Acción Andina is a Latin-American–led conservation and restoration initiative to restore one million hectares of high Andean native forest ecosystems, primarily Polylepis, in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. The project runs over the next 25 years for climate, water, biodiversity and local community benefits.
Climate change and land-use changes are causing an unprecedented threat to high Andean ecosystems and communities. Over the last centuries, native forests have been reduced to 3–10% of their original extent, mainly due to deforestation for fuelwood, construction materials, grazing, as well as mining and infrastructure development. With rapidly melting/disappearing glaciers, not only do these forests play a vital role for South America’s water security, but they also provide key habitat for endangered biodiversity and are deeply embedded in Andean indigenous community culture and livelihoods.
US-based Global Forest Generation (GFG) is the lead strategic partner of Acción Andina and provides extensive technical, management and finance mobilisation support to all partners to bring the initiative to scale.
GFG also serves as the main point of contact for donors, investors and the international conservation and development community. It ensures quality, long-term sustainability, and effective implementation during all project phases and provides key communication and reporting capacity.
Executive Director Florent Kaiser is the lead contact.
Peru-based Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) is Acción Andina’s lead administrative, conservation and coordinating organization. ECOAN is responsible for supervising project implementation, including centralising data, budgets, and maps. ECOAN ensures Acción Andina partners provide consistent and timely implementation outcomes and partners with GFG on general program coordination and management.
This is a growing programme. Currently, Acción Andina has on-the-ground implementing partners in five countries, with additional local partners, communities, and projects added annually.
Restore range-wide a threatened forest ecosystem that plays a critical role in securing and providing water for Andean and Amazon communities, increasing resilience to climate change, habitat for endangered biodiversity, and natural resources for indigenous and local communities. Build on-the-ground capacity to sustain forest gains in perpetuity.
Why Protect high Andean forests?
Polylepis forests comprise a narrow 3,000-mile-long, narrow, vegetative band spanning nine Andean countries and supporting a unique, globally rare, and rapidly disappearing ecosystem. The upper edge of these forests are found at 3,800–4,500 meters (12,467–14,763 feet), defining the tree line for the Andes range. These forests are often found beneath glaciers. There are 21 native Polylepis species, filling different altitudinal and ecological niches. No other habitat is proportionally more important for all that it influences below. Yet these forests have been largely overlooked by the conservation community.
Primary Polylepis forest has been reduced to just 3-10% of its natural range throughout the Andes. Leading Polylepis scientists believe the vast majority of the deforestation occurred more than 400 years ago following the Spanish conquest of Peru. The primary deforestation drivers in the project area are harvesting for firewood and construction materials, uncontrolled fires, and grazing by livestock.
Polylepis forests are a major contributor to the Andean water system. Their branches act as the comb that harvests mists and precipitation from the clouds. Beneath the trees, extraordinary Sphagnum moss sequesters the water, restraining its downhill flow. Instead of washed gullies and eroded soils, permanent streams are created. Agriculture benefits and carbon is sequestered where otherwise only rock would remain. And many rare and endangered species – mainly birds and plants – persist only in this increasingly fragmented, fantastic fairyland of red-barked trees.
Polylepis forests are poorly ed in protected areas. Because of both natural causes as well as human-caused fragmentation, Polylepis forests, their associated birds, and other species are distributed as tiny meta-populations throughout its range.
Polylepis is culturally significant to high Andes indigenous peoples. In Quechua, the principal language spoken by these communities, Polylepis forests are called “enchanted forests”. As keystone species, they provide the overstory and main structure for forests that contain a diversity of plants valued by these communities as native foods and medicines. The trees themselves are harvested for fuel and construction, scarce resources at high altitudes.
Acción Andina partners and local communities are committed to creating fully-functioning forest ecosystems that endure for generations.
Significantly, communities in the areas targeted for landscape-level restoration are in agreement that the best and highest value of the targeted, denuded landscapes is to return them to forest and wetlands to provide long-term water and land security.
Specifically, we aim to:
Protect 500,000 hectares of remaining native Polylepis forests on public and private lands across the Andes by increasing levels of government and community protection and management and by addressing drivers of deforestation. In addition to the environmental services these forests provide, they are critical sources of seeds and cuttings for reforestation. In 2020–2021, Acción Andina partners in Peru and Bolivia will advance community-based forest protection and sustainable management of native forests in project areas and distribute fuel-efficient stoves to reduce the need for firewood.
Restore an additional 500,000 hectares of native forests, mainly Polylepis.
