San Martín has deemed itself the Región Verde (Green Region) of Peru, and it is hard to challenge the name. Everywhere you travel in San Martín, you see the dense green vegetation of the alta selva, or high jungle. The landscape is littered with high mountains covered to the top in green, when the peaks are not lost in the clouds.
The views can be quite spectacular
That is not to say there are no threats to this often idyllic land. Small and medium scale agriculture is causing deforestation at alarming rates. Natural mixed forests are being cleared for cacao, coffee, citrus and banana production. Most often these land use changes are being caused by families migrating from the more economically depressed sierra, or mountains, who have no cultural or economic connection to the ecosystems of San Martín.
Mmmmmmm.. unprocessed raw chocolate
This is the challenge being presented to Amazonicos por la Amazonia (Amazonians for the Amazon, AMPA for short) that they are trying to address. AMPA has four programs they work in to stop deforestation and protect the natural landscape of San Martín:
1) Conservation- Helping to maintain the natural state of San Martín. This is often done by helping people create and maintain protected areas
2) Green industries- Helping people to utilize the value of the forests of San Martín without harming them.
3) Cultural and environmental education-Teaching both children and adults the importance of the environment and the value it provides
4) Public policy- Helping to enhance the capacity of local and regional institutions to be involved in conservation issues.
I am currently working in the conservation program in the small city of Juanjui, in the south of San Martín. Three miles outside of the city, AMPA owns the small protected area of Pucunucho. Pucunucho shows the results possible through dedicated reforestation of native species. In the mid-1990s, the 23.5 hectare plot was mostly degraded pasture, but after 15 years of reforestation the area is once again a thriving eco system. Animal species have migrated back to the area to make it their home once again. The most notable of these has become the flag species of AMPA, the callicebus oenanthe, or the tocón monkey. The tocón monkey is an endangered species and endemic to the San Martín region.
There is a family of monkeys in this photo. I just don’t know where.
Despite these successes, the area is small and surrounded by small farms or more degraded land. With the limited resources available in Pucunucho, it is a matter of time before the monkey population will start to decrease again.
To bring long-term prospects to the monkey population, I am working with AMPA to create a bio-corridor – a pathway of native trees through which animals would choose to travel– to connect the forests of Pucunucho to another, larger forest nearby. We are doing this by coordinating with the local farmers with farms along the proposed corridor. Tree nurseries are being built with these farmers to grow saplings of native trees that will become the basis of the bio-corridor. When finished, two different populations of monkeys will be connected allowing for genetic exchange once again.
For many organizations, this finished bio-corridor would be the end goal of the project, but AMPA is different. While the monkeys are important, the people involved are even more so. Involving the people of the area with the conservation efforts is a requirement, not just to ensure the success of the initial project, but to expand the presence of AMPA and the importance of conservation as a concept. By building meaningful relationships and involving them in big projects, AMPA is creating new partners to further the fight against deforestation.
The road back from one of these partners
San Martín has a large amount of its land area already locked up in protected areas, both public and private. The end goal of the Pucunucho bio-corridor is to add yet another protected area to the list, with the people currently helping to build the corridor. The hope is that once the work on the bio-corridor is finished the, the people involved will organize themselves, and their land holdings, in to another concession. AMPA would then be more than happy to continue training them on the proper maintenance and administration of their land concession.