What if you didn't have to choose between green and growth? In Peru's Alto Mayo Protected Forest, local communities are finding that the two concepts go hand in hand.
A vital part of the planet's life-support system, tropical forests like the Alto Mayo act as the Earth's lungs, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Forests provide other critical ecosystem services such as filtering water, preventing soil erosion and regulating climate.
The Alto Mayo Protected Forest is located in the San Martín region of northern Peru and spans 182,000 hectares (450,000 acres) — an area twice the size of New York City.
Despite its protected status, the forest had some of the country's highest deforestation rates. Contributing factors included lack of enforcement of the protected area, a national highway built through the forest, an influx of people settling in the region and unsustainable farming practices. As a result of depleted soil, farmers cut down more trees in order to maintain production levels.
To help halt this cycle, CI began working with partners — including local communities, corporations and Peru's government — to protect the Alto Mayo forest.
In developing a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation 'plus' conservation, the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) project in the Alto Mayo, CI and its partners are placing an economic value on the forest's services. REDD+ projects are innovative because they seek to mitigate climate change through protecting forests and providing local communities with financial, social and environmental benefits.
In 2009, the project received a significant boost when Disney provided US$ 3.5 million for CI's forest protection and conservation efforts in the Alto Mayo region. With Disney's support, CI is addressing the main causes of deforestation with incentive-based conservation agreements. To date, 235 families have pledged not to cut down the Alto Mayo's trees in return for agricultural training, as well as for other benefits like educational materials and medical supplies. Farmers who signed conservation agreements are benefitting from increased productivity and higher incomes.
The project also helps strengthen management in the protected area and includes an environmental awareness component. CI and the Peruvian National Park Service host a series of workshops for youth from the Alto Mayo's buffer zone aimed at providing the skills and information that will empower them to educate their communities on the importance of protecting their natural home.
In November 2012, the Alto Mayo REDD+ project was successfully validated under the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards through an independent audit of the project's design and methodology. It has generated almost three million tons of emissions reductions between 2009 and 2012 — the equivalent of taking over 500,000 cars off the road for a year.
The project demonstrates how multi-sector partnerships among government officials, the private sector, civil society and local communities can have an enormous impact. By providing benefits to local communities in the Alto Mayo region, CI and its partners are offering people the opportunity to become conservation allies — seeing them not as enemies of the forest, but as its guardians.
Success in the Alto Mayo is a hopeful sign that Peru no longer has to decide between protecting its forests and enjoying economic growth. The green path of REDD+ projects — safeguarding both forests and the communities that rely upon them — is proving to be the optimal road to both.
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