Sustainable Manu: biodiversity conservation through sustainable development and rainforest regeneration

Published: 17 July 2015

MacLeod, Whitworth - Sustainable Manu: biodiversity conservation through sustainable development and rainforest regeneration, Darwin Initiative, 2015 - 2018, £289,728

MacLeod, Whitworth

Q&A with Dr Ross MacLeod about the project.

The world’s rainforests are vital for preserving global biodiversity and maintaining essential ecosystem and economic services. Yet a widespread perception exists that there is a fundamental conflict between the desire to conserve biodiversity in healthy rainforest ecosystems and the aspirations and needs of impoverished local peoples living in and around rainforests.

The Amazon rainforest and, specifically, the Manu Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO World Heritage) exemplify this major global challenge of how to both preserve biodiversity and develop sustainably. Currently, local communities in Manu are forced to financially rely on destructive practices such as logging and unsustainable agriculture. The result is an unsustainable downward spiral of environmental destruction that both reduces rainforest biodiversity and decreases long-term economic returns for local people. Furthermore, areas that have experienced significant human disturbance are perceived (by both local people and conservation managers) as having little economic or conservation value.

Due to this undervaluation of their current land, people living within buffer zones around Manu are driven to further exploit and encroach on primary rainforest for economic survival. If deforestation rates are not reversed, we risk losing over 40% of the Amazon rainforest in the next 35 years (Soares-Filho, 2006). This will lead to massive biodiversity loss and a reduction in ecosystem services such as water cycling and the maintenance of soil fertility that are vital to local communities and which, ultimately, have global consequences increasing carbon emissions.

The Project

The Sustainable Manu project therefore aims to achieve the following key goals:

  1. Show how much biodiversity conservation can be delivered through rainforest regeneration within and surrounding the 915 km2 of the Manu Biosphere Reserve buffer zones (known as cultural or human use zones). In pilot work we have shown that almost 90% of Manu’s highest conservation priority bird and mammal species (44 Threatened or Near Threatened species on IUCN RedList) live in regenerating rainforest.

    We will therefore implement the first biodiversity monitoring programme for regenerating rainforest in Manu allowing the value of regenerating rainforest in Manu’s cultural zones to be properly documented and assessed. We will use our well tested line transect and camera trap protocols to document the distribution and relative abundance of the 44 priority species in regenerating rainforest. We will also measure the species richness of 3 key biodiversity indicator groups (amphibians & reptiles using visual encounter surveys, and butterflies using baited traps - based on established protocols).

  2. Demonstrate that rainforest regeneration and other micro-enterprise initiatives can be used to create sustainable livelihood opportunities The development of micro-enterprises will build on our pilot studies in Manu. These small-scale pilot studies demonstrated the potential biodiversity and conservation value of rainforest regeneration in Manu.

    Through scientific research undertaken and coordinated in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, we showed that across 4 key indicator groups regenerating forest was capable of holding 87% (±3.47%) of comparable primary forest biodiversity and we found 39 out of the 44 key conservation species expected to exist in primary forest of the region. At the same time we researched and worked with local communities to investigate a variety of micro-enterprise models. The most successful micro-enterprise initiatives were; a) agro-forestry plots (time averaged income US$ 546 per ha, Scriven & Malhi 2012, for which 17 trial 1 ha plots were implemented) and b) biogardens with protective roofing to eliminate soil erosion (leading to a 35% increase in annual income, based on 18 trials).

    Work in the “Sustainable Manu” will focus on the development of 6 sustainable micro-enterprises, the first 3 will be initiated in year 1; A) 1 ha agroforestry plots that intersperse both fast and slow growing commercially valuable trees with banana trees providing short (within 2 years) and long-term (from timber) cash crops that can be harvested in rotation while also recreating a forest canopy, B) biogardens to grow vegetables that can improve family nutrition as well as provide surpluses to be sold and, C) eco-tourism guiding for local eco-tourism lodges.

    To ensure the project is aligned directly with local peoples priorities a further 3 focal initiatives will be selected by local communities during year 1, in years 2 and 3 with training events and entrepreneurial/micro-enterprise training. We have currently identified 7 further potential micro-enterprise activities that have been trialled in Manu (Scriven and Malhi 2012) and that we have the capacity and experience to support, ranging from aquaculture and apiculture to the production and sale of artisan crafts through Manu’s flourishing ecotourism industry.

  3. Work with the local technical institute in Manu to create a permanent collaborative training partnership and structure that will bring the local community, micro-enterprise specialists, biodiversity conservation expertise, policy makers and education facilitators together to deliver training and support for micro-enterprise, environmental management and biodiversity conservation.

    The project will use the support of expert partners and project staff to help technical institute staff to build and deliver a curriculum for a Natural Land Management training programme - aimed at developing sustainable land management skills in the Manu area. Core to this will be a land management entrepreneur module (aimed at 18 to 30 year olds) focussing on the technical knowledge and practical skills needed to increase benefits gained from micro-enterprises.

    We will also deliver practical workshops and training activities targeted at people aged 30+ who work on the land but have less opportunity for formal education. In addition we will hold a series of forward planning workshops that will bring together local, national and international experts to identify and assess approaches by which Manu can benefit from implementation of the new Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing and from developments in Manu’s ecotourism structure.

First published: 17 July 2015

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