In Peru, a rich diversity of native species has evolved over centuries in its various ecosystems. However, this biological wealth is under threat from deforestation and illegal logging, a problem that demands immediate and effective action. At our company, Bosques Amazónicos (BAM), we are very aware of this issue, and part of our solution lies in the Forest Genetic Improvement Program we have developed in collaboration with the Costa Rican Institute of Technology (TEC).
Pillars of the program: science, technology, and innovation
BAM’s Reforestation Program in Ucayali is carried out using native species of high conservation value, considered natural treasures that we believe should be used rationally. So, the crucial question arises: Where do we start? How do we set priorities in this area? The answer lies in creating a system that embodies sustainability at its core. A program that promotes responsible cultivation, long-term conservation, and, in turn, generates well-being and prosperity to communities.
Research on native species has allowed BAM to accumulate a genetic capital of native trees developed from the selection of the best specimens from multiple sources in the Peruvian Amazon. In this context, attention has been drawn to woods of exceptionally high value, those dubbed “gourmet woods,” such as shihuahuaco (Dipteryx odorata).
As part of the Program, BAM has built a high-tech nursery for the production of genetically superior seedlings in a controlled environment, with a total production capacity of one million plants per year, with the possibility of increasing the productivity of its plantations by 30% per year. The nursery’s goal is to supply BAM’s operations with genetically superior seedlings.
It is important to mention that BAM has successfully reforested more than 1,200 hectares with valuable native species, mainly marupa and shihuahuaco (cumaru), an experience that has been internationally recognized as one of the most successful in the recovery of deforested areas (United Nations Award for “Best Company in Restoration of Degraded Areas” granted by FAO in 2015).
What does genetic improvement entail?
Genetic improvement is a selection process that stems from the vision of a perfectly structured tree. A straight and robust trunk, slender branches that expand harmoniously, resistance to pests and a rapid growth rate without altering its physical and mechanical characteristics. It is not enough to be a tree, one aspires to be a PLUS tree: an individual that not only has an impeccable trunk, but has also been chosen for its outstanding performance. Here, the main challenge is to select from the multitude of trees in a plantation of hundreds of hectares, identifying those specimens that exhibit exceptional development. A task that, paradoxically, is both scientific and artistic, since not all native species grow with the same straightness (?).
Clonal forestry vs. traditional crop
A concept that emerges in this search for PLUS trees is that of the “mother plant”. The key to clonal forestry is based on the ability to capture the essence of 100% of an exceptional mother to start the process (asexual reproduction), as opposed to traditional methods, where only half of these genetic qualities are captured (sexual reproduction, where the characteristics of the mother tree are known but the progeny of the parent(s) is unknown). It is a rigorous, meticulous and vital process, as the growth potential of a PLUS tree far exceeds its seed-generated counterparts. This strategy offers a production range that goes from 20% to 25% higher, a gain that should not be underestimated in a context where speed of growth and production are essential.
It is important to note that the care and management of these clonal plants do not significantly differ from conventional practices. However, the benefit lies in accelerating results and amplifying gains, as these clones advance more steadily and rapidly towards productive maturity. In this sense, time becomes an ally, and the investment in the selection and development of PLUS trees proves beneficial in later stages.
Do not confuse genetic improvement with genetic modification
A term that can be confused with genetic improvement is genetic modification. In this field, external DNA is introduced into a species, providing desirable characteristics that are not part of its intrinsic nature. This technique is undoubtedly a more complex and ambitious undertaking, which transcends the limits of the conventional, and therefore does not apply to BAM’s Program.
On the other hand, it is essential to understand that genetic improvement in our program is forged in a different mold. It involves selection and breeding processes, with a focus on efficient growth and optimized tree production. However, the highlight of this discipline lies in the next action: PLUS tree crossing. This stage takes place in an isolated environment, far from external environmental influences, where specimens chosen for their superior performance are crossed in a natural way. Here, true genetic improvement takes shape. But this phenomenon only materializes when PLUS trees are combined with other PLUS trees, forging a synergy of improved genes.
In Latin America, experience in this field is not extensive or deeply rooted. Although Brazil stands out for its scientific research, these studies rarely translate into concrete field actions. Here, a determining factor that has been absent in many cases comes into play: the realization of ideas in the real world. A tangible example of this convergence is the Costa Rican Institute of Technology (TEC), an institution that has been able to scale our project and project it into sustainable results.
