Protect Threatened Species in the Tropical Andes

Jul 15, 2014

Reciprocal Agreements for Watershed Protection

Reciprocal Water Agreements for Watershed Protection

Visiting the farm of Don Filomon Delgado Toro, the Secretario de Medio Ambiente de la Ronda Central de Nueva Cajamarcas, in the buffer zone surrounding the main protected area of the Alto Mayo. This farm was typical of most in the region, cutting forest to grow mostly corn and coffee. Conservation efforts in the region will focus on helping them convert to more sustainable practices, including reforestation for shade grown coffee. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

Visiting the farm of Don Filomon Delgado Toro, the Secretario de Medio Ambiente de la Ronda Central de Nueva Cajamarcas, in the buffer zone surrounding the main protected area of the Alto Mayo. This farm was typical of most in the region, cutting forest to grow mostly corn and coffee. Conservation efforts in the region will focus on helping them convert to more sustainable practices, including reforestation for shade grown coffee. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

By Keith Alger, Senior Vice President, Latin America, Rare

What starts uphill runs downhill, and in countries with mountainous terrain like the high Andes this can mean pollutants from upstream running into drinking water supplies in the valley.

Take Colombia—one of the most biodiverse countries in the world; number one in orchid species with over 4,000 and almost half its terrain in the Amazon rainforest. It appears to be a natural paradise.

Yet Colombia, like many other species-diverse countries, loses 2,000 square kilometers of natural forests each year. Healthy upland ecosystems—including páramos (spongy grasslands) and cloud forests—help regulate and clean fresh water. When the habitats are stressed or destroyed water quality and quantity is impacted. In some places, farmers and cattle ranchers cut down trees to create grazing pastures and let cattle roam into rivers, creating freshwater shortages or polluting water for downstream consumption.

Without a way to value the preservation of these ecosystem services, individual landowners make decisions based on more immediate, personal benefits that lead to deforestation or overgrazing.

These problems may stem from human activity, but people also wield the solutions.  How then do you bring the interests of upstream and downstream together so that upstream farmers can make a living and downstream communities get the water they need?

At the diversion dam that diverts water from the Rio yuraycayu to Nueva Cajamarca. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

At the diversion dam that diverts water from the Rio yuraycayu to Nueva Cajamarca. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

Enter Rare, an international conservation organization with a penchant for community-led conservation campaigns and an eye toward finding solutions around behavior change to benefit both people and nature. One such solution lies in the idea of reciprocity.

Rare and its partners have taken this idea of reciprocity and created an innovative program promoting reciprocal water agreements through Pride campaigns (Rare’s signature program that uses marketing techniques to generate local pride in natural resources). The agreements involve funding from downstream users that incentivizes farmers to set aside part of their land for conservation. These incentives are rarely monetary. For example, upstream farmers might receive barbed wire and other materials to keep cattle out of rivers and other ecologically-sensitive areas. Or the upstream farmers might receive support to grow sustainable crops and training to improve cattle management in exchange for conserving critical habitat.

In Colombia, Rare is working with a regional water authority to ensure the water supply in the Cauca Valley is clean, steady, and available. With the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Cauca Valley (CVC), Rare plans to ensure the conservation of water regulating ecosystems in seven sub-water basins using Rare’s strategy of Pride campaigns to promote and accelerate the adoption of reciprocal water agreements.

Offering incentives for conservation is only half the battle. Rare’s Pride campaigns engage community members—from school children to politicians to cattle ranchers—to take pride in their stewardship of natural resources based on values of reciprocity. Rare Fellows (employees of the local organization with which Rare partners who receive Rare’s training) employ Pride campaigns with targeted media such as billboards, radio spots and puppet shows to help reinforce messages that change behaviors. Once the local communities take ownership and responsibility of their resources, they essentially protect their own future interests.

The Rio Yurarcayu runs through this valley and down to the north side of Nueva Cajamarca. The valley is full of agricultural development including cattle ranching and farming of papaya, banana, corn, and coffee.

