Meet Odion Cirilio Sanchez Cruz. You’ll be inspired by his commitment to community and the passion he has for restoring and protecting the unique forest environment he calls home.
Odion lives in the city of Puerto Maldonado, on the border of the Tambopata-Bahuaja Biodiversity Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. He is the President of COOPASER, the cooperative which has been working with local farmers in the region since 2014 to support the transition to sustainable agricultural production. Odion’s big focus is on the soil – he’s part of an important effort by the Tambopata-Bahuaja project to revive and restore what’s been degraded by harmful agricultural practices over many years.
Extensive cattle ranching in the Madre de Dios region has had a transformational affect on the landscape. As a former cattle rancher himself, Odion has witnessed a shocking decline of wildlife whose habitat has increasingly been lost to pave the way for livestock. On top of this, the monoculture farming that Odion and other farmers once pursued has weakened soil quality in the region, damaging crop yields and pushing farmers like Odion further into the forest. Now, he’s committed to being part of the solution and is working with the COOPASER cooperative to restore the forest ecosystem and nurture its biodiversity. “Conservation is my job,” he says, “I am fascinated by what it means to recover this soil, and to live with the fauna and with the trees. We want to try to get this land back to how we found it.”
The COOPASER cooperative receives key support from AIDER, the Tambopata-Bahuaja project’s implementation partner on the ground. Technical assistance, infrastructure for post-harvest management, quality control, and a route to market for sustainable commodities is supporting farmers in this region to improve their agricultural practices in a way that is restorative to the natural environment. By 2021, COOPASER will have worked with 400 smallholder farmers like Odion, providing incentives for farmers to regenerate the land they hold, rather than pushing further afield.
We asked him what’s been the most beneficial part of the COOPASER initiative, and he spoke about the economic security. “We are now being told the crops we are sowing have a safe route to market. With this security, we no longer need to open up any more of the forest.” And what’s the biggest challenge? As a cooperative, he says, there is a huge challenge in unifying all farmers over the same goals. “Our products have to enter the final international market, so we all need to ensure we are producing quality products that meet all the certifications the markets ask for. But with this challenge, we are also proud to bring to market products that are unique to Madre de Dios.”
Odion’s story is one of transformation. The COOPASER initiative he leads is an example of the kind of change that can be accomplished when people come together, with the right support, to take a stand for what’s important. However far away we are from where Odion is stood, we can all relate to this kind of work in one way or another.
Thank you to our Ecosphere+ clients for making this work possible!