In this effort to promote sustainable timber development, the participation of different actors is crucial. An essential actor is academia, where knowledge germinates and flourishes. Furthermore, state intervention becomes imperative, as its policies and incentives can catalyze this process. Finally, the private sector, with its investment and execution capacity, completes the necessary triangle for success.
Deforestation of valuable native species
Deforestation has left scars on the Peruvian Amazon landscape, directly affecting native species and their habitats. The loss of forests reduces the living space of numerous native species, leading to population declines and, in some cases, extinction. It is essential to understand that each species plays a unique role in the ecosystem and its disappearance can have multiple effects on the ecological web and biodiversity in general.
The plundering of valuable native species, such as shihuahuaco, marupa and mahogany, is based on the premise that if we do not manage to generate timber through sustainable activity, there is a risk that people will resort to indiscriminate deforestation. A fundamental strategy for effective conservation lies in the creation of spaces.
Strategic Alliance between BAM and TEC for Genetic Improvement
The foundation of the alliance between Bosques Amazónicos (BAM) and the Costa Rican Institute of Technology (TEC) is that their perspective adopts a long-term view. Forest science is based on sustainability principles and a long-term focus. In essence, a model is being developed that will outline how to cultivate high-value woods sustainably, thus generating prosperity. This vision is shared by both parties since BAM, as a company, approached TEC some years ago with the purpose of extending their work to Peru.
“There are various notable elements in this context. BAM’s program has drawn special attention because most people tend to seek short-term commercial opportunities, and this is not the case for BAM. Few consider the possibility of high-value woods and their long-term viability. Since the inception of the project, there has been a focus on sustainability, and it has been recognized that the same carbon capture function can be transformed into an economic benefit for the native communities of the region while protecting regional biodiversity,” highlights Olman Murillo, Manager of the Genetic Improvement Cooperative at the Costa Rican Institute of Technology.
Benefits of being part of GENFORES
GENFORES is a permanent research and development partnership in genetic improvement and clonal forestry between the School of Forestry Engineering at TEC and a group of small producers, companies, and reforestation organizations in Costa Rica. Nourished by years of experience, it becomes a wealth of knowledge that flows directly to BAM. This constant flow of experience allows BAM to access the wealth of information and experience that GENFORES has cultivated over time.
One element that stands out in this alliance is the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement. As time progresses, processes are refined and perfected, with a focus on constant optimization. A recent example illustrates this tangible evolution: the construction of a state-of-the-art clonal nursery. This innovation has resulted in a production increase of around 25%, an achievement that not only improves efficiency but also translates into tangible benefits.
The synergy between GENFORES and BAM goes beyond a simple exchange of information. Joint research has become a fundamental pillar in this partnership. The GENFORES Program is directly involved in BAM’s operational sphere, contributing to research and explorations that open new avenues for development and improvement. This direct integration is not only a testament to the depth of collaboration but also an example of how a strategic alliance can catalyze progress in the industrial field.
It is important for us to highlight the innovative PLUS tree planting system, which is based on a mixture of natural forest and plantation, in addition to the innovation of enrichment strips. This method presents itself as a response to the quest for sustainability. In this convergence, reforestation takes on a deeper and more strategic dimension. It is an effort to respect the essence of the environment while promoting vegetation recovery and growth. In summary, planting techniques serve as a blank canvas where innovation and tradition merge.
Looking ahead in PLUS tree cloning
Continuing to discover emerging trends and perspectives within the field of clonal forestry is crucial, as the world is dynamic, and change is constant. Adapting to and harnessing these transformational currents ensures that we remain at the forefront of innovation. Indeed, the next steps we have outlined are a testament to our dedication to a future that embraces sustainability and productivity harmoniously.
More about BAM
BAM’s reforestation project with native species is developed under an ARR model (Afforestation, Reforestation, and Restoration) on its Mirianita camps 4 and 5 in BAM’s private property in Ucayali, Peru.
BAM’s ARR (Afforestation, Reforestation and Restoration) project was the first to work with native species, and the first in the world to be validated and verified by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). Years of experience and technical capacity in managing native species since 2008 have allowed the company to gain a competitive advantage in the global forest market.
BAM’s reforestation model has been internationally recognized as one of the most successful experiences in the recovery of degraded areas.
Additionally, BAM’s REDD+ The Last Habitat conservation project developed on private property in Ucayali protects over 20,000 hectares of forests and their extraordinary biodiversity. It also indirectly benefits more than 15 communities in the area.
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BAM, private investment for a sustainable world.