The inauguration of the paved Interoceanic Highway in 2011 was a key milestone in the socio-economic development of the Madre de Dios Department in Peru as well as adjacent areas of Bolivia and Brazil. However, this economic artery has also opened up vast areas of so far undisturbed land to large-scale resource exploitation. Deforestation and the expansion of agriculture, illegal logging, forest degradation, habitat loss, mercury pollution from mining, increasing population and inequality, as well as increasing insecurity and corruption are all direct consequences. This area of rich cultural diversity, home to several Indigenous ethnic groups, is classified as a biodiversity hotspot – with large tracts of old growth forests and some of the world’s highest levels of terrestrial species diversity and endemism.
Buffer zones between areas set aside for forest conservation and nature protection on the one hand, and areas designated for agriculture and forestry, urban development or industrial use, including mining, on the other hand, represent significant areas of land between these two poles. They include, for example, buffer zones around protected areas, indigenous territories and concessions for non-timber forest products.
How can such buffer zones be managed so that they can offer real opportunities to halt and reverse negative trends of land conversion? Can the promotion of high-value forest products offer sustainable livelihood options, support the preservation of biodiversity and contribute to preserve these forests of global significance – also in the face of the climate crisis?
We believe that buffer zones along frontiers of forest conservation areas are decisive for nature protection vis-à-vis exploitative development trajectories. But for them to be sustainable and not fall victim to unsustainable economic development and resource exploitation, as observed in other cases, they must offer competitive land use models that provide benefits for nature and people alike.
Co-developing competitive land use models and nature-based solutions in contested forest frontier landscapes that halt biodiversity loss and forest destruction and support local livelihoods.
Co-design of solution and stewardship
Resulting from the initial co-design workshop that was held in Lima in 2019, a more focused co-design workshop was originally planned for 2020, then postponed to 2021 to take place in Madre de Dios. Its aim was to identify concrete innovations towards improving the production, processing and marketing of the Brazil Nut, which had been identified as a promising non-timber forest product (NTFP) offering benefits both to people (e.g. income) and to nature (e.g. forest protection). The plan was to bring key stakeholders involved in the Brazil Nut value chain – from production to processing and marketing, including the provision of services along the value chain – together in a co-design process, with a view to negotiating a shared vision for the Madre de Dios forest frontier area. This would have allowed existing scientific evidence to be brought together with local and indigenous knowledge, norms and practices. And above all, it would have made it possible to identify a set of promising incubators. Due to covid-related restrictions, however, this plan had to be abandoned. In order not to lose momentum, an innovative approach was developed with partners in Peru, whereby selected actors along the Brazil Nut value chain were invited to submit a short video pitch of their ideas for innovations. These pitches will be assessed by a multi-stakeholder committee (“Brazil Nut Coalition”) who will then select in early 2022 up to five for implementation.
Innovative conservation governance
After having finalised our specific inputs to and research on the Strategic Buffer Zone Plan (PEZA) of the Tambopata National Reserve in Madre de Dios, we continued to work together with our partner Conservatión Amazónica (ACCA) to assess how to support the integration of the participatory buffer zone management and monitoring experiences into the overall Madre de Dios Regional Government's legal provisions regulating the management of protected areas across the entire region. In 2022, together with ACCA, we are planning to explore opportunities to scale up such a participatory management and monitoring approach of buffer zones to the national level.
Indigenous citizen science
As part of the Wyss Academy interactive knowledge platform, together with our partner ACCA, we started to engage with indigenous youth with a view to bridging the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge systems. The intention of this project is to provide training on conservation and sustainable forest management to the indigenous youth of communities in the buffer zones of protected areas (Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, Los Amigos Conservation Area). This training will combine technical scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge, with a view to revaluing indigenous conservation values and practices. Such initiatives are to include livelihood opportunities and, above all, also protect the cultural significance of forests and the fauna and flora they contain to indigenous communities.
Up to 5 of the most promising video pitches submitted in 2021 will be selected for implementation as incubators. Where possible, several pitches might be brought together to realize synergies and develop new, or strengthen existing partnerships – with the aim of realizing co-benefits of Brazil nut cultivation, processing and marketing that support forest protection and improve local livelihoods.