Conservation International Bolivia’s Daniel Maidana (seated, middle) and residents from the indigenous village of Macahua pose amid Incan archaeological ruins near the town. Through a conservation agreement, community members received tourism training in exchange for leaving the nearby forest standing. (© Conservation International/photo by Analiz Montano)
Editor’s note: Human Nature is exploring the complexities of living in, using and protecting one of the planet’s most valuable types of ecosystems — tropical forests — in a series we’re calling “No forest, no future.” Read other posts in this series.
In the forests of northwestern Bolivia, an Incan fortress bears witness to the architectural prowess of an ancient civilization.
However, for the indigenous Tacana nation, it also points toward a new future.
“We have decided that this area from which we used to extract wood will now be used for nature-based and archaeological tourism,” explained Javier Delgadillo, leader of the Tacana community of Macahua. “I think we have made the right decision.”
Macahua is one of six indigenous communities in Bolivia’s La Paz region committed to protecting nearly 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) of forest through conservation agreements.
This approach, developed by Conservation International’s (CI) Conservation Stewards Program, offers economic alternatives to unsustainable activities such as deforestation. In exchange for actions like monitoring protected areas, using more sustainable farming techniques and not clearing forests, communities receive direct benefits tailored to their needs, ranging from health care to improved market access for their products.
In Macahua, the villagers saw the potential to boost their incomes through ecotourism. Through the conservation agreement, they received training from Conservation International’s Bolivia program on how to establish and oversee a tourism center. In return, they agreed to stop logging and selling timber from their 10,000 hectares