Protecting Peru: The Nature Conservancy in Peru
Peru is the heart of the former Inca Empire, and the country is filled with ruins of ancient temples and cities surrounded by the stunning peaks of the Andes. In short, the country has plenty to offer every type of traveler.
Besides the world-renowned Machu Picchu, history lovers and culture buffs will enjoy exploring colonial Arequipa and Cusco (the ancient Inca capital). The buzzing Lima foodie scene will please even the most demanding gourmands. For nature lovers, the Andes offer world-class hiking opportunities, from the wild and stunning Cordillera Blanca to the well-trodden (but no less amazing) Inca Trail.
If we add the numerous noteworthy deserts, beaches, rainforests and dry forests, you’ll begin to get the picture. Peru is one of the most naturally and biologically diverse countries in South America, with a staggering wealth of ecosystems and animal species to see.
Progress in preserving this biodiversity has been made with the establishment of 94 Peruvian national parks. But nature remains vulnerable, and the need for economic development often comes before wildlife conservation and the protection of indigenous people, whose life is intrinsically tied to their land. Between 2002 and 2012, the Peruvian economy almost doubled in size, making the country one of the fastest growing and most stable economies in Latin America. This economic boom is putting pressure on the historic balance between livelihoods and nature.
The Nature Conservancy has been operating in Peru for over 33 years now. They work closely with the government, indigenous people, local communities, private companies and civil society organizations with the aim of preserving the natural environment and promoting sustainable production initiatives. Here we examine four of The Conservancy’s Peru initiatives, spanning the country from north to south…
The Peruvian Amazon
Speaking of indigenous communities working to preserve their ancestral lands, the people of the Peruvian Amazon seem to be fighting an endless battle. The Amazon rainforest covers over 60% of Peru’s total land, 20% of which is inhabited by indigenous tribes.
The Amazon is the most biologically rich territory in South America, with thousands of species of plants and animals found in a single acre of forest. But the rainforest has been exploited for decades by loggers and petrol companies, who pollute the waterways and threaten the survival of wildlife and the well-being of local communities.
Bearing in mind the bond between the people of the Peruvian Amazon and their land, The Nature Conservancy is working to empower locals and further conservation projects. Their actions are focused on providing young leaders with the necessary skills to manage their land, developing community-based management of natural resources, and offering assistance and consultancy.
Halting deforestation and building sustainable livelihoods in the Peruvian Amazon: The Amazon rainforest covers two-thirds of the Peruvian territory. The Conservancy works in the Northern Central Selva region, a unique mosaic of indigenous lands and protected areas in northeastern Peru. Agricultural expansion, illegal logging, mining and oil exploration have intensified sharply.
Mega-projects such as dams and roads — many of these in planning stages — are major drivers of deforestation. Indigenous lands encompass some of the highest priority ecosystems. Indigenous peoples’ cultural values and their deep understanding of the ecology of the area has kept their lands highly intact compared to their surrounding landscapes, acting as sanctuaries and refuges for threatened species. The Conservancy’s work contributes to the development of native communities, safeguarding cultural and ecologically important areas by transferring tools and skills needed to face environmental problems and solve them according to their needs and values. The Conservancy develops “life plans,” a process that involves working with communities to incorporate information on land-use patterns, hunting/fishing grounds and areas of cultural importance. These layers of information are digitized and returned to the communities where they are used as strategic tools for developing sustainable resource management plans. Equipped with satellite maps to explain their own development plans for the area, indigenous peoples are better prepared to negotiate with local and national governmental agencies, mining, timber and oil companies.
The Conservancy is developing life plans with 46 indigenous communities, spanning 840,000 acres in the Peruvian Amazon .We are also supporting four communities in growing sustainable enterprises related to cocoa, aguaje (local fruit) and paiche (the largest fish in the Amazon) and gaining market access for these products.
The Humboldt Current
Improving the Management of the World’s Largest Fishery: Marine life is extremely susceptible to climate change. Disrupted ocean currents and a rise of sea temperatures can have disastrous consequences on the entire marine ecosystem. The Humboldt Current is one prime example, as it faces the joint threats of global warming, overfishing and increased coastal development.
The coast is one of Peru’s most biodiverse regions. Despite occupying just 12% of Peru’s territory, the coast is home to over 50% of the country’s biological life. Humboldt penguins are one of the most iconic species here. They live in underground burrows and feed on sardines and small fish that are swept north by the Humboldt Current.
