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Mountain forests management and its relationship with Andean population well-being: The experience of the Andean Forests Program

The article analyzes how the actions promoted by the Andean Forests Programcontributed to the well-being and resilience of the population in its intervention sites.
Multiple Authors
Sustainable tourism in the town of Mashpi, Ecuador. Credit: Andean Forest Program

The following article presents insights and learning from the SDC-funded Andean Forest Programme.


The Andean Forest Program (PBA) was created with the aim that the “Andean population living in and around Andean forests reduce their vulnerability to climate change and receive social, economic and environmental benefits from the conservation of Andean forests”. Implemented between 2014 and 2021, the PBA consolidated the results of previous projects and initiatives, such as ECOBONA and PROBONA, sponsored by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The intervention strategy focused on generating knowledge through the validation of Andean forest management practices and the consolidation of enabling conditions for its replication and escalation. At the local level, the program focused on actions in three intervention sites, working with families and local organizations: Antioquia in Colombia, the Northwest of Pichincha in Ecuador and the Apurímac region in Peru.

During the second phase of the PBA (2019-2021), a systematization of its impacts was carried out through a review of literature, management documents and databases generated during the first phase. Additionally, 22 analytical interviews were conducted, carried out during 2020, with specialists and key stakeholders representing the three intervention sites. This allowed to determine how the actions promoted by the PBA contributed to the well-being and resilience of the population in these sites.

This article summarizes the findings of this analysis.

Andean forests management and its relationship with human well-being

Climate change was the main factor of vulnerability addressed in the design of the PBA actions. Additionally, aspects such as the persistence of poverty in rural areas, poor access to basic services, the disconnection of the rural Andean population with decision-making spaces, among others, were taken into account.

Natural capital management and its relationship to livelihoods

The Andean ecosystems management approach that was used was different in each intervention site. In the Apurímac site, a specialized study (Vasquez et al 2017) evidenced the importance of ensuring the water provision as a fundamental ecosystem service for agriculture, livestock and direct consumption in rural and urban areas. For this reason, actions were prioritized for forest restoration and conservation in water supply points, as well as for ecohydrological monitoring (localities of Kiuñalla and Mariño) and support for the consolidation of a Compensation Mechanism for Hydrological Ecosystem Services in the Mariño micro-basin. Families from different localities of the Huanipaca district participated actively, with whom we worked on the protection and recovery of water sources, the fencing of protection areas, planting of native tree species and constructing q’ochas (Kometter, 2018). This made it possible to mitigate streamflow decrease (Baiker, in prep.) with positive effects on local livelihoods.

“… With the PBA we have a q’ocha in the head basin and now we are noticing the results in watercourses. The last year, (the streamflow) has not decreased much…” (Crisólogo Palomino, president of the Kiuñalla community)

At the Pichincha site, there is a historical tendency to transform Andean forests into grasslands, which has led to soil degradation. This problem has motivated the interest of many families in sustainable production (Torres and Peralvo, 2019). Given this, the PBA, in close coordination with different local organizations, promoted the design and validation of ecological and productive restoration practices, the production of orchards and fruit trees, the design of farm plans, among others. The transformation of Finca El Porvenir into a “model farm” stands out, through the implementation of a set of sustainable livestock practices (Cabezas et al 2019), allowing the recovery of biodiversity, soil fertility and ecosystem services. The lessons learned from this experience allowed the preparation of the publication “Sustainable Livestock: Practice Guide for the Northwest of Pichincha”, which provides specialized guidelines for the territory.

“… It has been shown that productive and environmental actions can be combined, to the point that the agricultural area has been reduced. (Now) we are allocating those areas to natural regeneration…” (Juan Carlos Cabezas, Finca El Porvenir)

At the Antioquia site, the PBA focused on supporting the first stages of the implementation of the BanCO2 Metropolitano payment for environmental services scheme, whose purpose is to provide an alternative of economic income, based on conservation, to the people who guard and live in forests that provide strategic ecosystem services. The resources received for this compensation are invested by the beneficiary families in the implementation of productive projects with a technical and sustainable approach, as well as to directly meet health and education needs.

