Enabling Andean communities to adapt to climate change through the management, conservation and restoration of the páramos ecosystem (ACCRE)
The main objective of the ACCRE project was to reduce the vulnerability to climate change by establishing a resilient model of family production while contributing to the conservation of the Andean páramos, which provide water for human consumption and irrigation. The páramos is a unique ecosystem in the high Andean mountains of South America.
It is a grassland ecosystem rich in carbon and biodiversity, stretching from the upper tree line to the bottom of the snow-covered glaciers. This high-altitude neotropical biotope is of great scientific and ecological significance because of its endemic flora and its capacity to absorb, retain and release water. It is a main source of drinking water for most of the population living in the northern part of the Andes.
The project pursued its climate change adaptation objectives through three main activity streams:
implementation of ecosystem restoration techniques
technical assistance to communities in climate-resilient agriculture
improved livelihoods and formalised land use planning systems.
A project analysis found that women have been more active in conserving the water sources of the páramo and minimising the advance of the agricultural frontier (i.e. preventing the conversion of the páramo grassland ecosystem to agricultural fields). Women were generally more responsible for conservation improvements and their environmental, social and economic benefits. In some cases, men were uninterested in initiatives to conserve the páramo, until they saw benefits from the women’s work, and then changed their minds. The project leaders saw that women could be agents of positive change, and also, that a surge in the youth demographic could provide the opportunity to involve young people in making eco-friendly changes to life and work.
In response to sociocultural realities, the project established a differentiated methodology to work with men and women, in some cases separately. Interventions were designed to empower women, work on their self esteem and build solidarity – and subsequently monitor these. As the project developed, women became more involved in the activities. The project’s intentional strategies to strengthen women’s leadership and role in decision-making had noteworthy results.
The ACCRE project’s achievements include:
1. The Municipal School of Agro-ecology. The school attained a certification through the Participatory Guarantee System and 224 people (86 of whom were women) were trained in agroecological techniques. Sixty producers (men and women) have implemented at least three soil conservation techniques in their integrated farms. Also, for marketing purposes, an agroecological producer network has been set up and two enterprises centred on socioeconomic initiatives are also operational, to develop a form of commerce based on the direct sale of fresh or seasonal products without an intermediary between producers and consumers. This approach has improved the participation of women.
2. The Declaration of the region/land Area of Conservation and Sustainable Use (ACUS) Mojanda. 6,094,38 hectares of land have been designated as ACUS, in recognition of the community’s conservation and restoration of the páramos. It involved the identification of priority areas with water sources and silvopastoral systems, setting the limits of the agricultural frontier and reforestation.
3. A land use planning model. Sustainable agriculture, climate change resilience, sustainable long-term use of ecosystem goods and services, and the economic and social autonomy of women farmers are the principles behind a new land use planning model for the area. As a complement, an emergency plan has been developed that aims to manage climate risks over 200 hectares.
4. Local public policy to guarantee a Water Fund. A new public policy establishes a financial mechanism, which ring-fences 5% of the proceeds of the municipal water company for the conservation of the Mojanda Lagoon. A further extension of 6,000 hectares of land has been protected, to act as the main source of water recharge for the municipal water services.
The ACCRE project team undertook an evaluation and validated the results with local actors. It concluded the following key lessons:
1. In projects such as ACCRE with a strong gender focus, it is important to involve men from the beginning of the project as well. The focus on women is valid; however, men are also an important part of the change. Towards the end of the project a small pilot of a “new masculinities” workshop was conducted with some technical experts from the municipality and some of the partners of the women leaders, and the significance of engaging men was recognised. Now the “new masculinities” is part of the second phase of the project.
2. Young people should be involved in the project to make the process more sustainable as the project demonstrated. Their participation can be grounded in the places they come from – this makes them particularly effective agents of change. Most of the young people from the community are already finishing their university careers. Some of them that participated in the project are now working in the municipality, so they do not feel the need to migrate away from their home district.
3. It is important to use tools and processes that allow the project to function without putting more pressure on or increasing the workload of women. Although their empowerment is necessary, they need to have support. For example, the project worked with research committees to assess and monitor the water sources. Some of the young people from the community were part of these committees; later they helped women to identify sustainable, climate-adaptive water management practices that the women were already using and to promote these more systematically.
4. Donors play a key role; and project teams can educate donors on the need for gender-responsive approaches in the local context. Some projects do not have a gender focus because donors do not appreciate the clear link with conservation, water and climate change outcomes.
5. It is a persistent challenge to recruit professionals to a project, who have expertise in both gender and climate change. Most people specialise in one or the other. The team saw this as an opportunity to start training people on the integrated theory and practice of gender and climate change in development
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