Miraculous trees on the bare hills of southern Ecuador

Dirk Peeters
15 February 2018
In the southern Ecuadorian region of Paltas, farmers and citizens are suffering from growing water shortages. Although climate change has played a role, these shortages have been largely caused by human activity, such as the clearcutting of surrounding mountains. Together with local organisations, the Belgian environmental NGO BOS+ is working on a solution: planting trees.

Rainwater flows down the bare slopes and no longer penetrates into the soil. As a result, sources dry out, there is a shortage of irrigation water, harvests fail and people move to the city. But the city is also dependent on nearby water extraction areas and the taps are increasingly running dry.

Such a crisis situation makes people realise that a thorough approach is needed and on the initiative of Naturaleza y Cultura International, a partner of BOS+, a global plan was drawn up. Awareness campaigns are being carried out together with the municipality, companies and schools, water basins are being built in the mountains and a reforestation campaign is being conducted.

The campaign’s 'secret weapon'? The Caesalpinia spinosa, better known as the Tara.

This tree from the Peruvian Andes can grow on infertile and dry soil, because it evaporates little water and releases nitrogen from the air into the soil as a fertilizer (nitrate). But there is more.

The pods and seeds of the Tara are ‘hot’ nowadays. They are becoming increasingly popular in the food, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries and provide an ecological alternative in the leather industry.

This tree from the Peruvian Andes can grow on infertile and dry soil, because it evaporates little water and releases nitrogen from the air into the soil as a fertilizer (nitrate). But there is more.

Powerful pods

The pods are used to extract tannin as an ecological alternative to the harmful chromium, which is widely used in making leather supple. The pharmaceuticals and paint industries also use these tannins.

 

Sought-after seeds

The seeds are edible and highly sought-after for the production of a gum used as thickener or stabiliser in the food industry. Tara Gum (E417) has been an internationally recognised additive since 1995 and can be found in ice cream, chocolate mousse and gelatine. Recently, the gum has also been used as a fat substitute, which has increased the interest in it even more. A well-known cosmetics company also extracts galactosides, which reactivate the youthfulness of the skin, from the Tara Gum.

 

Participatory approach is key

Ecoclubs are a crucial element in the process of redesigning the region. These groups of young people from local schools make the population aware of the importance of the environment, nature conservation, waste reduction and economical water consumption.

The contribution of these ecoclubs is crucial for reforestation. They take care of the plantations and want to plant at least 20,000 new trees each year, through a ‘godparenthood’ system. Each member is committed to take care of 20 trees, keeping them free of weeds and watering them at least twice during the dry months. This is not a small job because they have to climb the mountain every time.

Woman dealing with young small trees
© Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional

Pisaca reserve

Efforts will be focused on the Pisaca nature reserve, close to the town of Catacocha and neighbouring villages belonging to the basin of San Pedro Mártir. Since the start of the project, the reserve has expanded from about 450 to more than 600 hectares that are managed for the benefit of ecosystems and the local population. In addition to reforestation, there is also a lot of investment in restoring old water collection systems via lagoons, dams and canals.

More than 200 families benefit directly from this project, while many others indirectly depend on efficient drinking water supplies in the basin of San Pedro Mártir.

Find out more: www.bosplus.be/altasas

BOS+ is working on sustainable forest management, conservation and restoration in the South, together with local partner organisations. BOS+ believes that natural resources belong first and foremost to the local population, who must be able to enjoy them optimally and sustainably. That is why the organisation sets up actions which specifically focus on people, forest and climate.

Trees and forests with a wide range of applications

A number of tree species (the so-called 'multipurpose trees') can be used in many ways. They provide economically valuable products such as fruits, gums or firewood, produce edible leaves for humans and livestock, contribute to the nitrogen enrichment of the soil and can be used as windshields.

Forests also fulfil many functions, called ecosystem services. Trees and shrubs increase the biodiversity of an area, but can also prevent erosion, mitigate climate change, purify the air and so on.

In its interventions, BOS+ therefore strives to win on three fronts: ecologically, socially and economically.

Ecuador Trees Reforestation
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