Mark L. Miller
Peruvian forests and their biggest threat: deforestation
Peru has a total area of 128.5M hectares divided in three main regions: a) the Coast region to the West; b) the Andean region in the center; c) the Amazon region to the East. It hosts 73.3M hectares of forests, of which 53.4M are of low jungle (selva baia) and 15.7M of high jungle (selva alta), which allow widespread forest activities. Indeed, 80.1% of the national area is covered by forests, while only 13.9% is covered by pastures and 5.9% by cultivated areas. Yet, forests contribution to the national GDP is very little (approx. 1.1%). That is because 70-90% of conceded forested areas are used by local populations for self-subsidence and because about 10M hectares of forested areas are used for illegal and untaxed activities  (MINAM, 2016).
The biggest threat of Peruvian forests is deforestation. Since 1995, deforestation rate has been around 100,000 ha/year in the Amazon region, which hosts 94% of the national forests, and has strongly hit the low jungle. Slash-and-burn farming, cattle farming and coca cultivation are the main reasons of deforestation, but the generic causes are deeper rooted in the Peruvian society. Poverty, overpopulation and migration in the Amazon are some of the social causes. Land use change, weak market regulation for the extraction of natural resources and the demand increase for industrial crops are some economic causes. Finally, a bad governance, including the incoherence of government , the lack of regional administrative bodies and poor institutional control and coordination is the third cause (MINAM, 2016). Meanwhile, the expansion of the global cocaine market, has increased Peru’s coca production, which raised from 43,900 hectares in 2016 to 49,900 hectares in 2017, and added additional pressure to Peruvian forests (United Nations, 2017).
In this scenario, agroforestry can be a potential solution to tackle deforestation, replace coca production and restore degraded land in Peru.
Agroforestry in Peru
There are multiple types of agroforestry systems in Peru and include 148 native species: 20 in the Coast region, 57 in the Andean region and 94 in the Amazon region. In the Amazon, most agroforestry species are used for timber, followed by food and multiple uses, agroecological service and medicine. In the Andes, most agroforestry species are used for multiple uses, followed by agroecological services, food, timber and medicine. In the Coast, most agroforestry species are used multiple uses, followed by agroecological services, food and medicine (Cherron-Macha et al. 2018).
Agroforestry systems in Peru
Multistrata, cacao and coffee are the most popular agroforestry systems in Peru.
A typical multistrata agroforestry system starts with a fast-growing and nitrogen-fixing fruit tree (Inga edulis) combined with other native fruit and timber trees. During the first years, the trees are intercropped with staple crops. In subsequent years, tree-growth hinders many staple crops, so shade-resistant crops, like pineapple, are planted (Lojka, 2016).
In cacao agroforestry systems, is first planted as understory shade tolerant tree in thinned natural forests. Later, cover crops can be incorporated in the system. Best practices for a proper cultivation include adjusting light infiltration and moisture availability and reducing weed competition (PUR Project, 2015).
In coffee agroforestry system, coffee cultivations are first established under the cover of Inga edulis. Coffee is sold and exported, while Inga edulis fruit and wood is harvested for either consumption or wood constructions. The system is generally two-layered but additional herbaceous or tree species (e.g. Ceroxylon echinulatum) can also be introduced to add biodiversity, provide fuelwood and protect the system from pests (Envolv-Vert, 2017).
The environmental, social and economic benefits of agroforestry
All three types agroforestry systems provide several environmental, social and economic benefits.
Cacao agroforestry systems largely benefit the soil quality. Depending on the soil microbial structure, the agroforestry management system and the selected cover crop, they improve soil structure and texture, soil fertility, soil organic matter, soil microbial biomass and soil pH. They can suppress pathogens and weeds, reduce leaching losses of nutrients, control erosion, decrease soil acidity and compaction, reduce fertilizers inputs and pests, improve water holding capacity and nutrient cycling (Buyer et al. 2017). On the other hand, it is still unclear if it truly enhances biodiversity. It depends on the density of the cover crops (Lojka, 2016). On the socio-economic side, cacao agroforestry systems can replace coca cultivations, enhance the resilience of production systems and producers’ families and generate higher incomes for the farmers.
