Fire-fighting beans help save Manu!

For 11 communities in Challabamba, just south of Manu National Park’s tip in southern Peru, the Amazon Conservation Association’s work can be measured in hundreds of acres of one particular bean: tarwi.

For these Andean communities, subsistence farming is a way of life. But growing potato and corn crops on the same land year after year is hard on the soil. Eventually, yields suffer and farmers typically “slash and burn” forest to open up new farmland and add nutrients to the soil.

However, these fires can easily spread out of control, devastating hundreds of acres of forest, often even burning into Manu National Park.  

There’s a connection between burning for farmland, soil quality, and Manu—and that’s where sustainable crops like tarwi come in.

Tarwi, or Lupinus mutabilis, is a native nitrogen-fixing legume; it naturally converts atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable by plants. Planted alongside corn and potato crops, tarwi helps to replenish nutrient-depleted soil. Crop rotation ensures that farm soil stays fertile, and that in turn diminishes the need to burn (or otherwise clear) forest for farmland.

But that’s not all. As its nickname “Andean soy” suggests, tarwi is protein-rich and an important source of calcium and iron for the area’s residents (some of the poorest in the region). The bean is hardy enough to thrive in the chilly mountain highlands, and boasts low start-up costs, high yields, a strong regional market—and, as ACA discovered, an unmet consumer demand.

Since 2010, ACA has helped 40 families produce and sell more than 20 tons of tarwi annually through Flor Azul, the local producers’ association. Surveys done this year confirm that 72 percent of participants no longer burn for new farmland (and can better control fires when they do occur, thanks to ACA’s trainings on forest fire prevention and control) after growing sustainable crops like tarwi.

In 2014, ACA aims to improve ways Flor Azul can bring its tarwi to market, as well as engage at least 20 new members in the group.

We can’t do that without your support. Help ACA promote sustainable agriculture to reduce “slash-and-burn” deforestation for farmland in one of the regions with the highest levels of biodiversity in the world.

Leading her people to a better future

Marisabel Dumas RamosMeet Marisabel Dumas Ramos, the first female leader of the indigenous Matsigenka-Wachiperi community of Santa Rosa de Huacaria in southern Peru.

Since the start of her term in 2011, Marisabel has worked alongside the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) to protect her community’s land. Huacaria borders Manu National Park, where many indigenous people still live in voluntary isolation.

Huacaria’s location on the Piñi-Piñi and Palotoa rivers makes it a major point of illegal entry into the park, and both Marisabel and ACA were concerned about squatters invading Manu through their land. 

In 2012, ACA and the Huacaria community thwarted an attempted invasion of the Park and then went on built a guard post and began funding community members to patrol the Huacaria side of the park’s border. 

Now, ACA is going a step further by helping the 130-person community officially expand its indigenous territory by 22,211 acres—forest that would have been otherwise lost to logging or agriculture. 

Marisabel explains: “We want to preserve this area for our brothers and sisters living in voluntary isolation. They need space for hunting and fishing. This area used to all belong to the indigenous people.” 

ACA is also helping the Huacaria residents develop sustainable economic opportunities, such as ecotourism and farming native fish, that allow them to earn the funds they need to access better healthcare and education while protecting their natural resources. 

Fish is a major source of protein for the area surrounding Huacaria, but concerns about overfishing and mercury levels (in both the river’s fish as well as its water) make aquaculture a great solution. In 2014, ACA plans to help the Huacaria community build four aquaculture ponds and a production lab for fish hatchlings, which currently must be shipped in from the coast.

Manu’s woolly monkeys

Woolly monkeySadly, the gray woolly monkey pictured is endangered.

ACA is tracking these monkeys in the cloud forests in and around Manu National Park in southern Peru. Groups are moving higher into the mountains to escape the overhunting and habitat loss they face at lower elevations. As fruit eaters, these monkeys play a little-known, but important, role in the seed dispersal of canopy-level tree species—significant as trees need to migrate upslope in response to climate change. 

While ACA studies these monkeys (species: Lagothrix cana), we are also taking important action to ensure that their habitat is protected. For the past two years, ACA has been assisting a group of young conservationists from Alto Photo of Mario OcsaPilcomayo—children of loggers who moved near Manu’s Andean slope decades ago—to create a new 12,040-acre conservation concession.

Led by Mario Ocsa (pictured), the young conservationists plan to call this new reserve “Qosilloq llaqta qcahuanan”—“land of the gray woolly monkeys” in Quechua. ACA is already training the community to patrol the concession, prevent access by hunters, and closely monitor the woolly monkey populations living there. In 2014, we plan to complete the process of officially establishing Alto Pilcomayo’s concession, one of eight new protected areas we are working on in the greater Manu landscape.