Western Ecuador remained only sparsely inhabited until four generations ago. Before that time, the region’s forest was mostly intact. In the 1950’s, colonization of this sparsely uninhabited frontier was encouraged by the national government, which heavily promoted the expansion of cattle ranching and agricultural activities. The process of over-exploitation generally follows a three-step pattern: illegal logging first degrades the forest and facilitates access; degraded forest on the fringe is then slashed-and-burned to grow corn; then cattle are grazed for a few years until the soil is exhausted and the land is abandoned, and the next tract of forest is cleared. Fast forward 60 years and we see that a vast majority of deforestation in western Ecuador is a direct result of this uncontrolled and unsustainable expansion of agriculture.
The region immediately surrounding the Jama-Coaque Reserve is a microcosm of this greater problem – small farmers laid claim to patches of land and slowly began chipping away at the forested parcels following the exploitation process mentioned above. It is for this exact reason that Third Millennium Alliance believes that a holistic approach to conservation, ‘one that focuses not only on the forests, but also on the land and people between the islands of protected forest‘ (Breakfast of Biodiversity 1995), is the most effective strategy. Working in parallel with our conservation land purchase program, our Community Agroforestry Initiative aims to engage local farmers and land owners in sustainable land management techniques such as agroforestry as a way to protect remaining forests and restore the degraded landscape matrix surrounding the Jama-Coaque Reserve.