Extractive useof the Andean forests

Peru ranks fourth among the seven Amazonian countries in terms of deforestation rate, after Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia. On average, the country devastates 150 thousand hectares of its forests each year. The problem has different origins: weak policies when concessioning natural areas, the difficulty of putting a specific price on the value of a forest and what it offers (clean air, fresh water, etc.), the long extractive culture of native communities, among others. .

For example, for many years, in Apurímac the wood of the queñual, one of its most emblematic native trees, was used as a construction material or fuel, for the manufacture of tools and charcoal production or simply to decorate houses at Christmas. To date, between 75 and 90% of the loss of forests in Peru occurs in areas of less than one hectare per year.

The extreme poverty in the communities of the Andes and the lack of tools for their development, promote these “small” logging and burning of forests by the community members, which, when analyzed together, represent a significant reduction in Peruvian forests.

  • Andean forests today cover 5-10% of their original surface.

  • The natural ecosystems of the tropical Andes are considered to be the richest and most biologically diverse on the planet. More than 60% of the water available in the Amazon basin originates in the Andes.

The conversion of ecosystemsfor agricultural uses

40 million people depend directly of environmental services provided by Andean forests in 7 Andean countries.

Queñuales forests covered most of the Andean mountains, but land uses and land occupation have generated the fragmentation of the forest that is now observed in a mosaic of agricultural and livestock plots. While it is true that Andean communities possess ancestral knowledge that protects biodiversity, there are other less positive customs: cutting down forests to plant food for their animals or generating fires to “cause” rain, for example.

Overgrazing, on the other hand, hits the soil quality more directly. The excess of animals grazing for a long time in the same area compacts the earth. Trampling livestock reduces the density and infiltration rate of the soil. In addition, the animals consume the foliage of the area where they are, thus varying the composition of the vegetation cover and the amount of biomass of the local species.

  • Agricultural and livestock activities and forest fires are the main causes of the loss of Andean forests.

  • The peasant communities and indigenous peoples that inhabit the Andes and that depend on the Andean forests for their survival, know activities compatible with their conservation and with the maintenance of their functions.

Climate change problematic

Andean forests can accumulate between 20 and 40 tons of carbon per hectare above the ground, thus being an important carbon reserve.

Andean forests can accumulate between 20 and 40 tons of carbon per hectare above the ground, thus being an important carbon reserve.
Mountains are the first indicators of climate change and, as the globe warms, the inhabitants of the heights - among the hungriest and poorest in the world - face more difficulties to survive. Rising temperatures also mean that mountain glaciers are melting to unprecedented levels, affecting freshwater supplies for millions of people. Mountain people have, however, accumulated a great deal of knowledge and strategies over generations to adapt to climate variability.

Global warming, climate variability and climate-induced disasters, combined with political, economic, and social marginalization, increase the vulnerability of mountain peoples to food shortages and extreme poverty. Currently, it is estimated that one in three mountain people in developing countries is food insecure. As a consequence, migration increases both abroad and to urban centers. Those who remain are often women, who are left to tend crops and livestock; however, they have little access to credit, training, and land tenure rights. This emigration also results in an inestimable loss of services that we obtain from the ecosystem and from cultural and agrobiological diversity. Investments and policies can alleviate the harsh living conditions of mountain communities and reverse migration trends.

If global warming maintains its rate, studies assure that in 40 years the peaks of the Andes would lose their glaciers due to the increase in temperature, the main cause of which is greenhouse gases. On the other hand, if with time there are more and more prolonged droughts, the water cycle is altered, cloud cover decreases and, consequently, mountain forests would capture less precipitation and increase the mortality of trees and the frequency of the forest fires.

Regardless of the scenario, Andean forests are ecosystems highly susceptible to climate change.

The organic carbon content in the soil of the Andean, high Andean and páramos natural ecosystems is among the highest in the world.

  • Organic carbon reserves in the soils of an Andean forest at 3000-3300 meters above sea level can reach 120 tC / ha.
  • In the soils of the páramos, the organic carbon reserves could reach 1400 tC / ha.

Andean forests that could be affected by climate change by 2050

  • 13-21% Rain forests
  • 6-7% Rainforests
  • 4-5% Xerophytic forests
  • Land use change causes 20-100% loss of soil carbon in páramos, puna, jalca and upper mountain forests.

What can we do?

The threats exist but also the desire to face them. In the last 40 years, Peru has protected more than 16 million hectares of forests, jungles, glaciers, rivers, etc. There are more than 70 protected natural areas. Governance schemes and their policies have to continue to strengthen their interest and investment in ecosystem restoration programs. On the other hand, a more effective allocation of rights to communities over the forests they inhabit could contribute to their protection. Deforestation rates up to 20 times higher have been recorded outside indigenous territories than within them.

However, the most useful thing will be to attack the root of the problem: the knowledge gap that exists about Andean forests and their contribution. Education about these ecosystems among their own inhabitants is a guarantee for their preservation. In the community of Kiuñalla, for example, the community members have learned the relationship between their traditional agricultural practices and the scarcity of water. They better understand the impact of their actions on nature. Today they plant native tree species thousands of meters above sea level and cultivate pastures with species that strengthen the soil. They make sustainable use of natural resources so as not to lose their livelihood

Similarly, anyone who seeks to learn about native forests is contributing to the solution of the problem. The diffusion of knowledge promotes interest: you always take care of what matters to you.