At dawns early light, Quechua campesinos of the community of Puina gather to climb the 14 500 feet high slopes of the Bolivian Tropical Andes. They are used to this wearying walk in the cold rain and gusty winds. Day after day campesinos hike to the peaks to bring down polylepis trunks for firewood to the village. This time instead, they hike the peaks with hundreds of polylepis saplings on their backs to restore the very same forest once they used to cut down. Local Quechua farmers an Armonía planted 15 000 polylepis saplings to restore the habitat of the Ash-breasted-Tit Tyrant, and Royal Cinclodes.
The small indigenous village of Puina lies at the south western gates of the Madidi National park, one of the most diverse regions on Earth. Native polylepis forests surrounding Puina are protecting the most if important watersheds of the region, and are home to a highly specialized and rich fauna. These forests are harboring the last populations of the Critically Endangered Royal Cinclodes and the Endangered Ash-breasted Tit-tyrant in Bolivia.
Polylepis forest however has been reduced to small fragmented patches during the last centuries due to overexploitation for firewood and frequent burnings for cattle ranching.
In January 2018 local campesinos of Puina and Armonía concluded the most extensive community reforestation in the area planting over 15 000 polylepis and other native species. Despite of the extremely difficult terrain and harsh weather, dozens of families responded to the call for the mink´a – traditional Quecha communal work – and hiked to the remote valleys around Puina to restore the most vulnerable forest patches.
Several generations of locals – men, women and youngsters – worked together on the rough terrain, planting hundreds of polylepis saplings each day. The high turnout and support of local communities is not by any chance accidental.
Since 2004 Armonía has been conducting environmental education and reforestation programs to engage locals in the restauration of polylepis woodlands and the protection of the local avifauna. With help from local teachers, Armonía also managed to introduce environmental education to the official curricula, therefore hardly any students leave the school without knowing about the Cinclodes aricomae, the Anairetes alpinus and their habitat.
Quechua campesinos of Puina today are well aware of the pivotal role polylepis plays in the ecosystem and are eager to restore and protect the fragmented woodlands. With help from locals, Armonía set up a community nursery to produce polylepis and Aliso saplings. While the slow growing polylepis will restore connectivity between scattered woodlands, fast growing Aliso trees will provide alternative firewood to locals.
The Polylepis Forest project is supported by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Found, the Mohamad Bin Zayed Conservation Fund, and executed in cooperation with SERNAP, FUNDESNAP and the Museo Alcides d’Orbigny.
However we are achieving great results in protecting the threatened polylepis forests and empowering Quecha communities we need your support to expand restored forest areas and to produce more saplings at the community nursery.
Please donate to the Polylepis Forest Project and us save one of the most threatened ecosystems of the Tropical Andes.