Fighting Forest Fires and Restoring Nature

A community leader's journey to restore and protect Bolivia's forests

Mauricio Coca, a dedicated member of the Laphia community in Bolivia, shares his journey of environmental stewardship and community collaboration with Asociación Armonía. Through reforestation efforts and sustainable practices, Mauricio and his community have worked tirelessly to restore their forest ecosystem after a devastating fire. Their partnership with Armonía has not only revitalized the landscape but also enhanced water management, agricultural practices, and fire prevention strategies, leading to a brighter future for both nature and the community.

My name is Mauricio Coca. I am a proud member of the Laphia community, located in the Tiquipaya Municipality, Quillacollo province of the Cochabamba department in Bolivia. I hold a position on the board of directors of my community as secretary of the irrigation board. I have been working for and with my community for quite some time. I have always connected closely with nature, and I believe that a tree is a life we are planting for future generations.

One experience made me realise the tremendous importance of preserving nature. Back in 2016, a huge and devastating fire broke out near my community. This fire caused great pain in the families of our community; we lost a large amount of our forests, animals, crops, irrigation materials, and tools, and, in some cases, the fire reached the homes where some of our friends lived. Before 2016, we carried out reforestation, but not very frequently. Reforestation happened only during the rainy season to guarantee the growth of the seeds and plants.

However, after the fire, we started intensive and more frequent reforestation and protection actions to recover the forest that we had before. At this point, we received the support of Bolivia's Ministry of Environment. With their help, we managed to reforest approximately 40 hectares, but that was just the beginning. Afterwards, we got to know Armonia and the extraordinary work they do. Back in 2020, an assembly was held in our community, and we learned about the work Armonia was carrying out in Cochabamba. This meeting was decisive since it brought us together. We established lasting ties of friendship and cooperation.

Fighting a forest fire in the Bolivia Andes. Photo: Armonia

After starting to work with Armonia, I started seeing our forest recover as it had been before. That was an incredible joy for me and my community peers. The organisation provides us with plants (to sow), gives us support and knowledge on what reforestation is, and how to implement it; they lead the way but always keep our opinions and needs in mind.

Since our connection and joint work with Armonia the main difference has been that we do not stop once planting is complete. We now also focus on what happens afterwards, other protection of the reforested areas, and all the conservation measures needed to preserve them. For instance, after we reforested an area affected by the fire, we built a fence to protect it. Along with Armonía, we arranged transportation and materials to build the fence. Many community members, including myself, worked on constructing this fence, always coordinating with the Armonía staff to guarantee we reinforced and protected the vegetation and wildlife. Since then, I have been working with Armonía, helping coordinate the work implemented in my community.

Part of the amazing work we have done together has to do with the prevention and mitigation of fires. Along with other community members, I participated in the training courses on forest fire control, which were organized and equipped by Armonía. They provided us and the other four communities they work with, personal safety equipment and tools to put out fires. We gained sufficient knowledge to know what to do to prevent fires from occurring, but also how to face them if they ever happen. After receiving the training, I can proudly say that I am one of the forestry combatants in my community brigade.

Mauricio is a forestry combatant in his community brigade. Photo: Daniela Aguirre, Armonia

Being part of something like this means that not only am I doing something good for nature, but I am also changing some practices for the better. For instance, before, I was dedicated to agricultural production, mainly potatoes and apples. Now I know monocultures are not so good, so I am trying to grow different products such as cherries and blackberries, then intercropping, but also trying to bring harmony with native trees, carrying out what is known as agroforestry.

Another improvement I have seen in my community has been the access and management of water resources. Armonia provided polytube hoses which we have been using to expand our irrigation or convey water from one place to another. Another improvement has been the construction of water reservoirs. Thanks to the support of institutions like Armonia, we now have water reservoirs that can store water for the dry season and be used to help fight any fires; we have water storage and a great benefit for the community and nature. Also, thanks to these water reservoirs, our food security is guaranteed, as well as the food security of the Bolivian population of the departments that we can reach through the markets where we sell our products.

Mauricio at a community project course organized by Armonia. Photo: Daniela Aguirre, Armonia

In five to 10 or 20 years, we will see an improvement in the environmental field with the reforestation that has been carried out. At the moment the plants are not so noticeable, but in a few years, we will see the extent of what we have planted. And that is going to be a great contribution to the environment. The time of the fires was tough, and something I will never forget, but if we stay focused on regenerating our forest we will hear the sounds of the animals and birds again. My dream is to see Mother Earth thriving and filled with biodiversity.

Asociación Armonía works with Laphia and other communities in Bolivia  living on the southern slopes of the Tunari National Park in the department of Cochabamba. To date, Trillion Trees has supported the production of 33,000 seedlings of native species (Kewiña, Aliso, Kiswara, Lloque, Molle, Jacarandá)as well as their planting, maintenance and monitoring of reforested areas.. The initiative also supported the development of a Management Plan for Exotic Tree Plantations (pine and eucalyptus) and the irrigation systems of the communities with which Asociacion Armonía works.

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