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The Rainforest’s Comeback: an innovating initiative recovers soils degraded by mining in Madre de Dios, Peru

In just one year, more than 155,000 trees will be planted in the districts most impacted by illegal mining in Peru. Local municipalities and ministries have joined the initiative, investing almost USD 800,000

  • In just one year, more than 155,000 trees will be planted in the districts most impacted by illegal mining in Peru.
  •  Local municipalities and ministries have joined the initiative, investing almost USD 800,000

In recent years, illegal mining has become the biggest threat to the Peruvian Amazon; resulting in deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and eliminating rivers' courses. To top it off, illegal mining promotes criminal economy.

Despite the complexity of the problem, today, finally, there is science, methodology and commitment to begin to reverse some of its major impacts. Hence, Wake Forest University (WFU), the Amazon Scientific Innovation Center (CINCIA), USAID, and WWF have joined forces with the objective of restoring landscapes degraded by illegal and informal mining in Madre de Dios, the region most impacted by this problem in the country. The work began in 2015, initially aiming to recover about 42 hectares, located in the districts most affected by artisanal mining in Madre de Dios. Currently, only in that region, there are approximately 342 thousand deforested hectares, and this figure increases at a rate of at least 10 thousand hectares per year. At the national level, this situation is not better, as around 123 thousand hectares of Amazon forests are deforested every year.

"Together with our partners, we are developing innovative solutions to recover areas degraded - mainly - by gold mining. This project that initially aimed to recover 42 hectares in pilot plots, in 2018 will reach 140 hectares, reforested with more than 155,000 trees, in the district of Inambari and the province of Manu, two of the areas most affected by mining. Thanks to this initiative, we see how soils that had completely lost their fertility come back to life for the first time", says Edith Condori, project coordinator for WWF Peru.  "The most valuable aspect is the combination of science and political and social commitment. From a pilot experience, it has been possible to determine which species, techniques and modalities work best and, today, the municipalities of Manu and Inambari will be pioneers in the recovery of their forests. Now, the priority is to continue replicating this in other locations in the Amazon with the support of local and regional governments, "concludes Condori.”

From local to national: scaling up benefits

Within the framework of this initiative, a map has been prepared prioritizing the degraded areas for the restoration of landscapes in Madre de Dios, a key tool for the management and conservation of resources. This document will be presented shortly in the city of Puerto Maldonado by the National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR), the Regional Government of Madre de Dios (GOREMAD) and with the technical-scientific support of ACCA, CINCIA and WWF.

This decision-making tool is the result of arduous work that integrates: geo-spatial information on deforestation, terrestrial and hydrographic accessibility, population density, state of vegetation, among others, and through SERFOR aims to become a model for the development of similar tools in other regions of the Peruvian Amazon.
Joint effort: an investment in forests and people

The Ministry of the Environment (MINAM in Spanish), aware of the progress of this initiative, has committed to allocate more than USD 300,000 for the Provincial Municipality of Manu to assume the task of reforesting and recovering 60 hectares, where it is expected to plant 66,000 trees throughout 2018 with the participation of10 indigenous communities. Furthermore, efforts will include monitoring the progress of deforestation at the local level, the development of high-tech forest nurseries in the localities of Salvación and Boca Colorado, and technical assistance. On the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MINAGRI in Spanish), through SERFOR, has also committed to finance the recovery work conducted by the Municipality of Inambari.

Innovation and technology:  high-tech nurseries and drone monitoring

To conduct this project, WWF and its partners have implemented innovative and state-of-the-art solutions that accelerate the achievement of results and, in turn, generate greater efficiency in the processes and in the use of resources. In line with this, the first high-tech forestry nursery has been built in Madre de Dios, in the district of Inambari, which promotes the production of seedlings, reaching 300,000 units per year compared to the 10,000 that were achieved with traditional methods.

Similarly, today it is possible to monitor the progress of mining in the Amazon and know its impacts thanks to a virtual map developed jointly with WFU and CINCIA. This virtual tool also allows one to visualize the actions that are being undertaken to restore these areas.

Science is the foundation of success

"Science has been the starting point to tackle such a complex problem. From the research and experimentation of different options to find the most efficient production of seedlings, to the use of geo-spatial information to determine the most appropriate grounds for recovery and the use of drones for monitoring: science has been at the core of our conservation approach, "says Nelson Gutiérrez, scientific leader of the initiative in WWF.

Madre de Dios is internationally recognized for its natural diversity, with records in number of species, endemisms and others. Therefore, it is imperative to recover deteriorated landscapes and prevent major impacts. In this regard, although 182 hectares are not few, their impact is magnified exponentially when inserted in a landscape and connectivity recovery approach. "Through this project, we could be potentially connecting hundreds of thousands of hectares in the most biodiverse forest in the world," Gutiérrez continues.

Precisely, WWF fosters a landscape conservation approach; "We are using hundreds of camera traps to monitor the behavior of wildlife, and are constantly surprised with the density and diversity of species, even in areas with human presence where there were serious impacts before, and today activities are conducted in a sustainable and responsible manner", concludes Gutiérrez.

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