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Conservation International Response to Alto Mayo Article Posted by Sapiens.org

December 15, 2021

Arlington, VA (December 15, 2021) – Conservation International today released the following statement from Luis G. Espinel, vice president of Conservation International-Peru, in response to a story posted on Sapiens.org about a forest carbon project in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest in Peru:

“An article about conservation agreements in the Alto Mayo Protected Area in Peru highlighted some of the on-the-ground complexities associated with projects aimed at protecting forests and promoting livelihoods. The article, based on interviews gathered in 2019 when the author was a student, provide an important glimpse into the unique and sometimes messy political and historical contexts that conservation projects are faced with in many parts of the world.

“Unfortunately, the article is rife with shortcomings. It is based on anecdotes that are now more than two years old; it repeatedly employs sweeping and imprecise language that would not pass editorial muster at most news outlets (‘seems,’ ‘many say’); and it neglects to include well-documented facts and context. Ultimately, it paints a woefully incomplete picture of the project — and in some cases unwittingly helps make the case for why the project is needed.

“Some necessary context: 

  • Despite the Alto Mayo’s protected status, the forest saw some of the highest deforestation rates in Peru, due largely to agricultural encroachment, unsustainable coffee farms and illegal logging. This would come as no surprise given, as the article notes, that the population in the region skyrocketed in a short time.
  • As of June 2020 — almost a year after the author says she departed from the region — the project had helped cut deforestation in the protected area by more than half, avoiding 8.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road each year.
  • At last count, more than 1,100 families have signed on to conservation agreements. Residents are not compelled to sign conservation agreements, nor are they deprived of any information about the projects, as the story implies. These projects are necessarily built upon the full and informed participation of local communities —if they were not, they would never have the desired long-term impacts.
  • Through the conservation agreements, farmers in the region have boosted agricultural yields on land that was already cleared of trees, increasing their productivity without increasing their environmental footprint. The article’s credulity that farmers in the region were already universally farming sustainably is surprising, as it is not borne out by the facts.
  • The project’s benefits extend well beyond carbon: In the past decade, the project has channeled US$ 38 million into the region, helping communities weather the storm of COVID-19, which battered Peru’s economy. The project has reduced pressures on the region’s wildlife, among them 300 species of orchids and even more species of birds.
  • Impressed by these impacts, the government of Peru has adopted the conservation agreements model across the country’s entire protected areas system.

“A raft of assumptions in the article are faulty as well:

  • The suggestion that the situation in the Alto Mayo is ‘black and white’ is facile. Conservation International has been working in the Peruvian Amazon for decades, and its local staff have a much deeper understanding of local contexts than can be gleaned over a single summer.
  • The suggestion that conservation NGOs fail to hold corporate polluters to account, instead ‘targeting’ rural farmers is wholly inaccurate. A major feature — indeed, much of the point — of this carbon project is restorative justice: a wholesale transfer of wealth aimed at rewarding those who protect nature for everyone’s benefit.
  • Lastly, the notion that high-quality carbon offsets amount to a license for industries to continue to pollute has been repeatedly debunked elsewhere.

“That said, the piece does well to illustrate that there is much critical work to be done to continuously improve forest-carbon projects. Conservation International remains committed to ensuring that investments in the protection of nature are effective, equitable and durable.

“Globally, deforestation surged last year. In the Alto Mayo Protected Forest, it did not.”

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About Conservation International Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature. Conservation International works in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation NewsFacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.