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Five instances in which Peru won the battle against deforestation

Peru Ucayali Rodung Palmöl Primärwald Melka Luftbild

  • The main activities that have threatened forests in these areas include illegal gold mining and the advancement of industrial agriculture.
  • Satellite images show deforestation for large oil palm and cacao plantations in central and northern Peru is no longer expanding.
  • Illegal mining-driven deforestation within Amarakaeri Communal Reserve and Tambopata National Reserve has ceased.

In Peru, five major instances in which deforestation has successfully been prevented from expanding were detected by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). MAAP followed the development of these five deforestation “hotspots” in the Peruvian Amazon using satellite images that recorded, in near-real time, how the loss of forest cover by illegal gold mining and agro-industrial farms.

The first two cases are related to agroindustrial business in the Amazon owned by Czech-American entrepreneur Dennis Melka that have established oil palm plantations in the Ucayali region and a cacao plantaiton in the Loreto region. MAAP also highlighed Peru’s Romero Group corporation and its palm oil operations, also in the Amazonian region of Loreto.

The two remaining cases were detected within two natural protected areas affected by the encroachment of illegal gold mining. This occurred in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve and Tambopata National Reserve, both in Peru’s Madre de Dios region.


  1. Cacao in Loreto

Since it began clearing Loreto’s rainforest at the end of 2012, Melka-owned company United Cacao, through its Peruvian subsidiary Cacao del Perú Norte, has attracted criticism. Some accusations have linked the company to land trafficking, and others have accused it of threatening farmers who refused to sell their lands. But what resonated the most in Loreto was that the company had deforested large tracts of forest, as reported by Mongabay Latam and other media sources.

Previous analysis by MAAP showed that more than 2,300 hectares of forest was cleared by the plantation company between 2012 and 2016.

Because of pressure from civil and international society over its cacao and oil palm plantations, United Cacao was delisted from the London Alternative Market and its operations have halted in the Peruvian Amazon.

“We have not detected new records of deforestation in over a year,” said Sidney Novoa, a MAAP investigator.


Most of the deforestation for Cacao del Perú Norte’s cacao plantation occurred in 2013. Images courtesy of MAAP


  1. Palm oil in Ucayali

Dennis Melka’s business interests include palm oil as well as cacao. The company Plantaciones de Pucallpa, which has ties to Melka, established oil palm plantations in the Amazonian region of Ucayali. Using satellite imagery, MAAP calculated the company cleared more than 5,700 hectares of tropical forest between 2011 and 2016.

The native community of Santa Clara de Uchunya, which neighbors the plantation, denounced the deforestation as an environmental crime to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – the world’s largest palm oil sustainability certification body – in December 2015. The RSPO investigated, finding the company had violated the ethics code of the organization by deforesting primary forests and encroaching into indigenous territory. In response, Plantaciones de Pucallpa ceased operations in the region in November 2016.

The report from MAAP indicates that the majority of the area administered by Plantaciones de Pucallpa consisted of a mixture of primary and secondary forests in 2011, the year before deforestation began. In 2013, satellite images showed a severe loss of forest cover, reaching a peak in 2015. But since authorities intervened in 2016, not a single deforestation event has been detected, according to MAAP.

Satellite images show the progression of deforestation for Plantaciones de Pucallpa oil palm plantations. Images courtesy of MAAP


  1. Palm oil in Loreto

Deforestation for palm oil in Peru has also been linked to a Peruvian company: the Romero Group. In a conversation with Julia Urrunaga, Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in Peru, the most significant finding of MAAP’s analysis is that four oil palm cultivation projects appear to have been stopped before they even began. “If they had been carried out, [the projects] would have deforested more than 23,000 hectares in Loreto,” Urrunaga told Mongabay Latam.

According to a report by Chain Reaction Research, an organization that conducts sustainability analyses of commercial activities, the Romero Group is now searching for activities that do not rely on deforestation because of the international pressure they face.

“These four planned plantations weren’t viable, and [Romero Group] desisted from them,” MAAP analysts write in their report.

The Santa Catalina and Tierra Blanca concessions, two of the four allocations of land for the Romero Group (Grupo Palmas), contain large tracts of primary forest. Image courtesy of MAAP


  1. Illegal gold mining in Amarakaeri Communal Reserve 

Since 2013, MAAP’s images have recorded illegal gold mining encroaching into the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, a natural protected area in the Madre de Dios region. In June 2015, reports confirmed the deforestation of 11 hectares within this protected area.

Due to the intervention of the National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) and the Contract Executor for the Administration of Amarakaeri, the advancement of the illegal miners was stopped.

“From 2011 and 2012, the miners were getting closer to Amarakaeri. Between 2013 and 2015 is when they entered and started deforesting. But between 2016 and 2017, I haven’t seen new cases of deforestation nor the expansion of illegal mining,” Novoa told Mongabay Latam.

Satellite images show mining-caused deforestation nearing and then entering Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. Images courtesy of MAAP


  1. Illegal gold mining in Tambopata National Reserve 

According to satellite images analyzed by MAAP, miners illegally entered Tambopata National Reserve in the Madre de Dios region in September 2015. The greatest level of activity occurred between 2016 and 2017, when MAAP calculated that 550 hectares of forest were cleared within the protected area.

Due to pressure from the media and civil society and indigenous organizations, a series of operations called “interdictions” were launched in late 2016 by SERNANP, Peru’s Public Ministry, and the Peruvian Navy that were able to halt the expansion of illegal mining activity in Tambopata National Reserve.

More than 500 hectares were deforested in Tambopata National Reserve due to illegal gold mining activities. Images courtesy of MAAP

Even though these cases each show a reduction in forest loss, the threat of deforestation has not disappeared. According to Julia Urrunaga of the EIA, more work needs to be done.

“We have to keep coordinating, keep paying attention, maintain our pressure, and work with the government so that this risk disappears permanently. We’re still far from that. But I think the evidence shows that we’re going down the right path,” Urrunaga said.


This story was first reported by Mongabay Latam on August 2, 2017. It was translated to English by Sarah Engel.

Banner photo of deforestation for an oil palm plantation in Ucayali, Peru. Image courtesy of the Forest Peoples Programme.

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