Forests and Farms: How Peru’s San Martín Region Could Become Beacon of Sustainability

Last week, Ana Rodriguez blogged about her visit to Peru’s San Martín region, where CI and partners are working to incorporate the value of nature into the country’s economic accounting system. Today, CI summer intern Colin Foster shares his experience from the trip. 

EVA team in Peru

The EVA team in Peru. (© CI/photo by Colin Foster)

As a college student, I have spent much time thinking about the various careers I could potentially pursue that would align with my passion for sustainability and human well-being. Thus, the chance to travel to Peru this summer for an internship with CI was an exciting opportunity. My first journey to South America has been both extremely eye-opening and a welcomed challenge.

Last month I was lucky enough to accompany CI’s EVA (Ecosystems Values Assessment and Accounting) team and their associates on a field visit to Peru’s San Martín region.

The EVA team hoped the visit would confirm that San Martín would be a good area to test a program integrating ecosystems into an economic context, specifically “national accounts” — accounting systems used to measure the economic activity of a country. By considering the benefits of ecosystem services like freshwater and food provision to people, we can create a more accurate reflection of the value it holds.

As we drove the two hours from Tarapoto to Moyobama in San Martín, the beautiful vastness of nature and the unique range of the region’s ecosystems (dry forests, cloud forests, lowland forests, etc.) gave me a whole new understanding of the word “biodiversity.” Birds of different sizes and colors fluttered overhead, while every leaf hid a host of insects.

Over the course of the week, the team and I got a firsthand look at the spectrum of economic initiatives within this beautiful region, including the amazing social and environmental work of CI-Peru in the Alto Mayo area discussed in an earlier post.

San Martin, Alto Mayo, Peru

A house in San Martín in Peru’s Alto Mayo region. (© CI/photo by Colin Foster)

From my observations, I felt like the people of San Martín showcased an extraordinary ability and excitement to incorporate sustainability for the economic benefit of their communities.

Our first stop was an Awajún indigenous community outside of Moyobama. With the help of CI-Peru, these community members have started to restore nearby riverbanks by planting vegetation grown in their tree nursery. Walking down to the nursery, I saw patterns of deforested terrain and patches of coffee plants and papaya. As I followed the path and turned the corner, it was amazing to see the nursery housing young plants ready to help start the regrowth process in order to protect the soil and manage crop output.

Furthermore, the community tending to the nursery is almost completely self-sufficient in this initiative; all those who work at the nursery are from the community. Walking around the neatly organized nursery amid bustling workers gave me the impression that the community members truly realized the advantages of protecting their environment.

The next day, against the vibrant hues of the blue sky and the lush forests, we visited a farm growing stevia, a natural sweetener that has become a popular sugar replacement in recent years. The farm’s managers took the time to explain to us their project and commitment to the environment by complying with the rigorous social and sustainability standards outlined by the the Rainforest Alliance. The work opportunities at the stevia farm are so valued by the townspeople that a CI staff member based in Moyobama told me people are always asking her about employment at the farm.

The workers and managers of the farm welcomed our team with much enthusiasm. While sharing with us the sweet leaves from the stevia plants, the manager encouraged us to look around as he recounted the farm’s history and mentioned future plans, such as expanding the farm and opening a processing plant in Moyobama.

forest on edge of river, San Martin, Peru

A forest on the edge of a river in San Martín, Peru. (© CI/ photo by Colin Foster)

On the second to last day of the visit, our group traveled to the town of Pucacaca and met with a unique group of farmers that had initiated the conservation of their local forest in 2003. The protected area sits on both sides of a valley. After a warning to “watch out for the snakes,” I followed our guides, who were using machetes to create an entrance into the dry forest.

After talking with some members of the EVA team, I quickly realized the significance of grassroots conservation initiatives like this one. The local community initially began this effort because they thought it would improve their crop yields; over time, they realized other benefits as well. Their success should serve as an inspiration for what sustainability initiatives could do for other small communities in both the greater region and the rest of the world.

After visiting this range of projects, it became apparent to the team that this part of the world was truly noteworthy in terms of the government’s commitment to conservation, sustainability and community participation and development. CI-Peru has made much progress in terms of the effective implementation of conservation methods at the community level.

Evaluating the economic worth of an ecosystem is an extremely difficult enterprise, even with the many smart and talented individuals helping to bridge the environmental and economic spheres. However, on this trip I saw for myself how the connection between human well-being and ecosystem maintenance is vibrantly inextricable. The livelihoods of so many of those who live in this area of the world are directly connected to the health of their ecosystems — from employment opportunities to food security.

Conservation is equal parts social, economic and environmental. At times, accounting for the sum of these various entities and working components seemed utterly overwhelming to me.

However, as I spoke with my colleagues, met with the farmers of Pucacaca, and observed CI-Peru’s relationships with local communities, the amazing results of CI became apparent, as well as the profound potential of their work in the future.

Colin Foster was a summer intern for CI-Peru. His position was made possible by the Trott Foundation. 


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