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Challenges and opportunities for the restoration of Andean forests

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In some parts of Ecuador, communities have started to change the landscape by clearing small patches of forest for crops and to feed their animals. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR
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The Andes mountain range as viewed from Ecuador. Restoration efforts are underway in Andean forests across the region. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR

Views on ecological restoration in the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

The tropical forests of the Andes in Latin America are key global ecosystems that make an extraordinary contribution to the world’s biodiversity and livelihoods. Andean forests are the source of huge rivers, and have more varied and unique species than the Amazon. But they are now are threatened by increasing demographic pressures, and by harvesting and production practices.

In the past decade, ecological restoration has become a vital strategy to recover the integrity and functionality of degraded ecosystems, to promote sustainable development, and to mitigate climate change.

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia — the countries hosting tropical Andean ecosystems — have each set quantitative restoration targets. But what has been the real progress in these countries? And what is happening to their Andean forests?

To understand developments in tropical Andean forest restoration, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Andean Forests Program — a regional initiative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), facilitated by a partnership between Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Condesan — undertook a comparative analysis to look at the progress, challenges and future prospects of Andean forest restoration in these four countries.

Over a period of 14 months, researchers examined academic, legal and policy documents and conducted more than 40 interviews. Their aim was to identify challenges and opportunities to guide the next steps in restoration policy and practice for Andean forests. The resulting analysis will prove essential in making the most of “unprecedented” levels of international attention and funds, says Manuel Guariguata, co-author of the study and leader of CIFOR’s Forest Management and Restoration Team.

“It is now essential to start the restoration process,” says Carolina Murcia, a senior researcher affiliated with the Pontifical Xavierian University in Colombia and lead author on the study. “We can’t afford to lose more natural capital; rather, it is time to start recovering it.”

Read more: Lessons from Latin America for forest landscape restoration

A peatland landscape is seen in Peru. Photo by R. Bhomia/CIFOR


A key finding of the study is heterogeneity among Andean forests. “Each of the four study countries has its own history, geography and socioeconomic situation, which determine its relationship with Andean forests and the restoration approach,” says Murcia.

Colombia is leading the movement, with 50 years’ experience in restoration and a historical focus on these forests: the Andes are home to 75% of country’s population, but are also fertile lands and a major source of its water. In addition, 70% of Colombia’s electricity is generated by water flowing through these forests.

The National Plan for Forest Restoration of Ecuador, for its part, identifies two priority criteria for fertile Andean areas: landslide prevention and water resource protection.

Meanwhile, the relationship of Peru and Bolivia to Andean forests is completely different. In Peru, these ecosystems, known as yungas, or “high rainforests”, originally covered 15% of the nation’s territory. With steep slopes and high moisture levels, they are seen as an area of passage to the Amazon. “In this region, all forests are often seen as ‘rainforests’ and are considered for harvesting purposes as a source of timber. Thus, restoration has also played a very discreet role,” says Murcia.

In Bolivia, there are large forest areas with low population density. According to the study, this “has resulted in a culture of abundance, where the notion of restoration does not even fit.” The current philosophy of the state, for example, “does not allow forest restoration outside a production scheme,” Murcia says.

Strangely, local people who have occupied the Bolivian highlands for decades are not aware of the disappearance of their forests. The study reveals that “the scarcity they may experience in periods of drought is not associated with loss or, therefore, restoration.” According to Murcia, all this shows why restoration is still in the early stages in Bolivia and Peru.

This heterogeneity in approaches to restoration is reflected in aspects such as policy frameworks, implementation mechanisms, and the links between decision-makers, biological resource managers, academia and civil society.


In spite of the differences, the four countries also face common challenges. The first is to integrate a new, holistic discipline such as ecological restoration into government policies ranging from natural resource management to development. Restoration, says Murcia, means much more than increasing forest cover and capturing carbon.

An additional challenge is to comply with international restoration commitments through national programs but with local implementation — something difficult when technical capacity, technology and information are limited.

