Quechua communities planted 25 500 Polylepis saplings to restore threatened forests in Madidi

Hiking 14 500 feet high slopes to the Polylepis forests. (Photo by Márton Hardy)

At dawns early light, Quechua campesinos from 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 won’t cut the trees, but plant thousands of new saplings to restore one of the most threatened forests of the Tropical Andes.

In Jaunary 2018 local Quechua farmers, Armonía and rangers from Madidi National Park planted 25 500 Polylepis saplings in the north western region of Madidi. Locally called Queñoa or Lampaya, these Polyelpis species are giving the basic structure of the highest forests above sea level on our planet.

Approximately there are 20 different Polylepis species in Bolivia, mostly in severly degraded and fragmented habitats.

Royal Cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae) by Rodrigo W. Soria Auza

Threatened birds species of the Madidi-Cotapata-Pilon Lajas Corridor – one of the most diverse areas of the planet

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. Their communal lands in the Madidi-Cotapata-Pilon Lajas Corridor are home for the most important Polylepis forests, habitat of the Critically Endangered Royal Cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae) and the Endangered Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant (Anairetes alpinus).

Don Fidel from Puina posing with a Poylelpis sapling. (Photo by Márton Hardy)

25 500 saplings planted: the most extensive Polylepis restauration in Bolivia

In January 2018 local campesinos of Puina and Keara, together with Armonía and staff from the Madidi National Park concluded the most extensive community polylepis reforestation to the current date in Bolivia by planting over 25 500 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 Quechua 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.

Balbina and Armando Noah restoring Polylepis forests (Photo by Márton Hardy)

Local and the Madidi National park take charge of protecting the woods

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 are graduate from public school without knowing about the Cinclodes aricomae, the Anairetes alpinus and why to protect their habitat: the Polyelpis forests.

Monica San Cristobal counting Polylepis saplings with locals of Puina (Photo by Márton Hardy)

Quechua campesinos of Puina and Keara 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 native species. This nursery is managed now by the community and park rangers of the Madidi National Park.

The challenge was to ensure that these two key actors – locals and the national park – will take charge of the reforestation project and ensure the continuity of the habitat restauration.

-saind Mónica San Cristóbal, proyect coordinator for the Polylepis Forest Project.

The Polylepis Forest project is supported by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Found, the Mohamed 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 Quechua 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, help us save one of the most threatened ecosystems of the Tropical Andes.


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