Inside one man’s 30-year quest to save South America’s forests

Giving back to local communities

In return for their efforts to restore threatened habitats and preserve birds and other wildlife, local communities get help from Acción Andina to obtain titles to their lands, which provide legal protection against exploitation by timber, mining and oil companies .

Aucca and his team also created protected areas, brought doctors and dentists to remote mountain villages and provided communities with solar panels and clean-burning clay stoves to improve their quality of life.

A man talks to three others
Large areas of the Andes were once covered by Polylepis trees but only 500,000 hectares are left standing today after decades of deforestation. Photo by UNEP/ Diego Rotmistrovsky

Aucca’s vision of ecosystem regeneration goes beyond her native Peru. In 2018, the Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos and the US non-profit Global Forest Generation established Acción Andina to scale up the community-led reforestation model in other Andean countries.

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As President and co-founder of Acción Andina, Aucca now oversees plans to protect and restore 1 million hectares of critical forests in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, as well as Peru, over the next 25 years with support from Global. Forest Generation. His work exemplifies the United Nations Ecosystem Restoration call for global action to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation.

The common good

Studies show that restoration of 20 million ha of degraded ecosystems in the Latin American and Caribbean region could result in benefits of US$23 billion over 50 years. Thriving ecosystems are also essential to keeping global warming below 2°C and helping societies and economies adapt to climate change.

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At the heart of Aucca’s work is his deep connection to his Inca heritage and the Incan principles of “Ayni and Minka,” a deep commitment to work together for the good of the community, which runs through plans to increase reforestation in other Andean countries as well.

A man walks along a steep mountain path
As president of Acción Andina, Aucca now oversees plans to protect and restore 1 million ha of vital forests. Photo by UNEP/Diego Rotmistrovsky

“When we were in South America we had the biggest empire, united by one culture, the Inca culture,” said Aucca. “This was the first time we all got together. The next time we came together to create a movement was to free ourselves from the yoke of Spain, to seek our independence. Now we are meeting for the third time. Why? Protecting a small tree.”

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About the UNEP World Champions
The UN Environment Programme’s Champions of the World honor individuals, groups and organizations whose actions have had a transformative impact on the environment. The annual Champions of the World award is the UN’s highest environmental honor. It recognizes outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector

About the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration
The UN General Assembly declared the years 2021 to 2030 as the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Led by UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN and supported by partners, it is designed to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem loss and degradation worldwide. It aims to revitalize billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the United Nations Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to dramatically scale up reform.


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