Other challenges? One is the lack of a common definition. “What restoration means for one sector may not mean the same to another,” says Guariguata, mentioning the tasks of assessing the success or failure of programs, and meeting international targets such as the Bonn Challenge. In his view, there is also a need to develop a unified vision of the discipline, which is currently fragmented into sectors such as environment, agriculture and indigenous peoples.

Restoration is a long-term process, which can take from six to ten decades to consolidate. Success, says Murcia, cannot be achieved without community commitment, and structures for management and budgetary administration that go beyond presidential terms and “protect initiatives against political whims.”

Read more: Learning from women’s and men’s perspectives on agroforestry to enhance climate change strategies and actions in Latin America

In some parts of Ecuador, communities have started to change the landscape by clearing small patches of forest for crops and to feed their animals. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR


Although one of the international targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as Aichi #15, is to restore 15% of the ecosystems degraded by 2020, the study sets a more realistic objective: each country should start from this commitment, ensuring that in 50 years these ecosystems will be on an appropriate path of restoration for biodiversity. This means recovering the variety of species, not recovering the land for production purposes, says Murcia.

To achieve community commitment, she considers it essential to secure land tenure and to report both the effects of degradation of forest landscapes and the benefits of their recovery.

“Restoration works! What needs to be done is to guide communities and understand the social and economic drivers of degradation,” she says.

In addition, the participation of the academic sector and NGOs in program design needs to be strengthened. Verónica Gálmez, Andean Forests Program incidence coordinator, explains that “NGOs act as hinges between local and national actors and provide an overall view of territorial and sectoral levels.”

According to Gálmez, the study can help prioritize interventions and investments and determine baselines. Thus, dissemination actions are planned for the various countries.

Murcia, like Gálmez, views the future with optimism. The reason? Communities’ growing interest in recovering their forested landscapes. “In the end, restoration is much more than planting trees. It is about turning the relationship between people and nature into something positive.”

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Guariguata at or Carolina Murcia at

 This research was prepared by CIFOR and the Andean Forests Program, facilitated by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Condesan and financially supported by CIFOR through the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors, and by the Department for International Development (DFID) through the KNOWFOR program. The Andean Forests Program is part of the Global Programme on Climate Change of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

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  • Agouti on the wedding menu: Bushmeat harvest, consumption and trade in a post-frontier region of the Ecuadorian Amazon

Agouti on the wedding menu: Bushmeat harvest, consumption and trade in a post-frontier region of the Ecuadorian Amazon

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Authors: Cummins, I.; Pinedo-Vasquez, M.; Barnard, A.; Nasi, R.

The availability, consumption and trade of bushmeat is highly variable across time and space. This paper examines how the bushmeat market in Napo, Ecuador has evolved alongside a variety of interconnected factors including local game scarcity, increased law enforcement, infrastructure development and increasing urbanization. Much of the human occupied landscape has already undergone extinction filters with only the most hunting resistant species still present. However, Napo maintains significant areas of largely intact forest which are not hunted due distance from roads and rough topography, which may serve as source habitat in the future. Two modes of hunting are identified both of which have very different implications for conservationists and for rural livelihoods. Supplemental or sustenance hunting generally focuses on more abundant species and thus occurs primarily within local agroforestry systems or nearby patches of forests. Commercial hunting meanwhile takes place within larger catchments and is focused on large-bodied species, which are especially susceptible to hunting pressure. Efforts by the Ecuadorian government to interdict bushmeat have largely driven the trade underground making it difficult to estimate current consumption rates. Demand generated by traditional Kichwa wedding parties remain a significant driver of commercial hunting. Policy recommendations include a greater focus on species-level game management, greater education about endangered species and more emphasis on using conservation programs to create corridors between protected areas. Due to the relatively small size of most communal forest areas, wildlife management is especially difficult for wide-ranging species and conservation efforts should focus on common pool resource management.

Series: CIFOR Occasional Paper no. 138

Publisher: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia

Publication Year: 2015

ISBN: 978-602-387-009-7

Also published at Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)


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Bushmeat on the wedding menu

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Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
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Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR

By Jack Hewson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

New study examines how bushmeat is evolving from forest to garden hunting, and from a food staple to a wedding delicacy in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Getting married can be an anxious affair. One may worry about different sets of friends or family getting along, or if your best man drinks one glass too many and gives an inappropriate speech. Any number of embarrassments might befall you.

