Why I’m restoring tropical mountain peatlands in the Colombian Andes

29 March 2023
David Cárdenas

Restoring tropical mountain peatlands is essential for mitigating climate change, preserving biodiversity, and securing water resources for the future

High tropical mountain peatlands are a significant carbon sink, storing vast amounts of carbon in their soils. However, when these delicate ecosystems are disturbed, they can release millions of tons of methane gas, further exacerbating the already critical issues of global warming and climate change. This is why it is crucial to protect and restore peatlands, not only to prevent carbon emissions but also to preserve their essential role in regulating water resources, preserving biodiversity, and supporting local communities that depend on these ecosystems for their livelihoods.

A tropical mountain peatland degraded by livestock. Photo: David Rocha C

The Almorzadero paramo is a high-altitude ecosystem nestled in the eastern Colombian Andes, spanning an impressive 157,704 hectares. As part of the larger Santurbán paramo, it plays a vital role in regulating water resources, sequestering carbon, and conserving biodiversity. Its unique flora and fauna are a sight to behold, with numerous endemic plant species and rare animal species such as the spectacled bear, the Andean condor, and the mountain tapir calling it home. The paramo also supports a diverse array of avian, insect, and amphibian species, adding to its ecological significance. It is imperative that this precious ecosystem is protected and managed sustainably to ensure its long-term health and continued provision of valuable ecosystem services.

Frailejon is a type of plant that is native to the high-altitude regions of the Andes mountains in South America. Photo: David Rocha C

The Almorzadero paramo is a crucial water source for both human consumption and agriculture in the surrounding area, providing an essential resource for the local communities. However, this fragile ecosystem is under threat from various human activities, including mining, agriculture, and urbanization, which have all had a significant impact on the biodiversity of the area. Despite ongoing efforts to protect the ecosystem, the challenges faced are substantial, with almost a quarter of its area being transformed by agricultural and livestock activities. As such, it is essential that further action is taken to conserve the paramo and ensure its long-term sustainability, for the benefit of both the environment and the local communities that depend on it.

Livestock farming in Paramo El Almorzadero. Photo: David Rocha C

My first visit to the Almorzadero paramo left me enamored with its stunning landscapes and the abundance of peatlands that were unfortunately highly degraded. Upon further investigation, I learned that many communities in the area rely on livestock farming and have allowed their animals to freely graze across the landscape, resulting in significant damage to the bogs. Over time, these communities have faced the consequences of uncontrolled grazing, including the low quality and scarcity of water resources. As a solution, they have taken the initiative to isolate the wetlands and prevent goats and sheep from accessing them, in order to protect and preserve the delicate ecosystems of the peatlands. It is heartening to see the communities take action to restore the health of these important natural resources.

During my recent meeting with Don José, the community leader of Paramo El Almorzadero, we discussed the vital role of peatlands in climate change mitigation. As I shared information about their immense potential, he expressed a strong commitment to protecting the peatlands in his local area. It was encouraging to see his enthusiasm for this important cause and his understanding of the critical role that peatlands play in preserving our planet’s ecosystem.

The “Peatlands for the Future” project is centered around the re-humidification of some hectares of peatlands in the El Almorzadero Paramo within the Mararai Reserve, situated on the Wilches or Angosturas estate owned by the Cruz Rivera family. Our primary goal is to isolate these peatlands and analyze their impact on methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Moreover, the project aims to empower and raise awareness within the community while also laying the groundwork for potential future expansion, potentially through the issuance of carbon bonds to achieve financial self-sustainability.

The restoration of peatlands holds immense significance both environmentally and socially, as it contributes to climate change mitigation, biodiversity preservation, enhanced water quality, and decreased vulnerability to extreme weather events.

Peatlands for the Future” is a project led by the Andean Corporation for Integral and Sustainable Development (COANDIS) and The Ecosystem Carbon Conservation (TECC)

David Cárdenas

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Supporting partners 2023

Supporting partners

The Restoration Stewards program provides funding, mentorship and training to deepen the impact of youth-led restoration projects. The year-long program is run by the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) under the banner of Generation Restoration to support and highlight the work of eight young restoration practitioners and their teams in 2023.

During the program, the Restoration Stewards and their teams are  supported to further develop their project and serve as ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards share their journeys in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges and participate in different international events to showcase their work. Locally, they are sparking a restoration movement, mobilizing local communities and creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for livelihoods and landscapes.