Protecting watersheds in Latin America Upstream conservation paid by downstream actors

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Protecting watersheds in Latin America

Upstream conservation paid by downstream actors

The eastern slopes of the Andes support some of the world’s most biodiverse forests. Amboró National Park is home to 10% of all the bird species on earth, while the 260 km2 Los Negros valley that meanders out of Amboró supports 235 bird species. These forests provide drinking water to the 1.5 million residents of Santa Cruz, and supply irrigation water and flood protection to the fertile lowlands that drive Bolivia’s agricultural export economy. Upland forests are increasingly threatened by illegal land incursions, and the clearing of “water producing” cloud forests for agriculture. The 57, 000 km2 Río Grande catchment is one of Bolivia’s most important watersheds. However, the hydrology of the area is being drastically disturbed by increasing deforestation rates. Forest owners have been mining their timber resources and increasingly converted their forests into cropland. Through the development of innovative financing mechanisms for upstream conservation and watershed management, IUCN NL partner Fundación Natura Bolivia has successfully stimulated sustainable downstream agricultural production and climate change mitigation in the Río Grande catchment.
The municipal governments and water cooperatives of Comarapa, Mairana and Los Negros have operated Municipal Water Funds (MWFs) for four years with EGP contribution, and other municipalities are now following their lead. The process of developing these funds is similar to “payments for environmental services”, but the difference is that they are designed and implemented from the bottom-up, led by local leaders in municipalities, and focus on building a local political constituency by pioneering “reciprocal agreements for conservation” (or ARA, Arreglos Reciprocos por Agua) and compensating farmers for the opportunity cost of their conservation activities with bee boxes, barbed wire, fruit trees and capacity building.
Due to this project1, local authorities enrolled in a 20 year commitment to watershed management. The mayor of Vallegrande is committed to protect every single upstream water source in his jurisdiction. Furthermore, the project catalyzed the creation of the mancommunity of the Rio Grande Protected Area -an institution for municipal leaders committed to conservation through a grand 7-municipal alliance- with a further starting commitment of 6500 euros each year.
Many local land users have actively participated in project events with the result that protecting watershed services is starting to become a “mainstream” activity in the entire protected area. This is crucial as the long-term success of watershed management will not only depend on the number of hectares that are being protected today, but rather on whether community members perceive conservation and sustainable management to be useful. These Water Funds can facilitate investments by downstream actors in upstream conservation.
Since March 2011, Fundación Natura Bolivia started a project evaluation to demonstrate the effects of conservation. They assessed water quality in upstream areas and in communities in more than 140 micro-watersheds2. In addition the organization reanalyzed and improved a series of models predicting the effects of deforestation in the Pirai watershed. The results are presented at meetings with upstream communities and municipal leaders, and to municipal and departmental authorities in the city of Santa Cruz.
Downstream institutional infrastructure has been developed under this project3 so that initial donor investments can leverage long-term, self-sustainable financing. So far, 9000 hectares of upstream forests have been effectively conserved for the long term and 500 families have signed conservation contracts and received compensation packages. There are now 9 funds with statutes, legal status, and board gender balance and an umbrella funding mechanism is defined, legalized and implemented. The hydrological data collection and modeling allow better quantification of correlation upstream deforestation and flooding frequency and severity. This way, downstream agriculturalists can be shown how upstream conservation efforts will benefit them4.
IUCN NL is supporting a comparable approach in Argentina5. Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (FVSA), a trusted IUCN NL partner since 2005, develops innovative financial mechanisms that encourage sustainable forest management. The famous Iguazú waterfalls embody the importance of the Atlantic Rainforest for the water supply in the region. Tributaries originating in this part of the Atlantic forest all flow into the Paraná River. Many stakeholders like downstream companies, municipalities and tourist companies are willing to pay for a reliable supply of clean water. By organizing and convincing stakeholder groups to pay for the water, upstream communities, landowners and local authorities receive revenues that will prevent them from logging the forest and enable them to restore degraded areas.
The forest in the Misiones province of Argentina is part of the Atlantic Rainforest: a biodiversity hotspot that is under severe threat. Only 7 percent of the original forest remains, and what is left is becoming increasingly fragmented. Iconic species like the Jaguar, Ocelot and the Toco Toucan (the largest toucan species in the world) are just a few examples of the abundant biodiversity of the Atlantic Rainforest ecosystem.
The Atlantic Rainforest in northeast Argentina harbors an extraordinary biodiversity and provides water to downstream economic activities. Nevertheless this rain forest is under severe threat of deforestation due to the expansion of soybean fields and cattle ranching. By connecting companies that use the water from the forest to the communities, landowners and local authorities that use or manage the forest, an economic counterweight is established in favor of forest conservation.

1 EGP; Bolivia; FNB; Business planning for a new protected area: the Río Grande biosphere reserve (Liliana Jauregui)


3 EA; Bolivia; FNB; Improved water productivity through watershed management in Santa Cruz, Bolivia (Liliana Jauregui)


5 EA; Argentina; FVSA; Creating new incomes by protecting the rainforest. (Henri Roggeri)

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