Peru is the world’s leading exporter of fishmeal but despite the progress made to improve its management, this important fishery is under threat from overfishing. Until 2008, the anchoveta fishery operated on the open access principle—fishers competed to catch as many fish as possible, generating fishing fleet and processing overcapacity that threatened the long-term future of the industry and the health of fish stocks. However, in 2008, the Government of Peru took a major step forward when it introduced individual quotas for fishing vessels, limiting the total size of the catch. Along with other reforms, this change succeeded in reducing the number of vessels fishing at any one time, lengthened the fishing season, and improved the quality of the catch. But the work is not yet complete. The 2008 reforms applied only to major commercial fishers — the industrial fishing sector. The next step is to bring unregulated small-scale fishers — the artisanal sector—under the umbrella of the Total Allowable Catch. Artisanal fishers can potentially catch up to 1 million tons of fish each year and, if this sector remains unmanaged, it represents a threat to the entire anchoveta fishery.
The Conservancy’s strategy is to work with key stakeholders, including government, the fishing industry, fishing communities, and academic institutions to help better inform policy and management decisions, developing effective simpler decision-tools and improved cooperation among all relevant stakeholders to achieve economic and conservation objectives. Over the next two years, we will be focusing on the following areas:
Improving the Science Behind Fishery Management: Traditionally, the government has relied mostly on data provided by IMARPE, Peru’s Oceans Institute, which is gathered from acoustic assessment surveys carried out by their research vessels before each of the two annual fishing seasons. We are working directly with Peru’s fishing association, the Sociedad Nacional de Pesqueria (SNP) and promoting the use of oceanographic and biological data routinely gathered by high-tech industrial vessels. Such information has been used before on an ad hoc basis but the goal now is to incorporate it permanently into management decisions, to improve the understanding of the condition of the stocks, avoid sensitive habitats, and reduce by-catch.
Developing a Modeling/Decision Tool for Policymakers: The Conservancy recognized the urgent need for tools that could help government officials and stakeholders to assess the consequences of potential policy reforms. What might be the impacts of different sizes of individual quotas, different lengths of fishing season? And the questions are not just about the sustainability of the fish harvest but about the economic and social impacts on thousands of families who depend on the anchoveta catch for their livelihoods. So, together with the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), we are developing a Quota Allocation Model and Tool that incorporates biological and socio-economic parameters relevant to the fishing industry. Specifically, the modeling tool will help the government to evaluate the economic consequences of incorporating the artisanal anchoveta fleet into the Total Allowable Catch under different quota allocation scenarios.
Lima is Peru’s capital, a city located in a desert and that nine million people call home. Its drinking water is obtained from three rivers that flow from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean.
Decades of uncontrolled urban development (plus unregulated mining and agriculture) have brought serious pollution to the foothills of the Andes, where the rivers flow. As a result, a percentage of the local population does not have access to clean water, both in the city as well as the surrounding valley. In addition, Lima needs to reduce its overall water usage, which is far higher than other South American cities of similar size.
The Nature Conservancy has undertaken an ambitious initiative to use nature to secure clean water for Latin America’s most at-risk cities benefiting up to 100 million Latin Americans by 2025. By combining state-of-the-art science, economic principles and collaboration with local communities, governments and industries, the Conservancy designed water funds, a model program where large water users in cities like Lima now invest in watershed protection projects: from reforestation, to programs that help local communities improve their practices and diversify their income. This leads to improved water quality, quantity and availability during the dry season. The projects also benefit nature by restoring forests and grasslands important for capturing water and sheltering wildlife.
The Conservancy launched Peru’s first water fund, AQUAFONDO, in 2011, to help safeguard Lima’s water sources. We are advancing efforts to launch water funds in Cusco, Piura and San Martin. By 2025, the Conservancy hopes is to benefit more than 10 million people and restore more than 6,200 acres in critical areas.
Travel to Peru with International Expeditions
International Expeditions runs a broad variety of Peru tours covering the country and including elements of Peruvian nature, wildlife, history and indigenous culture.
Explorers and nature lovers will adore the Amazon River Cruise, which goes deep into the rainforest and covers 600 miles of the river and its tributaries, maximizing your chances to view iconic Amazonian wildlife such as sloths, river dolphins, monkeys and birds.
For travelers looking to explore Peru’s less-visited regions, IE’s Northern Peru journey highlights pre-Incan cultures and nature (including world-class birdwatching), while the Peru Southern Highlands tour highlights the Lake Titicaca and Arequipa area. Naturally, there are also tours focusing on Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Margherita Ragg is one of the creators of The Crowded Planet, a travel blog whose motto is “Finding nature and adventure everywhere.” She has an MFA in Creative Writing and a background of literary non-fiction writing, and her freelance work has included writing for Green Global Travel and editing for National Geographic.