Despite its protected status, Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest — a swath of Amazonian rainforest twice the size of New York City — saw some of the country’s highest rates of deforestation in the early 2000s thanks to insufficient enforcement, an influx of settlers in the region and unsustainable farming.
In response, Conservation International, working with local communities and Peru’s government, developed a program under the United Nations-backed REDD+ framework (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).
The idea behind REDD+: Pay communities in developing countries to not cut down their forests, through the sale of carbon credits. Companies or individuals can buy and trade credits to neutralize a portion of their carbon emissions, with the revenue going to these communities as an incentive to leave their forests standing. This is often brokered through “conservation agreements” with local communities, who agree to stop clearing forests in the Alto Mayo in exchange for technical and financial support.
Ultimately, offsets aim to flip the economic equation that has made forests more valuable dead than alive. In the Alto Mayo, the results speak for themselves: Since 2008, the program has generated more than 8.4 million metric tons of emissions reductions — the equivalent of taking more than 150,000 cars off the road each year. The benefits go beyond just carbon: The program has helped protect the region’s unique biodiversity (which includes 300 species of orchids and even more species of birds) while providing nearly 500 sustainable jobs.
Meanwhile, the project has helped strengthen management in the protected area and includes an environmental awareness component: Conservation International and the Peruvian National Park Service host workshops for youth from areas in and around the Alto Mayo aimed at providing the skills and information that will enable them to educate their communities on the importance of protecting their natural home.
In 2012, the 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.
In 2015, the results of a second independent verification showed that the project had reduced deforestation. Third-party experts analyzed satellite images and conducted on-the-ground interviews to measure the project’s actual impact compared to baseline data.
In 2016, the project once again achieved verification by third-party auditors, substantiating the initiative's benefits for the local population, biodiversity conservation and mitigating climate change — and making it one of the world's few REDD+ projects to see continued success.
As of 2020, deforestation in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest has declined by 59 percent since the project began.
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, Conservation International and its partners are offering people the opportunity to become conservation allies — seeing them not as enemies of the forest, but as its guardians.