… “Paradoxically, where the best natural resources are, there is more poverty” … “It is very unfair that (the communities) bear the full burden of environmental responsibility in these areas. That is why we seek to compensate them, for the environmental service generated in that territory…” (Jaime García, Masbosques).

Value chains and sustainable tourism

The PBA promoted the generation of economic benefits from the conservation and management of the forest and its biodiversity with innovative and sustainable productive activities. In the Apurímac and Pichincha sites, potential production chains were promoted, such as beekeeping in the native forest of the Apurímac site, and the production of value-added food in the Pichincha site (Kometter, 2018; Espinoza and Cordero, 2018).

As an input for replication and scaling, the PBA facilitated the generation of the document “Strengthening of Productive Chains in Andean Forest Landscapes. Synthesis of Lessons Learned”, which provides key information on different timber and non-timber forest production chains in Andean landscapes of Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. It also identifies weaknesses (e.g., financial management, information gaps for decision-making, gender focus) and provides recommendations for strengthening them.

Sustainable tourism stands out as an activity with high potential for income generation based on the Andean landscapes. Therefore, the PBA contributed to the generation of key information in the learning sites. In the Apurímac site, the thesis “Cultural ecosystem services related to ecotourism in the Mariño River basin, Apurímac, Peru” was assisted, while in the Pichincha site, the development of the “Conscious and Regenerative Tourism Guide of the Chocó Andino” was supported.

“… Our challenge is for (tourism) to be an alternative that generates economic income, perhaps not that the people depend entirely on the forest, but strengthen their productive systems, … We must adapt, go looking for sustainable development initiatives, involve young people to make a generational change so that our processes have sustainability…” (Germán Collazos, Cooperativa Yunguilla)

Managing the health emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic

In 2020 and 2021, the context generated by the COVID-19 pandemic led to significant changes in the PBA’s work agenda. The situation demanded attention focused on vulnerability factors that worsened with the health emergency.

The situation of immobility due to quarantine placed the families of the Apurímac site in the impossibility of transporting agricultural products from the different production locations to the commercialization points. After the closure of the borders of the communal territories, as a sanitary protection measure, the communal and local authorities organized themselves to transfer basic products and crops for commercialization to the urban centre of Abancay, which was supported by the PBA, facilitating transport and technical advice to provide biosafety conditions. To this end, informative material on biosafety protocols for family farming was prepared and disseminated. To consolidate this activity, we collaborated in the preparation of a public investment project to strengthen family farming that was implemented between the last months of 2020 and the first months of 2021.

At the Pichincha site, the PBA supported actions for food sovereignty, through the identification and georeferencing of the most vulnerable families, to facilitate the trade of agricultural products within the territory and the establishment of short marketing channels. In addition, as an immediate support action for the most vulnerable families, funds were managed and food products baskets were delivered to 500 vulnerable families in the territory. As a result of these experiences, the Chocó Andino Youth Network (RJCA) took a leadership role, implementing the “Chala” initiative of sustainable bio-shops, with a territorial approach.

Key messages

The PBA approach considers that the sustainable management of the Andean forest landscape is a continuous process of maintenance and recovery of forests ecological functions and the promotion of sustainable land management practices, which helps to improve the human well-being and the health of ecosystems in territories that have mosaics of forest patches mixed with other land uses. Sustainable management requires robust and inclusive territorial governance processes in the landscape to meet present and future needs, as well as offer benefits and multiple land uses over time.

The sustainable management of Andean forests, through conservation, sustainable use and restoration, has a positive impact on the well-being of the Andean populations. This is due to the improvement in the provision of essential ecosystem services for life and agriculture, the generation of opportunities for the realization of sustainable economic activities with the rational use of timber and non-timber products and ecotourism, as well as the possibility of implementing innovative payment schemes for environmental services, whose main protagonist is the population that sustainably manages their forests and ecosystems.

The experiences of the PBA in its three intervention sites show that Andean forests have extensive current and future potential, so it is important to disseminate and scale the lessons learned generated during the implementation of its two phases.

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