When Amazonian communities in Peru conserve their forests, they recognize both economic and non-monetary benefits, researchers have found. But they need the support of government authorities to ensure that those benefits are not undercut by the encroachment of deforestation from illegal logging, mining or other activities.

How do villagers value programs for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+)?

Researchers from Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), a Lima-based non-profit organization, are asking that question as part of a comparative study that seeks to understand the risks related to REDD+ benefit-sharing, and how country-level REDD+ safeguards could mitigate those risks.

The study, coordinated by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), is also being carried out in Indonesia and Burkina Faso to learn lessons from different contexts.

In Peru, the researchers found, the answer varies depending on the community and the type of forest conservation program.

   Around 9 million hectares of Peru’s land is deforested or degraded, as forest loss continues across the country. CIFOR Photo/Marlon del Aguila Guerrero


More than half of Peru’s territory is covered with forest, mainly tropical forest with high biodiversity. But most of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global climate change, come from deforestation.

Some 9 million hectares of land are deforested or degraded, and since 2001 forest loss has been creeping upward.

Different schemes are being tested to encourage forest conservation, including the country’s National Program of Forest Conservation for Climate Change Mitigation and various REDD+ projects.

One thing the researchers have found is that benefits do not always equal cash.

Over time, people have come to understand that ecosystem services resulting from forest conservation is a benefit to them

Harlem Mariño, DAR

“Discussion of benefits often focuses just on economic benefits,” said Harlem Mariño of DAR.

“But over time, people have come to understand that ecosystem services resulting from forest conservation is a benefit to them,” Mariño said, “as is technical assistance for managing their forests and crops.”

That is true in Lejía, a community of about 380 people at the edge of the Cordillera Azul National Park in Peru’s north-central San Martín region.

A REDD+ project in the park, which also involves Lejía, does not include direct economic benefits for the community, but focuses on ensuring the protection of ecosystem services such as water and forest products that provide food, housing materials and other goods for families.

“They greatly value the non-monetary benefits, especially the fact that they have conserved their ecosystem services and livelihoods,” Mariño said.

   Augusto Sangama Piña, president of APAHUI, the cacao cooperative in Huicungo, shows off the pod that produces the seeds from which chocolate is made. CIFOR Photo/Marlon del Aguila Guerrero


The village of Huicungo, also in the San Martín region, abuts a different protected area, the Río Abiseo National Park. The villagers grow cacao in small plots near to a conservation area that was established by themselves and is known Martin Sagrado Concession.

As a complementary way to reduce pressure on this conservation area, they worked on the Río Huayabamba/Abiseo Model Forest since 2008. Later, under alliances with three other conservation concessions located at the Río Abiseo National Park buffer zone, they all became what its known as the Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve, recognized by UNESCO in 2016.

Several decades ago, that area of the San Martín region was known for producing coca, the raw ingredient in cocaine. The drug trade brought violence to the area, according to Giuliana Cecilia Larrea, a researcher involved in the study.

Now, the farmers value the forest for the ecosystem services it provides. They are considering different income-generating activities, including the use of medicinal plants and other non-timber resources, tourism and fish farming, in partnership with the Pur Project, which implements a REDD+ project there.

The area they’re protecting not only provides them with ecosystem services, but it gives them the relief of living in peace

Giuliana Cecilia Larrea, researcher

Technical assistance has been a key benefit, helping local farmers improve their production of organic cacao, their key crop, which they now export to Europe through a fair trade organization.

Although cacao is not as profitable as coca was, the farming families of Huicungo prefer the security of a legal crop to the insecurity that accompanied cultivation of a drug crop, Larrea said.

“That’s one of the benefits people mentioned a lot,” she said. “The area they’re protecting not only provides them with ecosystem services, but it gives them the relief of living in peace.”

   Students of the Agropecuario de Mencoriaria school. The community recently used funds from conservation payments to establish a new school. CIFOR Photo/Marlon del Aguila Guerrero


The community of Mencoriari, in the central Junín region, is conserving its forest under a different incentive scheme. The national forest conservation program pays the community through a direct cash transfer of about USD 3 per hectare to conserve the forest.