The Rio Yurarcayu runs through this valley and down to the north side of Nueva Cajamarca. The valley is full of agricultural development including cattle ranching and farming of papaya, banana, corn, and coffee. It is also the main source of water for Nueva Cajamarca. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

These win-win water projects combining Pride campaigns and reciprocal water agreements for watershed protection have worked throughout Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru, and potentially could be applied on a more global scale.

In Peru, the Yuracyacu subwatershed plays a crucial role in supplying fresh water to major cities in northeastern Peru, and for harboring many plant and animal species found nowhere else, such as the yellow-tailed woolly monkey.  To build interest and support for the campaign, the population of Nueva Cajamarca chose the monkey as its Pride campaign mascot, and named it Chorito. There is even a campaign song, about the river Rio Yuracyacu.

Within the next few years, the campaign aims to encourage voluntary contribution to a local fund, which will be managed by the municipality. This fund will help the residents who live in the upper part of the sub-basin to improve agricultural practices and implement other conservation activities, which will help maintain the water source for everyone.

Apr 16, 2014

Rare CEO Discusses the Value of Conservation

The Giving Library recently interviewed Rare CEO and President Brett Jenks to showcase Rare’s work in an overview and ten additional questions that add context to Rare’s history, successes and challenges. In this interview, Jenks articulates Rare’s mission to inspire change so people and nature thrive through a compelling story from the Philippines.

Some of the most biodiverse and stunning coral reefs are found in the Philippines. Currently, overfishing not only threatens the natural beauty of the sea, but is devastating the primary source of animal protein for Filipinos. An environmental disaster is quickly turning into a humanitarian crisis. Rare identified a simple solution in one community in the Philippines. By protecting reefs while reducing fishing pressure the community of Apo Island actually saw fisheries rebound. Rare now trains dozens of local leaders, Rare Fellows, to repeat that basic solution so that success in one community eventually becomes the new norm nationwide. That’s essentially what Rare does: find a compelling solution to a conservation problem and repeat it.

Rare trains Fellows to run Rare’s signature Pride campaigns and equips them with the ability to inspire communities to adopt sustainable behaviors through marketing techniques. In the Andes, Fellows ensure sustainable supplies of water to remote communities through community support for better land management. In the Philippines and Indonesia, Fellows empower communities to manage sustainable fisheries that feed hundreds of millions of people. In China, Fellows facilitate community agreements with the government that support wetlands conservation that benefits people and nature.

Conservation is critical to human wellbeing. Humans depend on natural resources in ways that most people do not fully understand. Many Rare Fellows are fighting an uphill battle to protect species and habitats in ways that benefit local communities.

Jan 14, 2014

Measure and Reflect: Rare assesses impact

Rare's Theory of Change

“Ten years ago, we decided Rare would lead the way in measuring results,” says Brett Jenks, Rare’s CEO. “What we didn’t know is that it takes about that long to get it right.”

Paul Butler’s first Pride campaign with Rare, 25 years ago, included pre and post surveys to assess changes in knowledge and attitude. “When Paul was doing that, that was not the norm,” says Peter Vaughn, a research consultant who helps nonprofits design plans to assess impact. “Rare’s long track record of trying to assess impact is impressive.” Over the years, Rare’s methods have evolved along with the organization’s strategy.

When Rare first ran Pride campaigns, they were individual projects that operated with a common hypothesis — a theory of change — but each reported information differently. That makes it difficult to compare data across sites and roll them up to take a broader look at organizational impact. When Amielle DeWan, Rare’s director for conservation research and monitoring, joined Rare over two years ago, she found an impressive data set and a daunting task. “The data were everywhere and nowhere at the same time,” says DeWan. “The exciting challenge is to change the way we consistently measure information and use it to improve the way we do business.”

Rare Conservation Fellows design and implement surveys in their communities and collect most of the data. However, they are neither trained statisticians nor scientists with doctorates, so there is a certain amount of imperfection expected. DeWan and her team spend an increasing amount of their time training fellows in data collection and analysis best practices. For each building block on the theory of change, fellows set objectives and strategies to measure impact and bring about lasting change. This allows them to both measure results and reflect on the hypothesis to then make iterative changes throughout their project. This is known as adaptive management. “Adaptive management is really hard even for organizations like Rare that are on the cutting edge,” says Nick Salafsky, co-director of Foundations of Success, a nonprofit dedicated to improving conservation impact assessment. “Rare has been a leader in taking existing standards into its work.”