In the Amazonian cities and towns of Ecuador, an additional concern is proving that you can provide enough dishes made from bushmeat during the wedding to satisfy the expectation of all invitees, particularly those of your close relatives.

“For this reason, wedding planners have to be connected to sophisticated network of suppliers and to know how to request bushmeat using cell phones and even apps to an illegal product of great cultural significance among Ecuadorian Amazonians,” said Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, the leading author of a recent study on bushmeat conducted under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.


This is bushmeat... Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
This is bushmeat… Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Modernity has brought less reliance on the forests for Ecuador’s urban and rural population in Amazonia, with many migrating to the cities for work.

When it comes to protein, farmed poultry and livestock are now more regularly consumed, but bushmeat has retained its traditional value for social events, particularly weddings.

Overhunting of large-bodied game and the illegal nature of bushmeat meat are incentives for managing game species (particularly small-bodied species) in production landscapes dominated by smallholder agriculture fields, fallows and forest patches.

“We found that the risk of declining on game populations results more from the loss of habitat and the growth of road networks and other infrastructure that is putting humans closer to populations of game species, even within protected areas,” Pinedo-Vasquez said.

The Napo province is rapidly undergoing a transition to a more mosaic landscape. Today, it boasts the highest urban population density and road infrastructure of any province in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

These changes have had significant impacts on species in areas now more easily accessed by forest hunters, with large-bodied game being significantly depleted. Pinedo-Vasquez and his colleagues have found that the decline of game populations in forests have emerged as an incentive for managing game species in agriculture landscapes and for practicing garden hunting.

What’s more, women become hunters, particularly of small-game species that are managed or protected in fallows, fields, or their house gardens.

...and this as well. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
…and this as well. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

While there have been no known extinctions in Amazonia due to the bushmeat trade, there are concerns that unsustainable hunting could prompt local extinctions, particularly of large-bodied species. Such risk seems to be reduced by integrating game management in production landscapes, as is the case of the Napo province.


To promote sustainable practices and lessen the impact of hunting, Pinedo-Vasquez’s research offers a number of recommendations including: greater coordination between conservation organizations and rural communities, the targeted conservation of depleted species, and monitoring of off-takes coordinated between law enforcement and hunters.

“Crucially, there needs to be engagement with smallholders and indigenous peoples – on a household scale and on a landscape scale,” Pinedo-Vasquez said.

“On a landscape scale, people have to get together and decide when to hunt and what to hunt. Hunting is not a random thing; it’s an issue of local governance.”

For instance, local people are actively enforcing rules governing garden hunting while they are increasingly less interested in enforcing rules governing forest hunting, particularly in areas near or within protected areas.


By comparison, Pinedo-Vasquez’s research suggests that less severe measures are required in Ecuador, and he actually recommends three “Rs” for sustainable hunting and bushmeat procurement in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

First, “recognize” the process and patterns of changing landscapes for bushmeat, including the decline of forest hunting and increase of garden hunting. Also recognize the dependence shift from large-bodied to small-bodied game species of bushmeat. Recognize as well that there are more women than men hunters.

Secondly, “regulate” and monitor the sale of bushmeat by species and origin.

Finally, “replicate” the experiences of sustainable game management and the enforcement of rules controlling the hunt, sale and consumption of bushmeat. Certification might be an incentive for replicating good practices in the Amazonian Ecuador. The urban tradition of featuring bushmeat on the wedding menu could be an incentive for the sustainable hunting and sale of bushmeat.


With lessening of concerns for the survival of Ecuador’s indigenous fauna, Pinedo-Vasquez himself has tried the local bushmeat cuisine.

“While the tradition of eating bushmeat is local, it’s a globalized society. The preparations that people come up with are very varied. You could have peccary with Japanese sauce,” he said.

“I’m really surprised how television has influenced the preparation of bushmeat, but has not eliminated it from the tradition.

“On a recent research field trip, a guy gave me some dried meat with cabbage and it was delicious. When I asked him where he got the recipe from, he said he had learnt it from a British cooking show.

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