In south central Chile, strong relationships between conservationists and indigenous communities are planting the seeds of collaboration for generations to come.
Near the village of Lonquimay, landowners and Pehuenche community members – a subgroup of Mapuche indigenous people – are experiencing the early benefits of planting trees. They’re doing so alongside Sociedad Koyam Limitada
(Koyam), an organization jointly run by a non-profit indigenous group and a natural resources management company, which creates sustainable development opportunities for the Mapuche indigenous people.
With financial assistance from groups including Conservation International’s (CI) Verde Ventures fund, the tree-planting project engaged more than 200 community members this year to create some 440 acres of new native forests.
Today, Pehuenche communities near Lonquimay are equipped with fencing and tools to manage their lands. Over time, the seedlings they plant will grow into native forests that will better protect Chile's biodiversity, benefit the global climate, and bring much-needed food, medicine, and money to the Pehuenche people.
"They are starting to see opportunities where they never saw them before," says Juan Pablo Cerda, a member of Koyam’s board of directors.
Partners in Planting
Koyam received a financial boost in August 2006 when it became one of four enterprises to receive a grant from Equator Ventures, a partnership between Verde Ventures and the United Nations Development Programme’s Equator Initiative. The grant was followed by a larger $150,000 loan from Verde Ventures in to help communities reforest their land.
With this funding, Koyam provides seedlings, fertilizer, fencing materials, and tools to Pehuenche communities. The loan also helps fund training for local landowners in planting techniques, and provides them with wages for doing so to help sustain their families.
"We see an opportunity to help the community and biodiversity, for today and for the long term," says Adriana Madrigal, senior investment officer for CI’s Verde Ventures. "That is exactly the type of project Verde Ventures is designed to support."
The Koyam project is the first tree-planting project for Verde Ventures, a fund that has invested more than $10 million to strengthen small businesses that conserve biodiversity and improve human welfare.
There is Economic Value in Native Species
Intended to bolster forests increasingly threatened by timber sales, a law enacted in 1974 gives Chile’s small landowners economic incentives for planting trees on eligible areas of their lands.
But the law with clear benefits also brought with it unintended consequences. Farmers planted fast-growing, non-native species like eucalyptus and pine plantations to make quick money from selling the wood. Planting non-native trees used more water and exhausted the soil. Today, the first land converted under the subsidy law is degrading.
Still, providing landowners with incentives to plant native species instead is a formidable challenge.
"They know if they plant fast growing eucalyptus and pine, they will have forest companies knocking at their doors in 10 to 12 years and they will get a lot of money," Cerda says.
Verde Ventures funding helps land owners plant native Araucaria araucana species instead of non-native trees. The native Araucaria is Chile’s national tree and is listed as Vulnerable on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Because landowners plant trees at their own expense and are paid by the government later, the loan from Verde Ventures is helping this community cover the up-front costs of setting up the planting projects.
To provide the community with short-term incentives for planting the slow-growing tree, Koyam helps those near Lonquimay plant trees in strips, alternating forests with fencing for existing pastureland for cattle and other animals.
In the mid-term, mature trees will produce Araucaria fruits, called piñones, a primary food source for the Pehuenche people that is used to make flour and bread. Traditional herbs and medicines also come from the Araucaria forests, which are used in cultural and religious Pehuenche ceremonies. Communities will also be able to sell the seeds to other regions to make a profit.
In the longer term, the sustainable reforestation project will restore Chile’s Araucaria forests, which have been destroyed in recent decades. At the same time it will create more trees that store the world’s carbon and help curb climate change.
"We believe that business and conservation really complement each other," Cerda says.