This expanse of rainforest and jungle, covering more than 60 percent of Peru’s territory, is also home to hundreds of Indigenous Peoples who have lived in relative isolation there for thousands of years while acquiring vast knowledge of the region’s ecosystems.
This year, a local non-profit organization called Camino Verde joined the GLFx network of community-led chapters restoring landscapes in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. The Global Landscapes Forum founded GLFx in 2021 to promote more sustainable, integrated landscape management at the local level.
Registered in Peru and the United States, Camino Verde has been helping repair the nexus between conservation and Indigenous rights for more than 15 years. Now also known as the GLFx Amazonía Peruana chapter, and sponsored by Lavazza, the organization works across two departments of the Peruvian Amazon: Madre de Dios and Loreto, where native communities are often excluded from decision making and face insurmountable hurdles to land title.
“Habitat restoration and conservation must be done alongside and for Amazonian communities so that forest-dependent people can continue to live and grow with the land in ways that are not destructive to the landscape,” says Robin Van Loon, executive director and founder of Camino Verde.
Camino Verde, which translates to “the green way,” brings an impressive track record to GLFx. The Peruvian Amazon-based group, which has around 20 dedicated team members, has planted more than 200,000 trees representing over 400 native tree species in Madre de Dios and Loreto, thereby forming part of a unique Living Seed Bank of Amazonian biodiversity.
Consisting of farmers, foresters and ecologists, the team has directly impacted 305 hectares (759 acres) of primary rainforest, secondary forest and reforested landscapes while attracting the participation of 106 Amazonian families from five native communities with its tree-planting programs.
Founded in 2007, Camino Verde aims to restore the Amazon by strengthening forest communities while partnering with Amazonian farmers and native communities to regenerate forests and improve livelihoods.
However, the group is working in a region where deforestation is so widespread that it generates about 51 percent of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions. The government has committed itself to reducing deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon by 30 percent by 2030.
“The cumulative impact from decades of exploiting valuable species has taken its toll on the forests around us and continues to do so through economic activities that drive deforestation,” says Clemencia Pinasco, communications manager at Camino Verde.
Currently, market opportunities for smallholder farmers and native communities are limited to the destructive extraction of wood; slash-and-burn agriculture; cattle; and gold mining. These unsustainable activities offer reliable and accessible ways to make a living in the Amazon, she says.
“We need to find ways to break through the current, limited system that incentivizes deforestation and loss of biodiversity,” Pinasco says. “We believe that the forests can be restored and that it can be done while improving the livelihoods of Amazonian communities, who are essential actors in the protection and conservation of the land.”
Any efforts to reduce deforestation and restore the Amazonian landscape must provide tangible and sustainable benefits to the communities that live and work in the region, according to Camino Verde.
The most tangible and direct benefit comes from revenue gained from a range of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as essential oils, Amazonian vanilla, wild cacao and native stingless bee honey, which Camino Verde is producing through diverse polyculture agroforestry – the opposite of monoculture.
These NTFPs provide food security, medicines and other essential services to the group’s partner communities and to the forest, as well as income to incentivize landscape protection, according to the group.
“There is a lack of expertise and knowledge on how to effectively and sustainably work with these NTFPs, and then there is the difficulty for local farmers and communities to connect to local and international markets to sell and distribute their products,” Van Loon says.
“We work through these challenges by providing training and initial resources to partner families in native communities or to smallholder farmers to be able to produce NTFPs, which will eventually become a source of income for these families.”
Camino Verde also operates in an environment of political instability, which has resulted in protests across Peru in recent times and adds to the broader issues that affect the nation’s people as well as the availability of essential services, resources and job opportunities.
The region of Madre de Dios, where Camino Verde is active, was one of the most affected, with roadblocks for over 40 days, preventing the delivery of essential goods and causing a dramatic increase in the price of food, gasoline and cooking gas.
Despite these obstacles, the group continues to work with its many partners, collaborators and donors on its key restorative activities. These include the Rosewood Farmer Livelihood Program, which is building regenerative supply chains around reforested trees of endangered species, and the RealTrees Transparency Program, which uses blockchain and artificial intelligence to allow Camino Verde’s donors to track every tree they sponsored.
While they face many challenges, members of the newest GLFx chapter find all the motivation they need in their beautiful surroundings as they go about their daily work in the Peruvian Amazon.
“No matter how long you’ve lived here, you can find something new to you every day in a short walk through the forest,” Pinasco says. “The wealth of knowledge in communities around us, the thousands of species that are yet to be discovered. Inspiration in this environment is never-ending, as are the reasons and need for our work.”
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