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New tools and knowledge for monitoring peatlands in Peru

Peatlands workshop allowed key stakeholders to strengthen capacities in accounting and monitoring of greenhouse gas fluxes
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Participants of the training workshop in a peatland area in Iquitos, Peru. Photo: Junior Raborg

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Peruvian peatlands play a major role as immense carbon reservoirs. As such, actions for their conservation, sustainable management and restoration are considered key among the nature-based solutions to climate change.

In Iquitos, the capital of the Loreto region, where research on carbon sequestration and emissions in Peru’s Amazonian peatlands is being conducted, key state actors strengthened their capacities in accounting for carbon stocks and greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes from peatlands at a training workshop convened by the CIFOR-ICRAF climate change team, the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP), the US Forest Service, the University of St Andrews in the UK and SilvaCarbon.

Peruvian peatlands at a glance

Peruvian peatlands are located in the coastal, Andean and Amazonian regions. In the coastal zone, peat is present in mangroves; in the high Andean zones, peat is found in wetlands known as bofedales, in jalca ecosystems and in páramos; and in Amazonian peatlands it is found above all in moriche palm (Mauritia flexuosa) swamps known locally as aguajales, in pole forests (varillales hidromórficos), in grass-shrub swamps and also in forests seasonally flooded by black water (tahuampas), according to researcher Eurídice Honorio of the University of St Andrews.

The largest area of Peruvian peatlands is in the Amazon region, where there are an estimated six million hectares of peatlands, according to Honorio.

“Peruvian Amazonian peatlands storage more than five billion tonnes of carbon, despite the fact that they cover only 5% of the country’s surface. There is as much carbon under their ground as all the forests in Peru,” she said.

Management and conservation

Conserving peatlands is crucial to mitigate climate change. In addition to storing immense amounts of carbon, they provide ecosystem services such as water regulation that enable adaptation to climate variations related to rainfall, are the habitat for a unique biodiversity of species, and are a fundamental part of the culture of many indigenous communities, among others.

The most extensive peatland ecosystems known to date in Peru are the aguajales, which are dominated by a type of palm tree whose fruit is of great socioeconomic and dietary importance in the Loreto region. In Iquitos, an estimated 20 tonnes of aguaje are used daily for domestic and handicraft purposes, with the leaves of the palm tree being used to make baskets to carry goods, bread baskets, fans, mats, and roofing for houses, among other products. The fruit is used to make soft drinks, ice cream and other related products.

Unfortunately, unsustainable aguaje harvesting through indiscriminate felling of female palms has been impacting this ecosystem for years, with consequences for biodiversity, GHG emissions and the livelihoods of local populations. Moreover, in recent years, extractive activities, such as the exploitation of oil and mining resources, as well as infrastructure development and land use change, have put their conservation at risk.

“It is imperative that Peruvian policies ensure the conservation and sustainable use of peatlands and that they prioritize them within the national climate and environmental agenda,” said Mariela Lopez, a CIFOR-ICRAF researcher and lead author of the paper What do we know about Peruvian peatlands?

   Training workshop on accounting and monitoring of GHG flows from peatlands in Iquitos, Peru. Photo: Junior Raborg

Kristell Hergoualc’h, a CIFOR-ICRAF scientist who has been researching the Peruvian Amazonian peatlands for more than eight years, considers it essential to raise public awareness about managing the resource, sharing the traditional knowledge and practices of Indigenous Peoples, and informing people about the consequences of excessive population growth in aguajal areas, as well as the risk of releasing the enormous quantities of carbon stored in the peatlands.

“At the research level, it is also important to identify areas where degradation is minimal as well as areas that are already devastated and to prevent carbon from being released,” Hergoualc’h said.

According to estimates, CO2 emissions associated with peat decomposition accounted for 1–4% of national emissions due to deforestation in 2000–2016 in the Peruvian Amazon, said Honorio. “These emissions are still low but growing, so it is essential to promote the conservation and sustainable management of these ecosystems in order to reduce deforestation and generate viable alternatives to maintain the livelihoods of rural Peruvian populations,” she explained.

At the workshop, specialists from the climate change and desertification unit of the Peruvian Ministry of Environment (MINAM), the National Forest and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) and the IIAP, among other key stakeholders, were briefed on the general concepts of carbon stock measurement and peatland mapping, the measurement of GHG fluxes, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accounting principles, the wetlands supplement to the IPCC guidelines for national GHG inventories, and the emission factors to be used for Peruvian peatlands.

In addition, participants were introduced to two study sites where GHG emissions from peatland degradation in Iquitos are monitored.

“This space has provided us with an opportunity to learn about new tools for monitoring GHGs in peatlands and to bring together different institutions,” said Alex Arana, a specialist in forest valuation at SERFOR.

“The methodologies learned in the workshop will act as a basis to design projects to monitor estimates of biomass and carbon contained in peatlands, within the framework of SERFOR’s National Forest Inventory,” he said.

“This activity has allowed us to learn about the work carried out by research institutions such as the IIAP and CIFOR-ICRAF and, with this information, to generate policies supporting national progress in climate change management,” said Nelly Cabrera, a specialist in GHG inventories at MINAM.

“The hope with this first approach is to set working groups to advance our emissions reporting and the GHG inventory,” she added.

This research was conducted under the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP) and the CIFOR Global Comparative Study on REDD+ (www.cifor.org/gcs). It was generously supported by the governments of the United States of America and Norway. It was carried out as part of the CGIAR research program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP-FTA) with financial support from CGIAR Fund Donors.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Kristell Hergoualc'h at k.hergoualch@cgiar.org or Mariela Lopez at m.lopez@cgiar.org.
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