Engineers working for the forests

Chinchipe river basin reforestation

In the city of Jaen in Cajamarca, like in any other large city in Peru, one can find everything, both good and bad.  The bad includes the deforestation that took place for thirty years, to the detriment of the environment, the local people’s health and even their frame of mind.  Five years ago, however, reforestation of the areas surrounding Jaen was considered a solution that would directly improve their wellbeing.

The Chinchipe Forest is one of the most interesting projects in this area, given its bi-national coverage.  One of its main allies is Caritas Jaen, which is in charge of implementing the work throughout the Chinchipe river basin in Peru.  Within this organization, we met Victor Hugo Sabogal, a forestry engineer and technician in charge of the San Ignacio province, three hours away from Jaen.

Sabogal is 33 years old;  his main tasks include training extension farmers from seven Peruvian districts on how to develop the land for growing crops like coffee, passion fruit and trees, matters concerning  forestry legislation, strengthening community leaders, delivering materials, promoting project prequalification procedures, training environmental instructors, among others.

However, as far as he is concerned, reforestation is not simply something to be  taught. “I have no recollection of any time in my childhood or youth when green was not the predominant colour, in the landscapes, at home or at school.” He was born in Chachapoyas and was taken to Bagua at a very young age, where he used to run among the coffee plantations and the rain. “Since then, the smell of coffee has always brought fond memories, so I decided to dedicate my life to it,” he confessed.

He studied in the University of Cajamarca-Jaen and then worked in environmental projects that marked his future.  “Now that all the trees have been chopped down, I realize that our trees are not the same and it makes me feel unhappy,” he said.  “That is why we have to boost reforestation in this lovely coffee-growing area, which could soon become a great tourist destination.  After all, we are a border area and we even have a national park nearby (Tabacones Namballe), so why not?"

The engineer is well aware that unless the coffee production improves, no progress will be made with reforestation. “Coffee is the main activity, but it is interesting that now that farmers have a fund, they do not invest it in appliances or material goods, but are concerned about reforestation, because they have understood that both activities should go hand in hand, for their own benefit," he commented. “Those who do not plant trees are not up to date, but the majority of farmers have at least twenty plants.”

Sabogal knows that the challenge is greater every day that goes by, as time is limited for restoring the damage caused during decades.  However, watching him approach the families of distant settlements with a technical lesson accompanied by smiles and encouraging words, we believe that the professionals working in this project could give these people the confidence they need to change their present situation.

“You have to be less to understand more about people,” he says. “You have to be less of an engineer, learn more about being a farmer, but with technical know-how, because if we merely address them with complex words, the farmers will be bored and more likely to abandon the work within a short time.”  The goal is for them to adopt the work as their own, so that it will be sustainable in ten years’ time, when the plants are producing the expected leaves and timber.

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