The proposal has been developed with the support of the Biodiversity Sustainable Conservation Support Program (PACSBio), funded by the European Union

Author: Andrés Visinoni

Beni-Bolivia

The creation of a protected area is a complex task, involving local and national authorities, communities and populations, organization of financial and thematic support. In this post we will go through the process that has enabled the creation of a new Protected Area in Bolivia.

Over several years, an extended area of wetlands in the middle of the Beni [1] flooded savannas – an Amazonian region of the north of Bolivia – had been identified as a region susceptible to be transformed into a protected territory.

Since 2012, the Programme PACSBIO [2] has provided a technical and financial support to national, regional and communitarian authorities to give shape to this proposal, through the definition of limits, objects of conservation and categories of protection, and accompanying a process seeking consensus with the human groups and social sectors presents in the area.

It has required a significant effort in terms of conciliation, through the organization of several meetings, workshops and consultations with local populations, authorities and other relevant actors.

In this framework, the participation of local indigenous communities has been one of the stronger points of the proposal to create a protected area. From the beginning, the populations have been directly involved in the decision making process, together with the local authorities. It has required the organization and support of several spaces of meeting and debates with sometimes very distant communities, only reachable during a short period of time in the dry season. During these stages of conciliation, a strong will of the communities to enhance their territorial space has emerged. Thanks to this process, the protected area has been transformed into an opportunity, a perspective of progressive emergence from isolation, a possibility of diversifying populations’ activities and incomes.

The proposal to create the protected area didn’t generate any conflict with the use of the territory nor has been identified as a restriction that could limit the access to resources. On the contrary, it has been perceived as a possibility to generate training spaces for a sustainable use of natural resources, attracting national interest.

The proposal to create the protected area didn’t generate any conflict with the use of the territory.

In Bolivia, since the mid-nineties, has entered into force the concept that protected areas are created and managed with and for the local communities and not against their interests. This means the extraction of resources by local populations is not limited but rationalized, optimized, aimed to create new ways of using biodiversity and natural heritage. For instance, through tourism development or opening new markets for non timber forest products with green certifications processes.

Thanks to these processes of complete communities’ participation in decision making, respecting local cultural contexts, the populations can identify the protected area as their own and perceive it as an ally in their development. Even if it doesn’t always happen (in some cases political problems, interests of human settlements or entities no belonging to the PA or simply lack of resources and investments to concert sustainable development proposals, leave the PA isolated and vulnerable) it represents an important perspective for the reinforcement of protected areas in countries where the concurrence for lands’ possession, the expansion of agriculture borders, the demographic pressure, the creation of new infrastructures or the exploitation of natural resources put in serious danger the conservation of biodiversity, the natural and environmental heritage and the perspectives of an inclusive and sustainable development.

The municipal administration of Exaltación, part of Yacuma province in Beni department, under whose jurisdiction are the 800thousands has of the area (the size of Corse), has collected this request and issued on November 20th 2015 the municipal Act creating the Municipal Protected Area (MPA), Integrated Management of Natural Area (IMNA) “Great tectonic lakes of Exaltación”.

Concerning its nature, the MPA includes the wider natural Amazonian lakes of the whole river basin. These spaces, declared RAMSAR [3] site in 2013, conserve three main eco-regions: the flooded savannahs, the “cerrado” (a non flooded exclusive savannah of Bolivia and Brazil) and forests and palm trees from coasts and islands [4].

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Still poorly studied, the first researches have highlighted the Beni savannah as one of the most important sources of origin of the Amazonian and global basin, for its diversity of cultivated plants’ wild relatives.

It is important to stress that the region possesses an organized human presence since pre-Hispanic and pre-Christian times. The “Llanos de Moxos and Baures”, as we locally call this savannah, have been the center of the wider Hydraulic Culture of the American continent, covering an extension of more 200thousands km2.

The important hydraulic constructions, finding in the protected area one of their higher concentration, enabled taking benefit from land resources (agriculture, small animals’ husbandry and hunting) and aquatic (fishing and harvest of shellfishes for alimentation and of aquatic plants as fertilizers[5]).

We are currently working with local authorities at the area’s strengthening and management process, maybe the most complex and delicate task at this stage of creation. The main challenge, in the short and medium term, is to ensure its consolidation beyond a simple paper declaratory and to materialize the potential of opportunities for local populations and in the sustainable use of natural resources, as it has been decided with the actors.

For this, it has been agreed with the local Beni government to secure stable political funds for the area, and they are now exploring the possibility to involve the cooperation of other countries to support some of the proposals of sustainable development, such as the ones oriented to boost tourism activities.

[1] Beni department is the second largest in Bolivia, with an extension of 213.000 km2 and a population of almost half a million people.

[2] International Technical Assistance as a part of the Biodiversity Sustainable Conservation Support Program (PACSBio) implemented by the consortium led by Eptisa

[3] International Convention for the conservation of wetlands, with the adhesion of Bolivia since 1990 ratified in 2002.

[4] Regarding wildlife, we can mention the presence of 3 relevant endemic species of Bolivia:, Inia boliviensis (river dophin), Eunectes beniensis (Beni anaconda), Ara glaucogularis (“blue beard”), one of the most threatened macaws on Earth – 150 exemplars in the wild

[5] Locally renown as “tarope” (Eichhornia spp.), a macrophyte phytoremedial used all over the world especially for this function, that provided organic fertile material in areas with clayey impermeable soils

 

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