Environmental education and ecological restoration in the San Rafael reserve
Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who spent some time in Paraguay last year volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.
In a previous post about San Rafael Reserve I mentioned that Guyra Paraguay works very closely with local communities in the management of the land. Generally speaking, there is not much awareness of, or interest in environmental issues and conservation in the country, but hopefully this is changing with the help of Gurya and others: Various campaigns highlighting the plight of endangered species or the threats to the natural environment in general are advertised on big billboards in cities and along the roads, and TV adverts (albeit on special-interest channels) for Greenpeace encourage individuals to help protect jaguars and other threatened species in South America.
Guyra Paraguay, together with other non-governmental organisations, form the San Rafael Conservation Alliance, the goals of which is to by land to create a centre of conservation in the National Park. The surrounding, privately owned areas, will be offered incentives (including certification for the growth of organic crops) so that the land can be managed sustainably under various conservation schemes. For instance, Guyra is working with local farmers growing organic Yerba máte, the economically important tree that is used to make máte tea and "national drink" tereré (cold máte with ice). Yerba máte is a forest species and can therefore be sustainably harvested wild, or planted together with other native trees as part of a restoration scheme. (The organic yerba grown by the farmers in San Rafael is exported to the US and is said to have a milder, less sharp taste than the conventionally grown yerba.)
Education is vitally important in changing attitudes and Guyra are working with both young and old to spark an interest in conservation and wildlife. In San Rafael, this includes school trips to the reserve (which has a brilliant education room with books, games and posters) as well as visits to local schools by Guyra staff.
The local communities are directly involved in the practical conservation work, with training courses in how to manage the land, use GIS for monitoring and opportunities to assist with for example tree planting. In San Rafael we visited an open area where the forest was in the process of regenerating. Some trees have already established, including fruit trees grown from the seeds discarded by previous settlers. To help speed up the process of forest re-generation, Guyra is organising the planting of native species - and this is where WLT's Carbon Balanced programme is involved: Carbon offset funds are invested in this restoration ecology project, and it was great to se first hand how the area looks, and visualise the forest that will eventually be established.
Next: Bird monitoring & random animal encounters in Yacyreta - a nature reserve with a great variety of wildlife habitats, including forest, grassland, wetland and sand dunes.