|The white sand based forests of Allpahuayo-Mishana are the most well-known and best-preserved in the Iquitos region.|
Iquitos receives us with a drenching downpour. The rain and wind worsened during our stay but life, despite the heavy showers and the visible breakdown of the urban infrastructure, goes on undeterred in this frantic and exciting town. The offices of the Project for Biological Diversity in the Peruvian Amazon (BIODAMAZ) are situated here.
This is a joint organization for technical cooperation between the governments of Finland and Peru under an agreement signed in September 1999, the aim of which is the conservation and sustainable use of the biological diversity of the entire Peruvian Amazon.
The project operates at a macroregional level but it is in the Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserved Zone where its most developed methodologies and equipment are actually put into practice. The Finns, led by their ambassador Mikko Pyhälä, believe that the protected zone could be an area for fieldwork in the disciplines of environmental education and sustainable tourism. Sanna Juvonel is the project’s coordinator and, despite her limited Spanish, teaches a course on the management of Protected Natural Areas.
“The project’s objective is the development of local, regional and national capacitation for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity”, we hear her say. In Peru, as in many other countries in the region, local governments have not always known how best to use the financial help generated by international cooperation and as a consequence much of the investment was lost through poor management. BIODAMAZ is an example of successful intergovernmental cooperation, the results of which are clearly visible in this part of the vast Peruvian Amazon.
The Miracle of the Fish
Quistococha is the base for an aquiculture project run for the last few years by the Institute for Research into the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP). The IIAP is one of the most important research centers in Peru and is the Peruvian partner in the BIODAMAZ project.
|A couple of White-bellied Parrot rests in a branch after a meal of wild fruits. Allpahuayo-Mishana is a sort of Noah’s Arch for the Amazon birds.|
At its modern and spacious facilities in Quistococha we met the biologist Fernando Alcántara, who is in charge of the research team responsible for the reproduction of young fish from the principal Amazon species in order to repopulate their natural habitat and promote zoological breeding.
“In all the areas along the Iquitos-Nauta highway, where misuse has impoverished the soil, it would be possible to establish basic fish farms which would be capable of an impressive level of production”, Fernando Alcántara tells us as he shows us around the laboratories and reproduction chambers where paiche (Arapaima gigas), gamitana (Colossoma macropomun) and boquichico (Prochilodus nigricans) are bred.
Alcántara maintains that it is possible to produce fifteen tons of meat from one cultivated hectare. Aquiculture, without a doubt, represents a viable and sustainable alternative for a region whose people currently live in extreme poverty.
In Quistococha, Peruvian technicians have used their skills to create a balanced food which replaces meat in the diet of the largest edible fish in Amazonia, the paiche, and hope to soon be able to sow the plundered lands of the region with domestically-produced paiche for the benefit of all those who live in the region.
We are met with the same optimism in the person of Dr. Dennis del Castillo when we visit his offices on Avenida Abelardo Quiñones, on the edge of this populous city. For this dedicated promoter of Amazonia, the use currently being made of the paiche confirms that the riches of this vast region, correctly used, can serve as a catalyst for development and a genuine contribution by the region to the world at large, just as the three Peruvian plants potato, rubber and quinine did in the past.
|The Equatorial huapo (Pithecia aequatorialis) is part of the rich biodiversity of these forests.|
“I am a believer in Amazonian bio-commerce and the viability of thr region. Science and technology have advanced rapidly in recent years and that is why it is now necessary to focus our efforts on aspects which have not been tackled until now. We need to be more original and audacious in our research”, he commented just before we said goodbye.
Eden in the Peruvian Amazon
In search of more information, we went with the engineer Agustín Gonzales to the Garden of Medicinal Plants and the Fruit Tree Station which the IIAP runs in one of the sectors of the Reserved Zone under its administration. Here, technicians from the institute experiment with native plants and develop conservation techniques ex situ with almost 200 medicinal plants and 40 fruit species.
As we walked along the forest paths we took part in an improvised tasting of the fruits which we would see the next day in the impressive Belén market. The scientists of the IIAP work with a number of species, including star apples, almonds, humari, charichuelo, copuazú, eggfruit, cashew and macambo – all seasonal fruits which if well distributed can be very productive.
The prospects for ecotourism and environmental education in this zone located less than one hour from Iquitos are extraordinary. Agustín Gonzales told us that currently groups of schoolchildren arrive every day from Iquitos to attend open air classes in the majestic setting of Allpahuayo-Mishana, which is the last relic of the region’s once extensive primary forest.
Towards a Unique Information System
|Because of their valuable meat, tapirs suffer great hunting pressure. Reserves like this are essential to their survival.|
One of the greatest challenges for the BIODAMAZ project is the creation of an Information System for the Biological Diversity of the Peruvian Amazon. The engineer Víctor Miyakawa, a Peruvian citizen who has spent many years overseas, is working towards the establishment of the biggest server dedicated to the Peruvian Amazon on the planet, as part of the cooperation agreement between Peru and Finland.
To that end “Siamazonia” has been created, a project involving researchers in the region and overseas. Through siamazonia.org.pe anyone interested in these ecosystems can access a comprehensive data bank containing information from the IIAP, the National Council for the Environment (CONAM), the Institute for the Common Good (IBC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Ricardo Palma University and the Agrarian University of the University of Turku in Finland.
Saving both the Forests and Mankind
As Hernán Tello, the national director of the BIODAMAZ Project Peru-Finland, told us shortly after our arrival in Iquitos, there is no clear, universal idea of what Amazonia actually is. The image of the region as an unpopulated, impenetrable and vast area of homogeneous geography persists. For those who know it, Amazonia is just a fevered dream, an illusion hidden behind the walls of nationality.
|"A true exploration of Amazonia should be done with great care, unhurriedly, because at its heart there beats a fragile and gigantic reality."|
This is a great error, for Amazonia is much more than such a narrow definition would imply and it should be treated with real care. At its heart there exists a living, fragile reality capable of providing us with many of the solutions for which we have searched for so long. Allpahuayo-Mishana is a symbol of that struggle, of that difficult but necessary path.
“During the invasion”, José Alvarez told us via the same canal he used to bring the Reserved Zone to the world’s attention, “public opinion was fundamental. We have taken part in several radio programs to inform the people about the importance of preserving such a marvellous space, and about the real intentions and lies of the invaders.”
Now it only remains for us to establish a final status for the protected area. For the scientists we met in Iquitos the ideal status would be that of a National Reserve, a legal status which would provide greater protection to the forests and clearly define the final boundaries of Allpahuayo-Mishana. Meanwhile, we must struggle for the area’s conservation as the BIODAMAZ project continues to do.
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