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

Give back to the local community

In return for their efforts to restore endangered habitats and conserve birds and other wildlife, local communities receive assistance from Acción Andina to secure title to their land, which provides legal protection against exploitation by timber, mining and oil companies.

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

A man spoke with three other people
Vast areas of the Andes were once covered with Polylepis trees but only 500,000 ha remain standing today after decades of deforestation. Photo by UNEP / Diego Rotmistrovsky

Aucca’s vision for ecosystem regeneration goes beyond his native Peru. In 2018, Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos and the US non-profit Global Forest Generation established Acción Andina to scale-up community-led reforestation models 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 vital forests in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, as well as Peru, over the next 25 years with support from Global. Forest Generation. His work exemplifies the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration for global action to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation.

General happiness

Research shows that restoring 20 million ha of degraded ecosystems in the Latin American and Caribbean region could generate $23 billion in benefits over 50 years. A thriving ecosystem is also essential to keeping global warming below 2°C and helping societies and economies adapt to climate change.

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At the core of Aucca’s work is a deep connection to his Inca heritage and the Incan principle of “Ayni and Minka,” a deep commitment to cooperation for the common good, which extends to plans to scale reforestation in other Andean countries as well.

A man walks along a steep mountain path
As president of Acción Andina, Aucca is currently overseeing plans to protect and restore 1 million ha of vital forest. Photo by UNEP/Diego Rotmistrovsky

“Once in South America we were the greatest empire, united by one culture, the Inca culture,” said Aucca. “It was the first time we all got together. The next time we got together to create a movement was to free ourselves from the Spanish yoke, to find our independence. Now we’re getting together for the third time. Why? To protect the little tree.”

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

About the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2021 to 2030 the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Led by UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of the world’s ecosystems. The goal is to revitalize billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade brings together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to scale restoration on a massive scale.


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