With a 10,000-hectare conservation area, that amounts to about USD 30,000 a year. The community recently decided to use some of the funds to build a new school. For the approximately 370 members of the mainly Asháninka indigenous community, however, the benefits go beyond cash.

In meetings with the DAR researchers, they said they had improved their cacao and coffee production since the project began, and are raising fish and barnyard fowl. They also value ecosystem services, including water, medicinal plants and clean air.

Men and women sometimes value different aspects of their forests, Larrea said. In some communities, women spoke more about conserving the forest as a legacy and means of livelihood for their children, while men talked more about markets for forest-related products.

   Construction of new roads poses threats to forest conservation in Peru. CIFOR Photo/Marlon del Aguila Guerrero


While deforestation rates in communities with conservation projects are declining, pressure on the surrounding forest remains high, the researchers say. In all three communities, people mention illegal logging nearby, and around Huicungo, gold mining and road construction also pose threats to forest conservation.

At the 2010 Climate Change Summit in Cancún, Mexico, negotiators drew up a list of seven safeguards meant to ensure that REDD+ activities not only do no harm, but also contribute to sustainable development and environmental goals. Threats faced by the communities in the Peru study point to a need for effective safeguards.

One of the safeguards calls for effective and transparent forest governance. Members of all three communities said they would like to see more nearby government authorities—including police and inspectors from the prosecutor’s office—taking action in cases of illegal activities in their forests. Although the communities monitor their own territories, they cannot take action against illegal loggers or other invaders without effective law enforcement.

Huicungo’s success with cacao is also a magnet for people from other areas who migrate to the area in hopes of clearing some land and joining the local cooperative. Rural development policies do not provide for planned settlement, and communities must find ways to deal with conflicts that arise. In one case, a community negotiated a settlement under which new arrivals were allowed to stay as long as they engaged only in sustainable tourism activities.

   An indigenous girl with her mascot. Peru’s largest indigenous group has proposed its own version of REDD+ with a focus on tenure and sustainable development. CIFOR Photo/Marlon del Aguila Guerrero


The safeguards also call for respect for indigenous communities’ rights, including territorial rights. Peru’s largest Amazonian indigenous umbrella group proposed its own version of REDD+, which it called “indigenous REDD+,” emphasizing titling and sustainable development activities for communities instead of trading of carbon credits.

Other safeguards involve full and effective participation of local people in the design and implementation of REDD+ activities.

“Although REDD+ has been under way in Peru since 2008, when a National REDD+ Group was formed, the voices of forest users are still lacking,” Larrea said.

Basic information about benefit-sharing schemes, options and safeguards must reach regional and local governments and local communities in order to develop realistic, cost-effective actions for forest conservation and climate-change mitigation and adaptation, she said.

Aligning the priorities of those various stakeholders will be crucial as Peru defines its safeguards and decides how it will monitor them as part of the Safeguard Information System required under the Cancún agreements. Peru approved its national REDD+ strategy in 2016, but there are still limited opportunities for stakeholders from different sectors and different regions of the country to discuss the issues and work out differences, Larrea said.

Although REDD+ has been under way in Peru since 2008 ... the voices of forest users are still lacking

Giuliana Cecilia Larrea, researcher

As Peru and other countries map out their forest conservation strategies, the findings from these projects can provide guidance for future endeavors, the researchers said.

“Mechanisms for benefit distribution under REDD+ should build on existing experiences,” said Hugo Che Piu of DAR. “It’s also important to remember that circumstances can change, sometimes very quickly. It’s important that benefit sharing be sustainable over time.”

Safeguards, the researchers say, are crucial for helping to monitor those changes and ensure sustainability for communities that work to conserve their forests.

   A local family on the way to their morning activities. CIFOR Photo/Marlon del Aguila Guerrero
For more information on this topic, please contact Amy Duchelle at
This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.
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