Is it possible to restore the ecosystems of Latin America?

by Yvette Sierra Praeli on June 5, 2021

  • Forest fires, land use change and invasive species are some of the causes for the loss of ecosystems.
  • Experiences in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia offer alternatives for the recovery of degraded ecosystems.

Every year at least 4.7 million hectares of tropical forest are lost in the world according to the United Nations. Agricultural and livestock expansion, illegal logging, pollution and invasive species, as well as fires are just some of the causes of deforestation and forest degradation.

Rivers, lakes and lagoons also suffer from pollution and overfishing; meanwhile mountains and oceans are exposed to the degradation and loss of their ecosystems. In the last century, half of the planet’s wetlands have disappeared and the same has happened to 50% of coral reefs.

Area with diversification of agricultural crops in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photo: Esteban Barrera.

That is why the restoration of ecosystems is urgent. The United Nations decided to dedicate World Environment Day this year to the recovery of habitats. This date also marks the beginning of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

According to United Nations calculations, half of the world’s GDP depends on nature, and for every dollar invested in restoration, up to $30 in economic benefits can be generated.

Food security and keeping the temperature increase below 2°C also have a direct relationship with the restoration of ecosystems.

“Conducting restoration means recovering as much as possible and getting as close as possible to the composition, structure and function of an ecosystem,” says Lilia Roa Fuentes, director of the doctorate in environmental and rural studies at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia.

Roa Fuentes explains that a native and local ecosystem is used as a model for this, a model which has endured historical conditions of natural disturbance and which allows certainty around which components should be part of the restored space, as per the social and ecological conditions of the place.

In Latin America – Roa points out – the outlook is not very good; ecosystems are being lost due to deforestation, due to the opening of roads, but the main driver has been the change in land use to convert forests into fields, pastures for livestock, mining activities and illicit crops.

Although this degradation is going at an accelerated rate, there are efforts that seek to reverse this situation in Latin America.

In the Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador, invasive plant species are being exchanged for local crops. In Peru deforested forests are recovered in a regional conservation area. In Bolivia there is an effort to organize family ecological gardens rescuing ancestral knowledge. In Colombia work is being done to restore dry forests and wetlands. What strategies are behind these success stories?

Ecuador: invasive species in the Galapagos islands

In the Galapagos Islands, invasive species arrived with the first settlers. Since then, plants such as blackberry and guava have caused the degradation of ecosystems in which we are working to restore today.

Sandra García leads the restoration program in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Belén Vallejo.

Sandra García, a specialist in sustainable agriculture at Conservation International Ecuador, is one of the people committed to this change. The goal is to stop the spread of invasive species and grow local plants.

“We are working on the farms, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, to control invasive species and replace them with sustainable agriculture and by planting endemic Galapagos plants,” explains García.

So far, García explains, 40 producers have signed conservation agreements on Santa Cruz Island and ten have done so on Isabela Island, thus committing themselves to the recovery of these farms under the sustainability and agroecology standards of the producers.

The restoration plan in Galapagos also includes landscape recovery and agrotourism, with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, says García.

Ecosystem restoration in the Galapagos Islands seeks to eradicate invasive plants. Photo: Belén Vallejo.

The experience began in 2013 with the cultivation of coffee with endemic species, which allowed them to obtain the designation of origin for this product; the conservation agreements with the producers began in 2018

Along this path, García says, the approval of regulations was also achieved to reduce the importation of products arriving from the continent. “In 2018, public policies were promoted to prevent the entry of yogurt and in 2020, the entry of coffee, kidney tomato and mozzarella cheese was stopped. Currently, coffee and mozzarella cheese are produced in the Galapagos.”

The experience of Conservation International of Ecuador has managed, so far, to recover ten hectares through these conservation strategies and intends, in a short time, to start a new project to advance in the restoration of another 20 hectares.

Read the original coverage from Mongabay Latam and about additional projects across Latin America in support of ecosystem recovery here:

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021


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