Coffee agroforestry systems reduce CO2 emissions of deforested areas, increase soil carbon stocks, which can be converted in carbon credits, thus attract Net Market Carbon investments. They also increase diversification of production and of potential revenue sources (e.g. FSC labelled timber, agricultural products). Following the abolition or minimal use of fertilizers and pesticides, coffee agroforestry system produce healthier food, provide education, and stimulate the engagement of local communities in environmental protection and forest management (Ferrari, 2018)
Agroforestry potential for ecosystem restoration
Agroforestry systems can restore land productivity of nutrient poor areas depleted by unsustainable agricultural practices and intensive exploitation of virgin forests. The first step is to install aggressive nitrogen-fixating species legumes (e.g. Makuna) or fruit trees (e.g. Inga edulis) to prepare the land for the future agroforestry system. At that point, full-sun or shadowed cacao or coffee agroforestry system can be installed. Alternatively, one can install an agroforestry system that includes a shadow component (e.g. banana or papaya), a main crop (e.g. cacao), a recovery crop (e.g. guava) and slow-growing timber species. In this case, not only land productivity is restored, but also nutrients and water are better retained in the soil, land is protected from erosion, carbon absorption is increased and the behavior of a real forest is mimicked (Ferrari, 2018).
Restoring forest connectivity is also possible through agroforestry, as they can function as ecological corridors between the remaining virgin forest patches. This can consequently benefit biodiversity.
Finally, agroforestry can nurse threatened Amazonian species, like mahogany. A recent study revealed that an Inga edulis-mahogany-pasture system is a good solution to fix nitrogen in depleted soil, restore degraded pastures and protect mahogany from predators (Fernandes et al. 2006).
Nevertheless, agroforestry solutions have issues to consider. Return on investment is slow, there are light, water, space and soil nutrients trade-offs between species to properly balance, restoration of pure stand agroforestry systems may not be possible in densely populated landscapes. One must therefore consider the option to install intercropping, bordering or clustered agroforestry systems (Erdmann, 2005). Yet, agroforestry systems are much more effective than fenced reforestations and can be considered extremely valid solutions to restore degraded ecosystems in Peru.
Buyer, J. et al. (2017). Soil microbial communities under cacao agroforestry and cover crop systems in Peru. Applied Soil Ecology. Science Direct. Vol. 120, 273-280.
Cerron-Macha, J. et al. (2018). Agroforestry species of Peru: annotated list and contribution to prioritization for genetic conservation. Working paper number 289. World Agroforestry Centre, Lima, Peru. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5716/WP18029.PDF.
Erdmann, T. (2005). Agroforestry As a Tool for Restoring Forest Landscapes. Forest Restoration in Landscapes. Beyond Planting Trees (pp.274-284). DOI: 10.1007/0-387-29112-1_40.
Lojka, B. (2016). Multistrata agroforestry as an alternative to slash-and-burn farming in Peruvian Amazon. Agroforestry Research Developments, Chapter: 13, pp.383-398. ISBN-978-1-63485-094-0.
Fernandes, E. et al. (2006). Restoring Productivity to Degraded Pasture Lands in the Amazon through Agroforestry Practices. Biological Approaches to Sustainable Soil Systems. DOI: 10.1201/9781420017113.ch21.
Reports and websites:
Envolv-Vert (2017). Reforestation and agroforestry project in Peru. [online] Available at: http://envol-vert.org/en/projects/reforestation-and-agroforestry/reforestation-and-agroforestry-project-in-peru/ (Accessed 2019.06.01).
Ferrari, N. (2018) Investing in agroforestry in Peru’s Amazon: Good for the economy and the environment. Initiative 20X20. [online] Available at: https://initiative20x20.org/news/investing-agroforestry-perus-amazon-good-economy-and-environment (Accessed 2019.06.01).
MINAM (2016). La conservacion de bosques en el Peru (2011-2016). [online] Available at: http://www.minam.gob.pe/informessectoriales/wp-content/uploads/sites/112/2016/02/11-La-conservaci%C3%B3n-de-bosques-en-el-Per%C3%BA.pdf (Accessed 2019.06.01).
PUR Project (2015). Alto Huayabamba, Peru. Progress Report 2015. [online] Available at: https://www.purprojet.com/project/alto-huayabamba/ (Accessed 2019.06.01).
United Nations (2017). Coca cultivation area in Peru increased by 14 per cent during 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2018/December/coca-cultivation-area-in-peru-increased-by-14-per-cent-during-2017.html (Accessed 2019.06.01).
Photos and videos
Cocoa agroforestry system in Alto Huayabamba, Peru
Source: PUR Project (2015). Alto Huayabamba, Peru. [online] Available at: https://www.purprojet.com/project/alto-huayabamba/ (Accessed 2019.06.01).
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