Forests of Hope site - San Rafael, Paraguay
Site name: San Rafael
Location: On the border of Itapúa and Caazapá departments
Site area: 69,304 ha
Values of the site
The Atlantic forest is an outstanding biological centre of endemism for birds, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and plants. It extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil from Rio Grande do Norte state in the north to Rio Grande do Sul state in the south, and inland as far as Paraguay and the Misiones Province of Argentina. It is it one of the top five ‘hotspots’ for biodiversity conservation in the world.
The largest ecoregion within the Atlantic Forest in terms of original forest cover is the “Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest”. In Paraguay, the two largest remaining contiguous tracts of this forest are the Mbaracayú Biosphere Reserve, and San Rafael. San Rafael remains a “paper park”, lacking resources for effective conservation management.
San Rafael has been widely recognized as the top conservation priority in Paraguay. More bird species (over 400) have been recorded at San Rafael than at any other site in Paraguay. Twelve globally threatened bird species have been recorded there, including the Endangered Vinaceous Amazon Amazona vinacea and Black-fronted Piping-guan Pipile jacutinga, both endemic to the Atlantic Forest. San Rafael is also the only site in Paraguay where both the Near Threatened Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja and Crested Eagle Morphnus guianensis still occur. Four globally threatened large mammals have also been reported there, along with charismatic megafauna such as Jaguar Panthera onca and Brazilian Tapir Tapirus terrestris.
This biodiversity is further enhanced by the presence of extensive areas of natural grasslands and wetlands, which represent the northernmost extent of the Mesopotamian grasslands Endemic Bird Area and contain good numbers of threatened species endemic to this ecoregion.
Finally, San Rafael is also important for a number of local communities. The Mbya Guarani indigenous communities have been marginalised by lack of land tenure and depend on their native forests for many services such as provision of forest products and other cultural and ecosystem services. Other local small-holder settlements in the area such as La Amistad also depend on the forest for their livelihoods.
Key threats to the site include:
- Large-scale intensive agriculture
- Unsustainable agricultural practices at a local scale (slash-and-burn agriculture, overexploitation of forest resources, clearance and cultivation of steep slopes, clearance of land for pastures and settlements, and overgrazing)
- Loss of soil fertility and soil erosion
- Forest fires
- Low income levels
All these threats have caused severe habitat fragmentation and San Rafael is becoming increasingly isolated, with just a tenuous link remaining to Caazapá National Park. Furthermore, the La Amistad small-holder settlement, which lies within the forest, has reduced the forest cover of their lands by over 50%.
Historical conservation approach
San Rafael has a complex legal history as a state protected area. In 1992, immediately prior to the Rio “Earth” Summit, the Paraguayan Government declared San Rafael as an “Area Reserved for a National Park”. Despite a number of subsequent attempts to designate San Rafael as an actual national park or managed resources reserve, the only designation which remains legally valid is this designation. With this status, and with governmental resources lacking, conservation management of San Rafael has been ineffective.
New conservation approach
Given the current status of San Rafael, land purchase for the creation of a privately owned reserve has proved to be the only effective means of protecting the area. This strategy has received recognition from the Paraguayan Ministry of the Environment (SEAM). Since 1999, Guyra Paraguay has led an international campaign to fundraise for land purchase within San Rafael. To date, Guyra Paraguay owns and effectively protects and manages over 6,500 ha, and has developed a clear strategy for further land purchases.
Guyra Paraguay’s conservation approach is based on consultation and strong collaboration with local communities. A number of indigenous territorial claims by the Mbya Guarani communities exist for most of the San Rafael area. Guyra Paraguay has developed a good relationship with the community, and is increasingly working with them to develop solutions whereby both the community and biodiversity conservation receive benefits.
Guyra Paraguay is a pioneer organisation in terms of innovative financing and governance arrangements for forest conservation and their work has great potential as a conservation model for the BirdLife Forests of Hope Programme.
- Guyra Paraguay recently pioneered the implementation of a model for land purchase involving joint ownership with indigenous communities with the support of international funding. This ground-breaking initiative is the first case of joint social and environmental ownership of a natural area in Latin America.
- Guyra Paraguay has recently led on the implementation of a REDD + project, with support from the World Land Trust. This project was awarded accreditation under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance standard for carbon projects, with Gold standard for biodiversity benefits. Part of this project involves working with the La Amistad small-holder settlement community. The project will pay community members to retain and improve the quality of forest on their land, in preference to clearing it for agriculture.
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