Peru possesses the second largest area of tropical forest in South America, after Brazil, and the fourth largest in the world, equivalent to 57% of its national territory, or more than 70 million hectares.
With its 74 protected natural areas covering 17.2% of its territory, Peru can be proud of the work done to date to protect its natural heritage. However, the threats to its biological diversity are many and varied, including internal migration, mining and oil and gas exploitation, activities which encourage road building into previously remote wilderness areas. And with roads come people, who bring with them a thirst for development that accelerates the exploitation and destruction of natural resources in the quest for modernization.
Of course, the Peruvian economy must be allowed to grow and flourish like any other economy, but emerging nations like Peru have a unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past 200 years of the industrial era, rather than repeat them, and to understand that destruction of the environment is simply too high a price to pay for economic growth in the short and medium term.
The Peruvian Ministry of the Environment has stated that 80% of its primary forest can be saved or protected. In 2011, the outgoing minister for the environment, Antonio Brack, announced that his ministry had calculated that Peru needed around US$25 million a year over the next ten years to enable the nation to conserve at least 52 million hectares of forest. In response, the Peruvian government committed US$5 million a year, while calling upon the international community to provide an additional US$20 million annually. Should such funding be made available, those 52 million hectares will include 17 million hectares of intangible national parks, 12 million hectares set aside for 42 distinct indigenous groups, 12 million hectares for sustainable forestry development, and 5 million hectares for the growing ecotourism sector.
Led by Germany and Holland, a number of European countries have pledged funds for the fight to preserve the forests of Peru, but in many parts of this incomparably beautiful and varied land, the future remains uncertain. It is easy to sit at home in Europe, North America, Australasia or other parts of the world, and declare that it is impossible for ordinary individuals to make any impact on matters of such global concern. However, there is something that you can do to help ensure the survival of Peru’s tropical forests and the plants, animals and indigenous peoples they are home to: Visit Peru!!
Of course, we are all only too aware of the fact that international air travel itself contributes to global warming, but balanced against that negative impact there exists a strong case for international ecotourism as the only truly effective way of making tropical forests worth more to local populations in their pristine, natural state than as areas to be plundered and destroyed for the natural riches they contain.