Jim Penn and Greg Neise

Three important factors influenced the decision to concentrate RCF’s work on the upper Tahuayo settlement zone, located outside of the RCTT. This is one of the reserve’s “buffer” zones. First, the area is the most heavily populated of the three settlement areas near the reserve. It is serviced by 14-meter riverboats, called “colectivos“, which transport people and products to the city of Iquitos. This is a one day trip to Iquitos, which allows for fresh products (fish, game meat, non-timber forest products, fruit and vegetables) to be sent there. This makes the upper Tahuayo vulnerable to extraction pressure and settlement from Iquitos.

Second, we have more than 15 years of research experience in the Tahuayo basin. Much of this is still ongoing research in agroforestry, biology, socio-economics, ethnobiology, soils, and geography. It was the beginning of these efforts that led to the creation of the Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo (RCTT) in 1991. Since then, RCF has funded the work of several researchers (students and professionals) working in the area of the RCTT. The findings from this research have been applied to our conservation work. This experience has also allowed us to expand research and conservation work across the huge area of the reserve, and with communities in outlying areas. With a broad and deep database, the management plans and extension methods have served as models for conservation projects in other regions of the Amazon.

Finally, the local people of the upper Tahuayo have a history of defending and managing their natural resources. This began in the 1960s, and was followed by successful actions in the 1980s and early 90s, including the taxing of extracted resources. Most people approved of the concept, and supported the creation of a community reserve. The local people have considerable experience working with researchers, extensionists and authorities. This provides an ideal working environment, because the people are so good at communicating their ideas and teaching their local realities to others. Women and children have played an especially important role in this process. These factors help reduce errors, lower costs, and promote more worthy, self-sufficient projects.

Thus, while the location of the upper Tahuayo presents formidable challenges to biodiversity protection, its recent history is characterized by local efforts to conserve natural resources. In short, the Tahuayo buffer zone is both a challenging and promising area for conservation work.

Human Use of the RCTT, and the Significance of Location.

Sunset on the Tahuayo River

Sunset on the Tahuayo River

Many people mistakenly believe that The Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo is located near the town of Tamshiyacu, and serves as an extractive reserve for these people. The north and western sides of the Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo are located roughly where the headwaters of the Quebrada Tamshiyacu and Tahuayo River enter its boundaries. The fact that the length of these two small rivers must be traveled in order to reach the area perhaps influenced the government to use their names for the reserve, but this is somewhat of a misnomer. While some 35 communities and over 4,000 people exist along the Tahuayo, Tamshiyacu, and Yavari-Miri Rivers, only a portion of them actually live near to, or even use the reserve. The vast majority of the people living along these rivers have no influence on the reserve. It is the isolated communities living closest to the reserve which have an impact on this 322,500ha protected area.

On the Quebrada Tamshiyacu, this would include six villages upstream from the community of Serafin Filomeno. These six villages contain some 600 inhabitants in all, only a small fraction of which regularly use the reserve for extraction. The villages of Miraflores (pop. 250), Libertad (pop. 100), San Miguel (pop. 90) and Rosario (pop. 88) exert the heaviest extractive pressure on the reserve. These residents also hunt game outside of the reserve, walking trails that fan out behind their villages, near the Rio Manit’. Little, if any, significant fishing occurs in the upper Q. Tamshiyacu. Due to budget requirements, we have been limited to only occasional visits and interviews along the Q. Tamshiyacu.

On the Rio Yavari-Miri, the only village located close to the reserve, San Francisco de las Mercedes, reached a population of 78 by 1995, but is now nearly abandoned. The village was too isolated, so isolated in this vast wilderness that disease and the danger from animal attacks caused most of the people to move far downstream to the villages of Carolina (pop 100) and Nueva Esperanza (pop 350). Over 50 kilometers from the entrance to the reserve, this area is so rich in natural resources that the people from Nueva Esperanza need only to walk minutes from the village to hunt or collect. People occasionally come from Iquitos during the month of July to harvest turtle eggs, but this occurs outside of the reserve’s borders for the most part.

RCF has funded research and extension activities on the Yavari-Miri.We are currently assisting efforts with the village of Nueva Esperanza to expand the reserve in size. In this region, there are huge distances that need to be covered, so this work involves considerable expense (see the announcement in the web site on the reserve’s expansion for more details).

RCF concentrates its extension activities in the more heavily populated settlement zone of the upper Tahuayo River. Beginning about 25 kilometers downstream from the reserve is the largest village, Esperanza (pop. 417). Next comes Buena Vista (pop 300). These two villages make little use of the reserve. It is the villages of Chino (pop 320), San Pedro (pop 100), and Siete de Julio (pop 80) that make the most use of the reserve. Of these, some 30 families hunt in the reserve on a regular basis, while others extract non-timber forest products with varying frequency. Nearly all families on the upper Tahuayo fish, but most of this occurs in the buffer zone. In fact, most of the extractive activities in this area take place in the heavily forested buffer zone, or in lakes located outside of the reserve. A few people located further upstream on the Tahuayo River, and those in the resource-depleted Yarapa River often rely on the reserve for their needs. The small, but extraction-oriented village of Nuevo Jerusalem, with its fluctuating population, is one example of this.