Develop long-term agreements with communities to reforest and manage native forests to deliver full environmental services (e.g. water, carbon sequestration, biodiversity habitat, community natural resource). In 2020–2021, Acción Andina partners are on track to plant 1.2 million saplings in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. On-site community nurseries are being built or expanded to scale production in subsequent years to more than two million saplings annually. Planting largely occurs during the rainy season (December–March).
Build and support on-the-ground partner, project and community leadership to maintain and scale up results annually. In 2020–2021, GFG and ECOAN will add partners, leaders, and communities to Acción Andina and help all participants with project salaries, practical leadership, business, and project management training, and access to global restoration resources.
Restoring the health and productivity of the degraded farm, range and forest lands across Southern America
Results so far
Built and increased on-the-ground conservation leadership by financially sponsoring on-the-ground conservation leaders in three countries and helping train, mentor and support more than 26 Andean long-term conservation leaders from eleven Andean NGOs.
Provided financial and technical support to Acción Andina partners to grow, community nursery and reforestation capacities from 178,000 trees in 2018 to 1.2 million trees in five countries in 2020.
Brought two new implementing and strategic partners into Acción Andina to develop carbon and water long-term funding for communities and partners at the project level.
Generated interest by multiple governments, multilateral development agencies, international corporations, carbon investors and other international organizations to support Acción Andina as the first multi-country restoration initiative in the Andes.
Main objectives to achieve the solution
Acción Andina follows a phased approach to scaling: Phase One (2019–2024) focuses on building on-the-ground capacities and a common management infrastructure gradually increase implementation and impact. Subsequent phases will be focused on massive scaling while reducing costs.
The principal scaling strategies are:
Build, grow and support long-term, a partnership of dedicated conservation organizations at priority restoration landscapes. Acción Andina provides the framework, infrastructure, experts, strategies, management capacities and resources to turn local projects into a full-scale regional initiative. All project partners work under a shared vision and towards common goals. Mainstreaming their models, tools and capacities offers an unprecedented opportunity to maximise effectiveness and scale.
Scale up the necessary on-site plant nurseries and native stock for reforestation. One of the biggest obstacles to large-scale reforestation is the infrastructure and stock needed to upscale tree-planting. Acción Andina is investing in building, expanding, and maintaining native plant nurseries at project sites and growing plants from seeds or cuttings collected from nearby, existing native forests. This method decreases costs and improves long-term survival rates of saplings. With each year’s additional reforestation, the amount of potential plant stock for future reforestation efforts increases. To meet production targets, Acción Andina partners will aggressively increase nursery capacities, with a target of at least three million saplings produced annually by the end of 2024 and additional scaling thereafter.
Increasing protection of existing, mature forests on public and private lands using government designations and improved management. To be successful with restoration, standing native forests must be sustainably managed and protected, long-term. Not only do they provide and showcase their critical role and benefits, but they are also the source of seeds for reforestation. Scaling up forest conservation requires creating legally recognised conservation areas and working with communities to address deforestation drivers as well as with local, regional and national governments to advocate for forest protection.
Develop diverse and scalable finance mechanisms to unlock long-term, effective, ground-reaching restoration finance. We work with international conservation, governments, development and finance actors to create cutting-edge finance models that blend and leverage contributions and investments from individuals, private, public, philanthropic, bi- and multilateral development, as well as payments for ecosystem services schemes to sustain long-term conservation finance. We involve partners with a range of skills, including sophisticated multi-national mapping and database management, marketing and communications, and access to and influence with national governments and global thought-leaders.
Restoring Polylepis forests provide significant climate benefits including added carbon sequestration, in particular soil carbon and water security. In a climate change regime, the most important benefit is the contribution of high Andean Polylepis forests for added water security and climate resilience: these forests capture, store and gradually release enormous amounts of water that supply thousands of local communities, cities, including major American metropolitan areas such as Lima and Quito, and, together with other ecosystems, form the headwaters of the Amazon rainforest.
In addition to providing habitat for iconic South American including alpaca, guanaco, Andean Condor and Spectacled Bear, native high Andean forest ecosystems are home to 23 endangered species of birds, plants, frogs, and mammals ranked by IUCN as high conservation priorities.
Acción Andina’s conservation strategies result in a number of seasonal and long-term local community jobs.
A range of community services are also provided tailored to each project/community site to offset long-term lost economic value of lands reforested and to address drivers of deforestation.
Among the services provided include alternative energy sources (e.g. solar panels, fuel-efficient stoves), support for micro-businesses (e.g. ecotourism, fish farms, textiles), requested medical and social services.