In the Andean province of Pichincha lie two small land plots with great environmental impact. Owned by the Serrano and Villareal families, these plots are named El Milagro (the Miracle) and La Joya (the Jewel), for good reason. After all, in these combined areas of 140 hectares, two timber bamboo species protect over 90% of surrounding local riverbanks. One of these species is native from Ecuador, while the other one comes from Asia but has successfully acclimatized to the region.
Bamboo plantations have incredible environmental properties: with their expansive underground stems, they reduce soil erosion and prevent sediments from entering streams and rivers. Fallen leaves carpet the ground, which reduces water evaporation. Their hollow stems retain water into the dry season, thus increasing environmental humidity. Dense bamboo vegetation also captures water droplets from fog. These benefits are especially important because El Milagro and La Joya were both used for intensive livestock production until 2004, which progressively led to eroded soils and deviation of water courses. Everything changed when its owners, a group of medium and small producers, began to plant bamboo in the area. Eventually, they created Allpabambú for technical management of their plantation.
They have now successfully used the FSC Ecosystem Services Procedure, a tool for FSC certificate holders to demonstrate and communicate about the positive impact of responsible forest management on the preservation and restoration of specific ecosystem services.
Once completed, the 7-step approach required by the procedure is independently evaluated by a certification body. If verified, each proposed positive impact results in a so-called “ecosystem service claim,” which can then be used for promotion and communication purposes.
The certification body NEPCon performed the evaluation of El Milagro and La Joya in August 2019. The results proved Allpabambú’s commitment towards “maintaining the capacity of watersheds to purify and regulate waterflow” (as per the Ecosystem Services Procedure, Section Annex B. Impact ES3.3). A comparison of present and past data based on specific outcome indicators shows the company successfully demonstrated positive impacts in two distinct categories. First, they increased the proportion of forest cover of the sites: from 2004 to 2019, El Milagro’s forest cover grew from 36% to 85% and La Joya’s cover grew from 10% to 60%. These results were verified through spatial mapping analysis. Second, Allpabambú demonstrated a positive impact on the quality of the water itself, employing a methodology suggested by in the FSC Ecosystem Services Guidance called the stream visual assessment protocol. Initial measurements resulted in both properties getting the highest score based on five different indicators.
Protected watershed services in these properties have direct benefits not only for the local families and cooperatives, but also for surrounding communities. In total, 105 properties depend on the watershed for cultivation and livestock activities. Nelly Arroyo, manager at Allpabambú, commented on this success: “We want to change the perception that bamboo doesn’t require good care. Proper forest management can make bamboo much more sustainable, leveraging several environmental attributes.”
How sponsors might help in funding such efforts
Every benefit has a cost, and funding initiatives like this can be extremely challenging. Smallholders must use their resources not only to manage and preserve, but also to cover costs for certification. Their income can also be delayed as a result of the process. Paulina Soria, FSC Ecuador National Coordinator, believes that “there is great potential for the contribution of businesses to support Allpabambú’s remarkable efforts. Not only would they show a positive impact on nature and its benefits, but also deliver small property owners with adequate compensation for their hard labor.”
The Ecosystem Services (ES) Procedure, which came into effect in 2018, has been successfully used in sites all over the world and recently celebrated its 25th verified ES Claim. If you are a potential sponsor interested in funding this initiative or similar ones, please visit https://fsc.org/en/page/ecosystem-services and find out how to get involved. You can also contact Allpabambú directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.