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

Giving back to the local communities

In exchange for their efforts to restore threatened habitats and conserve birds and other wildlife, local communities are helped by Acción Andina to secure rights to their lands, which provides legal protection against exploitation by logging, mining and oil companies.

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

A man is talking to three other people
Large areas of the Andes Mountains were once covered with polypis trees, but only 500,000 hectares remain standing today after decades of deforestation. Photo by UNEP/ Diego Rotmistrovsky

Oka’s vision for ecosystem regeneration goes beyond his native Peru. In 2018, Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos and the US non-profit Global Forest Generation founded 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 is currently overseeing plans to protect and restore 1 million hectares of highly important forests in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, as well as Peru, over the next 25 years with Global support. The forest generation. His work exemplifies the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration’s call for global action to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation.

the benefit of all

Studies show that restoring 20 million hectares of damaged ecosystems in the Latin American and Caribbean region could yield benefits of $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 Inca principles of “Ainy and Minca,” a deep commitment to working together for the common good that runs through programs to increase reforestation in other Andean countries as well.

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

“Once upon a time in South America we were the largest empire, united by one culture, the Inca culture,” Oka said. “This was the first time we all gathered. The next time we gathered to create a movement was to free ourselves from the Spanish yoke, to seek our independence. Now we are gathering for the third time. Why? To protect a small tree.”

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On the UNEP Champions of the Earth
The United Nations Environment Program’s Champions of the Earth honors individuals, groups and organizations whose actions have a revolutionary impact on the environment. The annual Champions of the Earth Award is the United Nations’ highest environmental honor. It recognizes outstanding leaders from the government, civil society and the private sector

On the UN Decade for the Restoration of Ecosystems
The United Nations General Assembly declared the years 2021 to 2030 as the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Led by UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) together with the support of partners, it aims to prevent, halt and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims to revive billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, The UN Decade mobilizes political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up rehabilitation.


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