Cordillera Real Oriental, a living landscape
The School for the Conservation of the Andean- Amazon piedmont forms part of a much more extensive project which covers all of the Cordillera Oriental from Peru to Colombia. “A living landscape: Conservation, regional integration and local development in the Cordillera Real Oriental, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru” - an initiative financed by the European Union and implemented by WWF and Fundación Natura Ecuador, with the help of organisations and local leaders in the three countries.
With more than nine million hectares, this eco-region occupies the eastern flank of the Andes which are over 500m in height, from the south of Colombia to the north of Peru. Its ecosystems and natural resources supply the economic, social and spiritual needs of more than a million people in the three countries. The deserts and cloud forests of the Amazonian slopes of the Codillera Real contribute to the regulation of fluvial systems, guaranteeing drinking water for irrigation and generating energy for the benefit of the national economies of the three countries.
In this region, where the Andes merge with the basin of the Amazon, there are 28 natural ecosystems which are home to the greatest wealth of species of plants, butterflies, amphibians, birds and mammals in the northern Andes. Even though less than 25% of their area is developed, there are serious pressures that threaten the biodiversity and well-being of their communities.
The expansion of the agricultural frontier (which includes in the extreme north the illegal plantations of cocaine and poppies), the development of large-scale infrastructure works such as the Pasto-Mocoa highway in the Colombian piedmont, and concessions for logging, mining and oil to big national and multinational companies, threaten the integrity of this great landscape. Furthermore, climate change is causing a reduction in the size of mountain glaciers and alterations in the regional and local climatic systems.
In the three countries, where there is conflict over access to land and natural resources, the presence of government authorities is limited , as is capacity to take action, which is reflected in the somewhat ineffective effective handling of the protected areas and in the few opportunities to establish processes of sustainable development that directly benefit the people in the region.
Despite this, after two years, the results show the viability of a living and sustainable Cordillera Real Oriental. Some examples of steps forward are: In 2009 the number of regions covered under the regional system of areas of conservation in the Cordillera Real has been extended to 240,000ha (28 ecosystems); 445 degraded areas are being recuperated, (132 in Colombia, 212 in Ecuador and 95 in Peru); the headwaters of three watersheds have included specific management mechanisms that contribute to the conservation of water sources in the region, among them are the high watershed of the Putumayo River and the micro-basin of the river San Pedro in the buffer zone of the Alto Fragua-Indi Wasi National Park in the Colombian piedmont.
In addition, several forums for agreement and exchange of experiences between the three countries have been created, a study of vulnerability to climate change has been finalized and a strategic plan of adaption has been put together. Finally, a total of 950 families have complied with programs to strengthen and develop capacities to realise economic activities compatible with the conservation of vulnerable landscapes (250 Colombian families, approx. 500 Ecuadorian families and 190 Peruvian families), which guarantee their food security and an income to cover some of their basic expenses.
The school, which aims to focus and position the results reached in the Cordillera at a more local level, invited different key actors involved with decision-making in the Colombian public sphere with the aim of creating agreements to strengthen and accompany the efforts of the leaders and settlers of Colombian piedmont since 2007.
“The success of this meeting depends on the political will of the institutions as well as the capacity of the communities to raise awareness,” said Mary Lou Higgins, director of WWF Colombia.
And although the state interventions of the three countries for the conservation in the Cordillera Real are relatively recent, a fourth part of this area already forms part of the respective national systems for protected areas. “However, conservation is only viable if it is compatible with the aspirations (social, cultural and economic) of the local communities,” concluded Higgins.