- Many national and foreign initiatives exist to curb deforestation in Peru; these range from the implementation of sustainable management plans to the purchase of carbon credits. Still, domestic environmental policy remains a key factor in preserving biodiversity.
- The election of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in June 2016 held the potential for an improved approach towards environmental conservation.
- While it is still too early to determine Kuczynski’s environmental legacy, a recent series of events suggest that Peru is trying to find a balance between its need for development and the protection of its biodiversity.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Peru’s megadiversity has placed the country under an international spotlight, as its many ecosystems have become a global conservation priority. However, Peru has suffered from high deforestation rates in recent years, largely due to the expansion of small-scale agriculture.
According to an official MAAP report, Peru lost approximately 4.5 million acres of Amazonian forest between 2001 and 2015. The size of this area is larger than the state of Connecticut.
Many national and foreign initiatives exist to curb deforestation in Peru; these range from the implementation of sustainable management plans to the purchase of carbon credits. Still, domestic environmental policy remains a key factor in preserving biodiversity. The election of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in June 2016 held the potential for an improved approach towards environmental conservation.
While it is still too early to determine Kuczynski’s environmental legacy, a recent series of events suggest that Peru is trying to find a balance between its need for development and the protection of its biodiversity. The following initiatives demonstrate the advances and challenges that the current administration faces in relation to this process.
Programa Bosques and Geo Bosques: Efforts to control deforestation and encourage sustainable land use
First proposed at the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP14), the National Forest Conservation Program, known as Programa Bosques, has proven to be a successful conservation initiative under the Peruvian Ministry of Environment. The program aims to preserve 54 million hectares (more than 133 million acres) of tropical forest in an effort to mitigate climate change and promote sustainable development. This includes supporting sustainable forest use to increase income in local communities, mapping both forested and deforested areas, and building local and regional capacity for improved conservation. In an approach similar to the REDD+ initiative, this program makes payments to Amazonian indigenous communities to encourage forest protection.
In August, the Kuczynski administration announced the expansion of Programa Bosques, which would grant an additional $3.7 million to its budget. This increase in funding will allow the program to work with over 100 additional communities over the remainder of the year and will protect another three million acres of forest. The program has preserved a total of 1.7 million acres to date, which is helping meet the goals of the initiative and the government’s commitment to achieving zero-net deforestation by 2021.
Coupled with this initiative, the current government has also promoted the use of Geo Bosques (Geo Forests), a free satellite monitoring tool created under the administration of former President Ollanta Humala. Its purpose is to improve public management of lands by allowing anyone to track forest cover and loss in the Peruvian Amazon through online reports. Users have the ability to monitor individual regions, provinces, or districts. Those interested can also sign up for cellphone alerts, which warn users of encroaching deforestation; new data is available every week, providing timely information. This initiative aims to empower the public through its distribution of information, as local stakeholders and communities have proven to be effective tools against the spread of deforestation.
In defense of biodiversity: Illegal mining crackdowns
Home to the Tambopata National Reserve, the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru is known for being one of the most biodiverse parts of the country. However, its gold deposits and lack of law enforcement presence make it a primary target for illegal mining. Whereas corporate mining companies tend to focus on concentrated areas with gold deposits, illegal miners often sift through vast amounts of territory in a short matter of time. This, along with illegal miners’ use of mercury to extract gold, makes them a serious environmental threat.
Although efforts to stop illegal mining within Tambopata Reserve began under Humala, the Kuczynski administration has continued to support this work. A June MAAP report found that deforestation due to illegal mining peaked in March and August of 2016 and then significantly decreased that September after a series of government-led raids. As a result, Peru’s National Protected Area Service (SERNANP) has concluded that 90 percent of the reserve is now free of illegal mining, an important victory for conservation efforts in Peru.
However, the fight is not over. Between September 2016 and May 2017, illegal mining in the reserve buffer zone resulted in the deforestation of 1,135 acres of land. Since 2012, the buffer zone has lost a total of 10,970 acres, according to MAAP report #60. This is approximately the size of 11,000 soccer fields. However, the Kuczynski administration has continued to monitor this area, seizing 104 illegal mining operations in July followed by another interdiction this October.
Protected Area Creation under the Kuczynski Administration
The recent declaration of Tres Cañones Regional Conservation Area in Cusco signifies another step forward for conservation efforts in Peru. As the first protected area created under the Kuczynski administration, Tres Cañones is a clear example of how environmental conservation and economic development are not mutually exclusive. Established in August, the area spans 97,570 acres and is comprised of a series of canyons formed alongside the Gran Apurímac river. Tres Cañones’ natural beauty makes it an ideal tourist destination for adventure seekers, families, and photographers alike.
As a result, Tres Cañones is expected to attract even more tourists to Cusco, a region that hosted over three million visitors this past year. This aligns with Kuczynski’s goal to increase annual tourism in Peru to seven million visitors by 2021.
Tourism has become a vital part of Peru’s economy in recent years, comprising 9.7 percent of the country’s GDP in 2014. In comparison, mining and hydrocarbons — highly valued industries in Peru — accounted for 14 percent of the GDP in 2016. The economic power of Peru’s protected area system has the potential to expand even more, as several areas are awaiting government approval, such as Pacifico Tropical in Piura and Vista Alegre Omia in Amazonas. The Yaguas reserve zone, a protected area under a transitory status, is also in the final steps of becoming a national park, as the consultation process with local communities has been finalized. If approved, Yaguas will help protect approximately 2.7 million acres of Amazonian forest.
Looking Ahead: The Fate of Conservation in Peru under the Kuczynski Administration
While environmental policy under the Kuczynski administration has produced a number of positive results, a central question remains: Are these efforts enough? As the deforestation rate in Peru this year is likely to be as high as previous years, many would argue that the answer to this question is no.
The proposed road between Iquitos and Saramiriza is one of the many conservation issues that requires further government analysis. One of Kuczynski’s 2016 campaign promises was to connect Iquitos to markets by road to increase economic activity. Opponents fear that the proposed road would have serious environmental impacts, as it would be constructed through part of Peru’s rainforest. However, many local people support its construction. This dichotomy demonstrates one of the central sustainability challenges in Peru.
Despite the obstacles ahead, the Kuczynski administration has an opportunity to reinforce its environmental policy through the creation of protected areas, practice of sustainable development, and added support for enforcement and monitoring programs. If this is achieved, Peru could very well emerge as an environmental leader in the Western Hemisphere and face the COP23 in November with laudable achievements.
- Finer, Matt. “MAAP Synthesis #2: Patterns and Drivers of Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon.” MAAP. February 14, 2017. http://maaproject.org/2017/maap-synthesis2/
- Finer, Matt. “MAAP #60: Gold Mining Increases in Buffer Zone of Tambopata National Reserve.” MAAP. May 24, 217. http://maaproject.org/2017/buffer_tambopata_2017/
Haley Wiebel is a communications specialist and Enrique Ortiz is the program director at the Andes Amazon Fund.