Since he was 16, Segundo Guevara has been cultivating coffee plants in Peru. But it wasn't until a few years ago that this husband and father of five also became an advocate of farming practices that benefit the land.
More than a decade ago when Guevara and his family first moved to the Alto Mayo Protected Forest in the San Martín region of northern Peru, he was unaware that he was living in a protected area. In search of fertile soil, he burned the forests and cleared the land to plant coffee, cassava, banana and other crops.
Despite having designated it as a protected natural area in 1987, the Peruvian government hasn't been able to protect the Alto Mayo Forest's 182,000 hectares (450,000 acres) due to lack of resources for monitoring and enforcement.
Guevara was just one unwitting participant in the ongoing disappearance of this tropical forest. Also threatening the forest were the consequences of a recently constructed road. The population had increased and so did logging and land clearing for settlement, agriculture and cattle ranching.
But as CI and its partner organizations soon realized, the main driver of deforestation was the continuing expansion of sun-grown coffee farms in need of fertile soil. That's when they decided to offer local farmers a deal in the form of conservation agreements.
CI and its partners would offer benefits such as agricultural training and supplies, energy-efficient stoves, medical equipment, educational materials and jobs patrolling the forest. In return, local residents would participate in reforestation, monitoring and enforcement activities; restrict illegal settlement; and promise not to cut down trees.
“It’s always good to take care of the forest, so the animals don’t leave and the water doesn’t go away. If not, we would be harming our children and future generations.”
In a region where almost half of the population is considered poor and makes their living through agriculture, it is no surprise that more than 235 families have signed conservation agreements since they were first offered there in 2009.
Since signing a conservation agreement in 2011, Guevara has received training in sustainable farming methods, including how to grow coffee in the shade, make organic compost, prune coffee trees and treat the fungus that causes coffee leaf rust disease.
"If you use organic compost, the land remains just as if you are sowing in rested soil," he said, adding that his crop production and income have improved since implementing the new farming techniques.
In addition to preventing deforestation, Guevara and his family are contributing toward reforestation efforts at a local community plant nursery created by CI and its partner Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN).
"They give us tasks, such as filling up 100 bags with saplings, helping out with construction, cleaning and mixing compost."
The conservation agreements also grant a certain level of security to those who have no legal right to where they have settled. Guevara was unaware that the 1.5 hectares (four acres) he had purchased in 2004 from a local man for the equivalent of $US 770 did not provide him with an official title to the land.
CI has been working with the Peruvian government to allow current residents — including Guevara and his family — to remain on the land as protectors of the forest.
According to Guevara, his neighbors are no longer burning the land, especially because local community organizations will send out alerts.
"There is a change in the way of life," he said. "It's always good to take care of the forest, so the animals don't leave and the water doesn't go away. If not, we would be harming our children and future generations."
Guevara is a strong believer that the Alto Mayo's mountain forests provide clean air, a stable climate, fresh water, a tourist attraction and a home to countless species.
"Why cut down a tree? A tree is your life."
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