Because of this extractive pressure and the need to limit the hunting of fauna, RCF has concentrated its work in the Tahuayo River settlement zone of the RCTT. Besides protecting the reserve, we have made the management of the buffer zone resources there a top priority.

Buffer Zone Conservation Work: A strategy for success.

Natural resources in the settlement zone on the upper Tahuayo have been managed by the local people and communities since the departure of most patrons. Lakes, hunting zones, and areas where important building materials such as thatch and flooring are concentrated, are often managed with success by the local people. Much of the hunting by the people still occurs outside of the reserve’s boundaries, because it is prime habitat for game animals . This settlement zone is, in fact, a heavily forested, biodiverse zone of managed extraction. Large parts of it are considered by the local people to be specific reserves in themselves, which belong to their respective communities or families. Together with the people, RCF extensionists have worked successfully to place large tracts of land under jurisdiction of the communities (over 21,000ha), and prevent aggressive outside interests from gaining possession of another 12,000ha in the buffer zone. By promoting the continued management of natural resources in this buffer zone outside of the reserve and improving land use to decrease deforestation, we can enhance the conservation of biodiversity not only there but within the state-imposed boundaries of the RCTT.

Too much attention is often put on protected areas, while diverting attention from the sustainable use and enrichment of buffer zones lying outside of these protected areas. In the case of the RCTT, this would make it more difficult to protect the reserve. For most people living near the RCTT, the interior of the reserve itself is a far-off, unfamiliar and difficult zone for them to use. Most prefer not to go far in search of resources, and desire legal possession of their traditional lands

in the settlement zone – something they can’t have in the reserve. Except for small parts of the reserve’s perimeter, there is little interest in living inside of the reserve. The case of the RCTT is just one example of why buffer-zone management of the world’s protected areas must be promoted.

Enriching buffer zones and degraded areas through agroforestry.

Jim Penn, Ph.D., explains the agroforestry techniques used on the Tahuayo

Jim Penn, Ph.D., explains the agroforestry techniques used on the Tahuayo

As human activities cause extensive areas of old-growth tropical forest to be replaced with young secondary forest the most biodiverse landscapes on earth are being rapidly degraded. Without a doubt, actively restoring biodiversity to tropical secondary forests should be one of the primary concerns of conservation efforts. The planting of palm species in the Peruvian Amazon is particularly important when one looks at the socio-economics of sustainable game hunting. Since 1991, a conservation strategy has been implemented in the upper Tahuayo where the people plant species that they extract from the reserve on their own private and community lands – “Reserve-oriented Agroforestry”. This concept was formally presented at the First Government Workshop for the RCTT, in 1992.

From the start, many upper Tahuayo residents were very interested in this agroforestry concept, and requested technical assistance to help them begin planting species that they were most concerned about. The early interest in “irapáy” (Lepidocaryum tenue) and “huacrapona” (Iriartea deltoidea) palm cultivation was an important indicator of local attitudes about natural resource depletion. Many of these species of concern to the people are also major food sources for the most important game animals.

The ownership of native tree species in agroforestry systems and the planting techniques themselves facilitate their nondestructive, sustainable harvest, and should reduce their extraction from within the reserve. The “aguaje” palm (Mauritia flexuosa), for example, will not grow to great heights when planted in sunny, open areas. Most aguaje in open areas grows from 6 to 12 meters in height for the first 50 years, which allows the fruit bunches to hang 3 to 8 meters off the ground. The tree does not have to be felled in order to harvest the fruit. This morphological change makes the aguaje fruit easy to harvest in a sustainable fashion (see the web site for more info on aguaje).

There are limits to the amount of native fruits that can be harvested from the rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon. By planting these species close to navigable rivers and in agroforestry systems, limiting factors of labor requirements, animal competition and harvesting problems will be reduced. The cultivation of ecologically and economically valuable tree species that are extracted from the wild (e.g., palms, fruits, timber) is one of the main purposes of the agroforestry program in the buffer zone. The increased protection of these trees where they grow spontaneously in gardens (through natural regeneration or discarded seeds) is another. We do not expect, nor would we want, a handful of species to solve all conservation and development problems in the area. It is not a panacea. A diverse array of species (flora and fauna) and combined activities (extension work, experiments with alternatives, education, etc.) is necessary for the success of the project.

A fauna and ecosystems conservation agroforestry strategy.

Our agroforestry strategy cannot solve all the current problems related to biodiversity conservation and socio-economics. However, the increased cultivation and protection of wild species in the settlement zone should eventually help game populations in the reserve, because it will reduce the harvesting of keystone species in the forest such as palms and fruit trees. This will help sustain large game and primate populations within the reserve by increasing the reserve’s carrying capacity for these fauna species. If ecosystems in Amazonia such as the oligarchic palm forests get no relief from destructive harvesting practices, there is almost no way for them to regenerate, or for people to manage the wildlife that depends on them. The RCF philosophy is to support long-term conservation work that helps farmers enrich their farms in the buffer zone with these species, in order to reduce extraction in the reserve, and relieve human pressure on important wildlife habitat.