International Studies & Programs


MSU Researchers Awarded Tinker Foundation Grant for Project on Forest Conservation in the Peruvian Amazon

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Published: Tuesday, 04 May 2021 Author: CLACS

Lauren Cooper (Forestry) and Rowenn Kalman (Anthropology) have been awarded a $143,000 grant from the Tinker Foundation to assess and strengthen the Peruvian government’s efforts to conserve forests in the Amazon. Cooper and Kalman will collaborate with Deborah Delgado and Cristina Miranda of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), the top-ranked university in Peru, as well as Peru’s Ministry of Environment. This award is the outcome of Strategic Partnership Grant funding from the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Center for Gender in Global context, which enabled the MSU researchers to travel to Peru to develop this project with Peruvian partners.

The Tinker-funded project will identify the enabling conditions required to successfully scale up Peru’s Conditional Direct Transfers (TDC) program for forest conservation in the Amazon. TDC programs provide payments to communities in exchange for their engagement in sustainable development practices that help conserve the forest.

With the second largest share of the Amazon rainforest, Peru is a key country in the struggle against climate change. However, tensions exist between economic development and conservation in these areas. “These pressures on the Amazon are not going to go away anytime soon,” explains Cooper.

Cooper visiting a cedar project in Oaxaca, Mexico

Peru has been a leader in implementing TDC agreements with local communities for forest conservation. Since 2011, the mechanism has provided incentives to 275 communities that ensure the conservation of 2.9 million hectares of forest. The Peruvian government recently extended the program for an additional 10 years, setting the ambitious target of conserving 54 million hectares of the country’s tropical forest. Reaching this goal could involve 700 communities. 

However, the results of the first ten years of this programming are mixed. “It's a really interesting initiative, and it has been widely implemented; but outcomes have not been what they hoped” says Kalman. While some communities have successfully completed the 5-year program, others have dropped out. Some have refused to engage. Even those that have completed the program need to be engaged again to assess their conservation plans as they continue. 

This research collaboration will identify the conditions that have led to success, failure, or disengagement by communities to produce actionable information to help the Ministry of the Environment improve the program’s effectiveness. “We will identify the conditions to scale and repeat this type of program for the government implementers to use”, explains Cooper. 

The research team also aims to integrate a social equity component into Peru’s TDC programming, focusing on gender differences in program implementation and impact. “It's a great opportunity to look at gender equity, how these programs affect gender relations in a community, and how they can adopt practices or track what they're doing to engage people in a way that promotes equity,” suggests Kalman.

The project also offers the potential for capacity building to enable communities to navigate the opportunities presented by TDCs. These programs require participating communities to develop sustainable livelihood plans that identify food production or revenue streams sufficient to meet community needs while conforming to the objectives of forest conservation. Many communities develop plans that rely on sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, or the production of folk arts and crafts. The communities targeted by the TDC program are located in areas that are rich in natural resources, but they experience high levels of poverty and have minimal access to government services like medical treatment and education. Capacity building could increase communities’ ability to assess sustainable development options to define a development plan that meets their needs.

Cooper explains that she is inspired to do this work, because “it gets to the core challenge facing forests.” While measuring or tracking deforestation is increasingly accessible due to remote sensing technologies, most drivers of deforestation or degradation are social: “the central problem is in the intersection of development and livelihoods,” she asserts.

Ultimately, the research team aims to share their analysis of the Peruvian TDC program widely with both scholars of forest conservation and practitioners in the forestry sector, in order to inform efforts to develop similar types of conservation programming in other countries.