DeWan and her team have developed a template to standardize the information collected within each building block of the theory of change. This will facilitate a more scientific and rigorous analysis. Alan Hesse, program manager for Rare, helped pilot the new template with the Rare Conservation Fellows he mentors. “Formulas were changed, improved or eliminated,” says Hesse. “Things were made simpler. Other regional teams at Rare joined the review process. The resulting tool is a shining example of team work.”

The infrastructure Amielle and her team are building makes it possible to ask and answer some interesting and difficult questions. “Right now we have data to show we are making social change,” says DeWan. “Scientists are envious of the data set we have and the fact that we actually use it. Five years from now, I want to connect changes in behavior to conservation results. That would be truly revolutionary.”


Oct 15, 2013

Sustainable Coffee Farming in Peru

Photo by Jason Houston
Photo by Jason Houston

Finding the Right Blend: Coffee farmer looks to make his coffee more sustainable

Written by Jason Houston, photojournalist

On the last day of my visit to Nueva Cajamarca, Peru, I hiked for three and a half hours, uphill, in the mud and humidity, carrying all my camera gear, into the Alto Mayo forests to visit the small farming community of Escondida. There are no roads to get there, only the well-worn but narrow foot trail studded with horse and donkey prints.

I met with Don Filomon Delgado, a coffee farmer and local environmental secretary for the region. Don Filomon’s farm was the first I reached hiking up the valley. Cut from the forests on the hillside above the river, he farms about 60 hectares of mostly coffee. He has been on this land for over two decades and his farm is a perfect candidate for receiving environmental improvement funds established through Rare Conservation Fellow Rina Gamarra’s campaign. He is sympathetic to using more sustainable practices and understands the larger concerns around the health of the watershed. Yet, as is the reality in most of these cases, he simply does not have the resources to do much more — certainly not to do things like reforesting his land and converting from sun-grown to shade-grown coffee.

Most coffee in the region is sun-grown in open fields clear-cut from the surrounding forests.

Sun-grown coffee is also more susceptible to disease and infection. Many of Don Filomon’s plants were suffering from a beetle blight causing light spots on the leaves.

Farmers like Don Filomon Delgado work hard to survive off the land — and their survival relies on a healthy, productive environment. Don Filomon knows this, and with a little help from the water funds collected in Nueva Cajamarca down stream, will be able to implement a number of more sustainable practices.


Jul 10, 2013

Replicating Success through Alumni Mentors

Rare Conservation Fellow Luis Lopez
Rare Conservation Fellow Luis Lopez

Paul Butler, Rare’s senior vice president of global programs, has said that, “Training a fellow to do just one campaign is like training a brain surgeon to do one operation.” In the spirit of making the most of their training, many Rare Conservation Fellows continue to use the community organizating skills they learned with Rare in their daily work. Fellows will often continue with their Pride campaigns beyond the official two-year partnership with Rare, and some will even replicate their campaigns at additional sites that are also key to conserving biodiversity. One of the greatest uses of a Rare Conservation Fellow's training, however, is sharing their knowledge with other conservationist.

Rare Conservation Fellow Luis López completed his Pride campaign in early 2012 in Ecuador to protect critical watershed habitat and species. López now mentors municipal employees to run campaigns in three different areas, all in Ecuador: the Amazon River basin, a coastal community and a dry highland area. “We have tried to choose sites that are really diverse,” says López. “It will give us experience to replicate in even more sites. These three campaigns will be a model upon which we will learn.”

The abbreviated training will cover marketing components found in traditional Pride campaigns — such as the mascot, song, slogan, etc. — to mobilize community support. The program will also establish innovative reciprocal agreements between upstream and downstream villages to maintain water production and quality. “I have a lot of hope,” says López. “I have more confidence, since I already ran a campaign. I know the path.”

After their second week of training, the mentees have full campaign plans in place. They have identified their key audiences and messages, chosen their mascots, and marked their calendars with the dates for their campaign launches!


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Arlington, VA, United States

Project Leader

Kristen Leavitt

Arlington, VA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Protect Threatened Species in the Tropical Andes