In late 2009, the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) approached Rare to launch a series of campaigns in the Andes protecting the forest habitats of highly endangered species. In our search for communities that had curbed deforestation, Rare identified Fundación Natura Bolivia’s successful experience pairing upstream and downstream farmers to reduce deforestation and increase water quantity and quality through reciprocal watershed agreements.
These agreements are based on the principle that users and beneficiaries of a natural resource should compensate those who safeguard the resource. Lowland farmers, who depend on stewardship of highland watershed habitats, contribute to a conservation fund. The fund provides “payments” to the highland landowners as an incentive to maintain healthy forests. The most popular payments are barbed wire, fruit trees, and bee keeping equipment. Pride campaigns accelerate and deepen community support for this approach.
Robert Yaguache, Director of Reciprocal Agreements at Rare, provided some in-depth answers on how and why these agreements work.
Why are cloud forests so important to protect?
There are at least three basic reasons: A) They hold a wealth of biodiversity — ecosystems, species and genes — in the foothills of the Andes. B) There are a lot of Mesitzo and indigenous people and towns here, which use water that is regulated in these forests. C) The fog water and nutrients leads additionally to the hydrologic cycle, also known as horizontal precipitation.
How does deforestation impact water supply and quality?
Deforestation alters the hydrologic cycle, causing the gradual decrease in the capacity of soil and the ecosystem to retain or store water temporarily. Usually after deforestation, soil is used for agriculture and livestock. These two activities result in the loss of organic matter on the ground, altering the porosity due to compaction by livestock and large quantities of soil are lost to erosion due to these agricultural practices.
Deforestation causes soil in the watersheds to not have good storage capacity or temporary retention. This increases surface runoff in a short time and decreases the availability of water in times of drought. Increased runoff also increases the amount of sediment in the water, so the quality is also diminished.
Vegetation, especially along creeks and rivers (riparian areas), plays a crucial role by acting as a natural filter for trapping sediments and nutrients, while also improving the temperature and amount of dissolved oxygen.
How do reciprocal watershed agreements work? Why are they successful?
The idea is to establish an agreement between water users (inhabitants of towns and cities) with the owners of the land where this water is regulated (watersheds) and managers of water supply services (municipalities, boards, cooperatives or water companies) with the aim of protecting remnants of ecosystems such as forests, moors, and the restoration of areas of water. The results of this agreement are: A) Protection of biodiversity and habitat for the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) and B) They help to improve the temporary retention basin and thus to improve the availability of water quantity and quality, especially in the drought seasons.
Through this agreement, users contribute to the payment of a fee into a fund administered by the local municipality, company, or cooperative of water. This fund is intended to compensate the landowners of the upper watershed (after a negotiation process), and helps to protect areas of your property covered with forest and moorland, to restore certain areas of importance and also keep water for best production practices.
This agreement has four winners: The landowners do not lose revenue, and they improve productivity and are otherwise eligible for additional local incentives such as exemption from taxes. Water users will over time find better quality and quantity of water. The service administrators, municipalities, water companies, or cooperatives will be strengthened in their local management and knowledge will be generated to extend these initiatives to other parts of its territory. Finally, the national and global population will win the protection of important areas of biodiversity.
Some indicators of reciprocal agreement success: A) Creates a contract or agreement which stipulates responsibilities and compliance with conditions in the long run. B) there is social legitimacy for public participation in this process. C) There is compliance with additionality conditions to mitigate or eliminate threats. D) There are winners, not losers
Why are these kinds of important agreements for the Andes and surrounding areas?
They help protect biodiversity and water, which are the source of life for large populations of animals, plants and humans living in these areas. These are fragile physiographic areas, and protecting the cloud forest also helps with climate change.
How do you convince upstream farmers that conservation is in their best interest?
It is a process of negotiation of interests and conflicts. A farmer happens to be a concern as a threat for deforestation from increasing production area. For a forest conservation NGO protecting forest is an interest, while a farmer sees this as a use restriction. A thus a conflict happens.
How do Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites fit Into this?
One result of these agreements is the protection of biodiversity, which means that it contributes to the protection of habitat and buffer zones of these species habitat.
Click here to learn more about Rare’s program for AZE Habitat and Watershed Protection in the Andes.