Photo: BOSQUES - Photo: 2016

Reforestation in Oxapampa: Peru’s Challenges and Priorities

By Fernando Torres Morán

LIMA (IDN) – Oxapampa is a province in the Pasco Region, in the high jungle area of Peru, which is home to the Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yanesha Biosphere Reserve that was recognised by UNESCO in 2010.

The reserve houses a number of protected natural areas such as the Yanachaga Chemillen National Park, with an area of 122 thousand hectares (spread over the districts of Huancabamba, Oxapampa, Villa Rica and Pozuzo) and the San Matías-San Carlos Protection Forest, with an area of 145,818 hectares (spread over the districts of Palcazu, Puerto Bermudez and Villa Rica).

Over the decades, the area has suffered forest depredation, and Peru’s non-governmental Pronaturaleza foundation for the conservation of nature has recently condemned the illegal felling of trees in the Yanachaga Chemillen National Park, including the extraction of one hundred thousand planks of wood from trees such as thyme, cedar and fig. 

Due to poverty in the area, members of the indigenous population engage in the extraction process attracted by the offer of small sums of money from unscrupulous loggers in return for permission to fell trees in the zones that they have been allocated.

The history of deforestation in the area, which is rich in biodiversity, dates back to the middle of the last century when timber started to be extracted for export to other countries. The first working timber yards where set up some 60 years ago.

With the passage of time, lumberjacks began encroaching on out-of-bounds sectors, giving rise to unrestricted and unsupervised tree-felling under successive governments. The Oxapampa Mountains, previously full of forest life, turned into areas of less vegetation. 

This was aggravated by growing farming activity in which hectares of land were turned over to the production of fruit or were used for grazing purposes to feed cattle. The result was a rise in the phenomenon of migratory activity in which land, once exhausted, was abandoned and new land was sought for farming, with no attempt to rehabilitate the exhausted land.

According to Ivo Bozovich, General Manager of Maderera Bozovich, one of the oldest lumber businesses in the Oxapampa area, agriculture and livestock are the activities that generate 87 percent of deforestation, “because they lead to the felling and burning of trees”. When this happens, after three years the land is no good, adds Bozovich.

Even if it is true, as some environmentalists note, that a number of timber yards are developing their activities sustainably, felling only mature trees and leaving younger trees in place (a kind of pruning), there are also those who indiscriminately exploit areas, leaving large swathes of previously tree-covered land empty.

Today, the situation appears to be changing for the good. Peru, as a member of the United Nations and committed to its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has implemented a National Forest Conservation Programme for the Mitigation of Climate Change, which includes a satellite monitoring system and specific rules for intervention and prosecution of illegal tree felling under a Ministry of Environment Plan.

The programme includes a planning strategy that envisions 11 axes for prevention, control and prosecution of deforestation and illegal logging. 

Moreover, today there is a National Strategy for Forests and Climate Change, the objective of which is “to reduce deforestation and degradation of our forests and thereby reduce emissions of greenhouse gases” and which has engaged the participation of both the public and the private sector.

One example is the work of Pronaturaleza which is working with 14 communities in different zones, including Oxapampa, and in which sustainable land management is being established.

Similar efforts are necessary to achieve SDG 15 (Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss).

One of the objectives that the government has set is to achieve reforestation of at least two million hectares by the year 2030 and communities themselves can contribute to this objective through small actions.

Such is the case of the Ana Mogas Education Institute in the town of Quillazu, Oxapampa, which has shown that sustainable development and profit can go hand in hand. A decade ago, the institute had 3300 eucalyptus trees on three hectares.  Eight years later, it was able to sell the wood, allowing it to purchase 15 computers for educational purposes.

With the planting of the trees made possible through donations and contributions from the parents of students, this is a clear example of a reforestation and sustainable development project which can also benefit a group of people who became aware of the possibilities that controlled tree-felling and commerce brings.

Nevertheless, more government efforts are needed. In the Yanachaga Chemillen National Park. For example, there are only 20 forest rangers due to a lack of funds, a number which is insufficient for covering the park. In the Oxapampa Forestry and Fauna Technical Administration Office, there are only two officers who are dedicated to administrative work, making it impossible for them to inspect the park. 

The Peruvian government clearly needs to invest more in this area, one of the biggest parks in Peru.  The Yanachaga Chemillen National Park contains archaeological remains from the Inca and Yanesha cultures. It also contains a global record in flora with 2584 species and the fauna that inhabits the park numbers 59 kinds of mammals, 427 types of birds, 16 of reptiles and 31 of fish.

The native communities that have lived there for centuries have the natural means to live a dignified life. All that is necessary is to dedicate more energy and resources, giving them the tools and the knowledge so that they themselves, and not just the big businesses (and definitely not the illegal loggers), are those that see the benefits from controlled exploitation of the area’s resources.

The Peruvian government has taken important steps in the direction of developing a long-term plan for conservation and reforestation of the country’s vast forest lands. Nevertheless, a bigger budget and more attention to resolving the specific problems of each area are necessary. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 July 2016]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Oxapampa- Asháninka -Yanesha biosphere reserve. Credit: UNESCO | SERNANP

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