Make your vacation sustainable by planting trees through Montikuna Perú

By Nathan Hecht
What is Montikuna Peru?

The word montikuna means trees or forest in Quechua, the indigenous language of the Peruvian Andes. Unfortunately, many of the native forests in this area have become highly fragmented and scarce, thanks to indiscriminate felling, burning of pasture land and forests, and infrastructure development (electricity cables, roads, agricultural land, etc.), among other pressures (SERNANP 2010). One alternative to large-scale reforestation is agroforestry, where trees are planted in and around agricultural crops, for the benefit of both the environment and farmer.

Montikuna Perú is a partnership of Responsible Travel Peru and the United States Peace Corps volunteers living in Ancash. It is a fundraising project that supports native tree reforestation by promoting agroforestry to private landowners. Tourists as well as locals can buy Montikuna Perú stickers at participating Huaraz restaurants hotels and tourist hotspots. Each sticker represents several planted native trees. All donations go directly to local farmers in Peace Corps sites, to pay them for the work of digging holes and planting trees using agroforestry techniques. With this payment, Montikuna Perú gives a short-term benefit to a local farmer, which ultimately contributes to the long-term goal of reforestation, and helps to revalue ancestral agroforestry techniques.

Why plant native trees?

Native trees are species that have adapted to this mountain ecosystem. If native species are replanted around agricultural crops, they can increase water availability, improve soil fertility, reduce soil erosion, protect from severe weather, and provide additional harvests of wood and fruit for the landowner. The trees serve as living fences, windbreakers, soil conservation strips, and fruit groves; it is considered agroforestry (Reynel, 1987). The reforestation of native trees is crucial in this area for several reasons, chief among them the ability of native tree species to improve and maintain favourable environmental and agricultural conditions.

Native species reforestation is also important because of the presence and popularity of the eucalyptus tree. Currently, eucalyptus, an exotic, fast growing tree originating from Australia, far outnumbers native trees in local rural ecosystems. Because of their rapid growth rates, wide adaptability, and high productivity, eucalyptus plantations generate substantial economic returns (Zhang, C. et al.). The vast majority of the trees you will see in this region are eucalyptus, thanks to its marketability and government forestation programs. Despite its popularity, many environmentalists have concerns about its influence on soil quality, native tree establishment, and water availability.

According to the Zhang, C. et al., 2009 study in the journal Forestry Ecology and Management, eucalyptus trees have been reported to reduce diversity of understory species, cause soil degradation (Turnbull, 1999) and have allelopathic effects on native species (Gareca et al., 2007). Allelopathy refers to the plants’ ability to chemically inhibit the growth or germination of other plants. The Gareca study took place in the Bolivian Tunari National Park, an Andean mountain park similar to Huascaran National Park in altitude and vegetation. They studied the potential allelopathic effects that exotic trees such as pine and eucalyptus have on one of the park’s native species: Polylepis subtusalbida, the same genera as the native quenual trees here in Peru. They showed that the establishment of exotic trees such as Pinus radiata (radiate pine) and Eucalyptus globulus (eucalyptus) in fragments of native vegetation at the Parque Nacional Tunari can affect the regeneration of this native tree species.

What is more, eucalyptus has the reputation for absorbing large amounts of water from the soil. In fact, the tree has been planted in some places to lower the water table and drain swamplands, so as to reduce mosquito habitats in malarial zones (Santos, Robert L., 1997).

Despite its tremendous water requirements and ability to affect the establishment of native species, eucalyptus has become and will continue to be an extremely important wood source for the region. But, if we can create economic incentives to plant beneficial native trees around private cropland using agroforestry, we can improve agriculture lands, promote reforestation, combat the effects of climate change, and encourage the planting of eucalyptus trees on marginal terrain instead of good cropland. This is why Montikuna Perú was formed.

Where is Montikuna planting trees?

I am a volunteer with the Peace Corps, an agency of the United States government that sends volunteers worldwide to work in rural communities on projects for sustainable development. I began Montikuna Perú in 2013 as a Peace Corps project in the community of Llupa, located at the base of Churup Mountain (the big mountain to the east of the city). During the last rainy season, my community counterparts and I were able to complete the pilot project, planting almost 800 native trees on three different farms.

In 2013, we planted four different native trees: Alder (Populus nigra, locally Aliso), Quenual (Polylepsis spp.), Elderberry (Sambucus peruviana, locally Sauco), and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina, locally Capuli). This was only possible because of funds from Montikuna Perú sticker sales. These funds went directly to farmers, and served as an effective incentive for the extensive work of planting 200+ trees per farmer. Since the environmental benefits of community tree planting will not be seen for years to come, being able to give landowners a short-term benefit (i.e. cash for work) makes the long-term reforestation goal realistic and accessible.

With your help, it will continue to be possible for Peace Corps volunteers to incentivise rural farmers in their work sites to plant native trees using agroforestry. The more you donate, the more we will be able to expand reforestation efforts to other sites throughout Ancash.
Where can I find these stickers?

Montikuna Perú is currently selling stickers at the following locations:

• Morales Guest House
• California Café
• Trivio Resto-bar
• Churup Guest House
• Hotel Andino
• Gift and liqueur shop Rubrix
• Responsible Travel Peru

Ask the staff at each of these establishments about the project, or simply be on the look-out for the sticker stands around town! The suggested donation for each sticker is only three Nuevo Soles. If you want to double your impact, Trivio Resto-bar is matching any donations they receive at the restaurant! Stop in, order one of the best beers in Peru or some organic coffee, and plant a few trees.

Montikuna

How can I help?

• Buy these stickers as gifts for friends and family back home! Along with the sticker, you’ll have a great story about how your gift contributes to reforestation in the Peruvian Andes.
• Buy a sticker to put on your water bottle, laptop, notebook, instrument case, bike, car, or wherever.
• If you are around during the planting season (November to February), help us plant trees at one of our planting events.
• Look us up on Facebook for more information (www.facebook.com/montikunaperu)

References

Editado por SERNANP Perú, Plan Maestro 2010-2015.  Parque Nacional Huascarán.  Ministerio del Ambiente Imprenta CANO s.r.l.  pg. 84

Zhang, C., Fu, S., 2009.  Allelopathic effects of eucalyptus and the establishment of mixed stands of eucalyptus and native species.  Forest Ecology and Management 258, 1391-1396.

Turnbull, J.W., 1999. Eucalyptus plantations. New Forest 17, 37–52.

Santos, Robert L., 1997.  “Section Two: Physical Properties and Uses.”  The Eucalyptus of California. California State University.

Gareca, E.E., Martinez, Y.Y., Bustamante, R.O., Aguirre, L.F., Siles, M.M., 2007.  Regeneration patterns of Polylepis subtusalbida growing with the exotic trees Pinus radiata and Eucalyptus globulus at Parque Nacional Tunari, Bolivia. Plant Ecology 193, 253–263.

Reynel, Carlos; Felipe-Morales, Carmen.  1987.  Agroforestería tradicional en los Andes del Perú: Un inventario de tecnologías y especies para la integración de la vegetación leñosa a la agricultura.  Proyecto FAO/Holanda/INFOR.  Ministerio de Agricultura.

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