South America Hub

Interview with Dr. Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel, Senior Advisor, CDE

Dr. Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel works with local NGOs, the regional government, researchers and consultants and other stakeholders in Peru. For this interview she discusses the Wyss Academy’s challenges and activities in the Tambopata National Reserve Buffer Zone.

Portrait Marthez

Dr. Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel

Researcher at the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern, involved in the Wyss Academy since its pilot phase

How did a participative approach lead to the establishment of the Strategic Buffer Zone Plan (PEZA)?

The process started in 2017 before we arrived. The head of the Tambopata National Reserve is a representative of the National Service of Protected Areas of Peru (SERNANP), and the management committee includes local farmers and other stakeholders. This committee, in collaboration with the head of the Reserve and local NGOs, envisioned and designed the Strategic Buffer Zone Plan (PEZA). The buffer zone, to the north of Tambopata National Reserve, is inhabited by a diverse population of around 15,000 farmers, indigenous communities and settlers. It is also occupied by illegal groups such as miners and loggers who are encroaching on the area. It is thus very important, and the aim of the PEZA, to have strong institutional control over what’s happening in this area.

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An important goal is to enable multiple uses of the zone in harmony with biodiversity, including ecotourism and sustainable forest management. How can this be achieved?

One characteristic of the PEZA, which was not obvious in the context of protected areas in Peru, is that it explicitly recognizes the importance of reconciling conservation with sustainable development goals. From the start, one objective of the PEZA was not only the conservation of forest, but also the promotion of what they call “productive activities,” in harmony with nature conservation. These include agroforestry systems with cocoa and other high-value crops, fish farming, Brazil nut concessions, and ecotourism. The plan integrates these activities with the conservation of standing forests. One of the key factors for success of the PEZA is this integrated approach, and the fact that it was designed in a highly participatory way.

How was it possible to establish a shared vision for all of the parties involved?

To be honest and humble, we didn’t do it. A multistakeholder process had already started back in 2017. The study we did revealed that a main factor of its success was the fact that, over the years, the various stakeholders met regularly to develop a vision, plan it, and then implement and monitor it. The stakeholders continue to meet regularly. We contribute to the shared vision with approaches and knowledge. For example, in terms of approach, by helping to develop a monitoring tool, and in terms of knowledge, by carrying out a study that looked at the design process and now the implementation of this management tool to analyze its strengths, weaknesses, innovative character and potential for scaling. This knowledge is extremely useful in the process of receiving formal recognition by the regional government.

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The Wyss Academy helps to make proven solutions available on a wider scale. How can you imagine scaling this up across Peru?

First, there is scaling out at the regional level, across the department of Madre de Dios. As an instrument for the management of buffer zones, the PEZA first needs to be formally recognized by the regional government of Madre de Dios. Once recognized as a formal instrument, it can be applied to other protected areas as part of the regional integrated development plan, which is currently being designed. So this year is a key moment, and we are supporting this process of formalization and institutionalization. In terms of scaling up, we see the potential of bringing this tool to the national level and including it in conservation policies, through the National Protected Areas Service of Peru (SERNANP) under the Ministry of the Environment. In Peru there are 69 protected areas, and their buffer zones cover over 14 million hectares of land.

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What is the Permanent Seminar of Agricultural Research (SEPIA) and how are you involved?

The Permanent Seminar of Agricultural Research is one of the most respected platforms for intellectuals and researchers in the fields of agriculture, rural development, and increasingly also of natural resources management in Peru. It is a think tank for science policy with an important engagement with policy makers. In addition, often, members of SEPIA become directly involved in politics in Peru. A large conference is held every two years, and last year in December was the 19th one, so they have been around for four decades already. There is a strict selection and peer review process for the material presented at the conference, so what is presented is recognized nationally as of high scientific quality. The Wyss Academy organized a final policy roundtable where we presented the results from a study on sustainable development and conservation policies with the case of Madre de Dios. That study looked at policy coherence or lack thereof, and then identified and proposed pathways for increased policy coherence, in order to reconcile conservation with development efforts.