in the 1990s. In 2008, Peruvian company Bosques Amazonicos SAC (BAM) bought Campo Verde, an 18,000 hectare parcel of land overrun by exotic grasses, a far cry from the lush tropical forest that thrived only a few decades earlier.
BAM wanted to invest in the future of the land and of the local communities living on its borders. On average, those farmers make less than $2 per day from the cattle and cash crops that they raise. The company saw a prosperous future where reforesting the land exclusively with high-value native tree species, including the locally extinct mahogany tree, could help those farmers and turn a profit. By sustainably harvesting the trees a few at a time, the company hoped that it could create prosperity for the long term while storing carbon and providing habitat for unique plants and animals.
The company trained local farmers to sustainably manage forests, log the right trees at the right time to minimize harm to the ecosystem while maximizing value, avoid deforestation, and manage tree nurseries. BAM worked with Initiative 20x20 partner AIDER, a Peruvian NGO with deep local knowledge, to develop the field activities and measure progress.
After a decade of hard work, BAM has restored 930 ha of degraded pasture, improved a further 268 ha of secondary forests, and revitalized 124 hectares through protection and assisted natural regeneration (where people help already growing plants mature faster). The project has employed over 400 people from the surrounding communities and provided internship and learning opportunities for more than 3,000 students.
By planting leguminous trees that increase the nutrients in the soil, the process of restoration accelerated, transforming the barren landscape in only a few years. Overall, 2,040 ha of land has benefited from BAM's investment. The result? Water flows from the plantation into the surrounding rivers, soil quality has improved, and more wildlife move in and around Campo Verde than ever before.
The climate impact of BAM's work is also clear. The company was also able to generate nearly 170,000 carbon credits to sell on the international market (before phasing the process out because of rising costs) and achieved gold level certification from Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA). The project also won first place at the national “Good Practices on the Restoration of Degraded Areas” contest organized by the Peruvian Forest Service (SERFOR) and the FAO in 2016.
In the coming years, other companies and producers in the Ucayali region are planning to replicate the model, building off of BAM's success. Restoring land with native trees could soon be big business for rural Peru.
Read more about this innovative project in an article written by Jorge Chávez Rodríguez and César Sabogal in Forests here.