The problem: deforestation and degradation of high-value native species
Peru has an amazing diversity of native forest species of great value, which have evolved over the centuries in its different ecosystems. Unfortunately, this biological wealth is being threatened in our country due to the increasing deforestation and degradation of our forests.
On the one hand, the loss of forests reduces the living space of numerous species, causing a significant decrease in their populations and, in some cases, leading to their total extinction. On the other hand, the excessive looting of valuable species such as the shihuahuaco (Dipteryx odorata), the marupa (Simarouba amara) and the mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), whose purpose is to supply a mainly informal and illegal timber market, generates pressure on the ecosystem, leaving irreversible scars on the Peruvian Amazon landscape.
The opportunity: restoration and reforestation with native species in a regulated and sustainable manner.
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 fabric and biodiversity as a whole, making this an issue that requires immediate and effective action.
This uncontrolled growth (of deforestation and degradation) has meant that timber from natural forests is becoming increasingly scarce and that timber trade regulations are becoming more and more strict. This has created an opportunity for the development of regulated forest plantations and other sources of sustainable forest production.
The case: Bosques Amazónicos (BAM), +17 years of experience in the development of native species
Part of BAM’s purpose is to recover degraded areas seeking to re-establish – as far as possible – the original forest structure and to preserve the unique ecological richness of the Peruvian Amazon ecosystems. How does it do it? By having designed a recovery model that has been awarded the United Nations Prize by the FAO for the best company in the restoration of degraded areas, which establishes sustainable forest plantations with native species that meet high standards of quality and traceability (e.g. FSC and DAAC), ensuring supply to a responsible industry in the international market.
Science, technology and innovation
Research on native species has allowed BAM to accumulate a genetic capital developed from the selection of the best specimens from multiple sources in the Peruvian Amazon.
Taking advantage of the genetic capital acquired and with a view to increasing the value of the forest and the productivity of its plantations (up to 30%), BAM has developed an innovative forest genetic improvement program in collaboration with the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC), one of the most important institutions in the world in the improvement of tropical forest species.
This program consists of reproducing (cloning) the best quality individuals also called “plus trees”: taller, thicker, healthier and straighter trees that have the ability to grow quickly without major difficulty and with good resistance to pests.
As part of the Program, BAM has built a high-tech nursery for the production of genetically superior seedlings in a protected environment, with a total production capacity of one million plants per season. The objective of the nursery is to supply BAM’s operations with genetically superior seedlings and excess production will be sold to third parties (new business line).
Forest genetic improvement: “Plus trees”
Genetic breeding is a selection process that starts from the vision of a perfectly structured tree. A straight and robust trunk, slender branches that expand harmoniously, resistance to pests and a fast growth rate without altering its physical-mechanical characteristics. It is not enough to be a tree, one aspires to be a PLUS tree: an individual that not only possesses an impeccable trunk, but has also been chosen for its outstanding performance. Here, the main challenge is to discern among 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 cultivation
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 in which half of these genetic qualities are captured (sexual reproduction, where the characteristics of the mother tree are known but the origin 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 an increase in plantation productivity of up to 30%, a gain that should not be underestimated in a context where speed of growth and production are essential.
It should be noted that the process of clone care and management does not differ significantly from conventional practices. However, the benefit lies in the acceleration of results and the amplification of profit, since these clones advance with a firmer and faster pace towards their productive maturity. In this sense, time becomes an ally, and investment in the selection and development of PLUS trees proves beneficial at 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 the program developed by BAM.
On the other hand, it is essential to understand that BAM’s genetic improvement 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.
Strategic alliance: BAM and the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC)
In Latin America, experience in the field of genetic innovation is neither profuse nor deep-rooted. Although Brazil stands out for its scientific research, this rarely translates into concrete field actions. Here, a determining factor that has been absent in many cases comes into play: the materialization of ideas in the real field. A tangible example of this convergence is the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC), a world leader in genetic improvement of native species, and a partner in the BAM program since 2019. The basis of the alliance between Bosques Amazónicos (BAM) and TEC is that their perspective takes a long-term view and is based on the principles of sustainability.
“There are several noteworthy elements in this context. BAM’s program has particularly caught our attention because most people tend to look for short-term commercial opportunities, and this is not the case with BAM. Few people consider the possibility of high-value timber and its long-term viability. Since the beginning of the project, there has been a dialogue focused on sustainability, and it has been recognized that the very function of carbon sequestration can be transformed into an activity that generates economic benefits for the native communities in the area, while at the same time protecting the biodiversity of the region,” says Olman Murillo, Manager of the Cooperative for Genetic Improvement of the Technological Institute of Costa Rica.
GENFORES is a permanent research and development linkage program in genetic improvement and clonal forestry between TEC’s School of Forestry Engineering and a group of Costa Rican small producer organizations, companies and/or reforesters. This experience allows BAM to access the wealth of information and experience that GENFORES and TEC have cultivated over time.
One element that stands out in this alliance is the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement. A recent example illustrates this palpable evolution: the construction of a state-of-the-art clonal nursery. This innovation has culminated in an increase in production of around 30%, 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 researchbecomes a fundamental pillar of this partnership. The GENFORES Program dives directly into BAM’s operational sphere, contributing research and explorations that open new avenues of development and improvement. This direct integration is not only a testament to the depth of the collaboration, but also an example of how a strategic alliancecan catalyze progress in the industrial arena.
Looking to the future: native PLUS trees
It is crucial to continue to discover emerging trends and perspectives within the world of clonal forestry. Adapting to and taking advantage of these transformational currents ensures that we remain at the forefront of innovation, fostering the development of the forestry sector as a driver of the sustainable economy, and, specifically, the management and promotion of valuable native species of our Amazon.
BAM’s competitive advantage in the technological development of these species contributes to counteract the growing threats of deforestation and degradation of our Amazon forests, fostering the development of regulated and sustainably managed forest plantations, contributing, in turn, to the development of science, innovation and technology.
More about BAM
BAM has +17 years of experience in reforestation with native species. To date, BAM has successfully restored/reforested 1500 hectares with valuable native species, mainly marupa and shihuahuaco (cumaru). This project has been internationally recognized as one of the most successful experiences in the recovery of deforested areas: United Nations Award for “Best Company in Restoration of Degraded Areas” granted by FAO, 2015.
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