Skip to main content
You are here
Facebook icon
Pinterest icon
Twitter icon

Conservation, restoration and livelihoods in drylands Peru


Oliver Whaley climbing an old huarango tree (Prosopsis pallida) in coastal Peru (Photo: William Milliken).

Although one of the world’s driest deserts, the coast of Peru is home to vital ecosystems such as tropical Pacific and riparian dry forests, and a wealth of rare and unique plants found in coastal fog lomas and Andean valleys. Very high sunshine levels combined with constant availability of ground water resources in dry forest areas, provide perfect conditions for a rapidly expanding agricultural export industry. This expansion, whilst providing employment, has led to widespread and on-going deforestation and ecosystem degradation. The situation requires an investment in agricultural sustainability, for both people and nature.

Kew’s interdisciplinary, science-based programme in the region has matured over the last ten years to fill a pressing need for research, conservation and restoration on the ground. It has gained a reputation for achieving results in challenging conditions, and is now responding to direct requests from government, NGOs, communities and the agricultural sector to address problems in fragile dryland systems where industrial development and a changing climate are eroding biodiversity and livelihoods.

Building a dedicated project team has been fundamental to developing a programme where an  ‘ecosystem approach’  is necessary for restoration and conservation around people. The team in Peru now comprises 15 people (plus around 10-20 volunteers annually) and is made up of students, biologists, horticulturists and highly skilled community members working together with a hands-on pragmatism needed in this region. The work is crucially underpinned by science and capacity-building from across Kew’s departments including taxonomy, seed management, species mapping and horticulture.

Key project foci

  • Sustainable agroindustry: Engaging agroindustry for protection and restoration of ecosystem services.
    Mainstreaming biodiversity in the industrial agricultural landscape applying experimental approaches to establish strategically located habitat restoration and biological corridors for research and conservation including: species migration, soil fertility, pollination and pest control and reduction of irrigation requirements.
  • Conserving endangered fog ecosystems: Mapping and floristic inventory of threatened plants and vegetation.
    Identification, research and mapping of coastal fog meadow (Lomas) species and vegetation to support the delimitation and management of protected areas. Research includes spatial analysis, modelling of temporal biophysical interactions, domestication and genetic origins of crop wild relatives, bioarchaeology and historical ecology, conservation assessment and red listing of threatened species.
  • Agrobiodiversity: Providing community access to useful plants & agrobiodiversity.
    Establishing community-based plant conservation and nursery centres (PCC’s) to multiply and consolidate within community orchards and smallholder networks, threatened native species and varieties. Research programme includes agroecological studies of Acacia, Inga, Prosopis and native fruit varieties; feeding into a schools native plant research and uses programme, children’s lands, local tree planting groups; seed and species management protocols.
  • Dry forest community reserves and corridors: Dry forest conservation for people & ecosystem: restoring natural wealth.
    Establishing watershed reserve models in northern Peru to restore rural livelihoods and ecosystem services for smallholders and downstream agroindustry. Research includes supporting adaptation to climate change and forest die-back, monitoring with ground-based LiDAR and UAV landscape models, scaling response from permanent plots, livestock management for regeneration. The project includes a community plant nursery centre with seed management and useful plant products research to build resilience into traditional agriculture. The project is presently building a Pacific Equatorial dry forest conservation and restoration collaboration in the face of agroindustrial expansion.
  • Relict vegetation: Relict forest and biodiversity networks.
    Conserving forest and agrobiodiversity fragments under a single protected area network, with web-based interactive resource for monitoring change and helping bring together community and corporate sectors for restoration. The project is working alongside landowners and government under a government ‘fragile ecosystems initiative’ with multidisciplinary scientists to monitor, map and react to protect species ecology and restoration relict resources including agrobiodiversity and ancient trees.
  • Government policy: Responding to government and policy.
    Engaging in Pacific South America’s national policy for: establishment of national botanical gardens, seed banking, molecular research, forest laws and protected areas, agricultural concession policy.

Planting a future in Southern Peru

In 2014 we initiated a new four year project, with support from Sainsbury’s PLC; aiming to help conserve and restore the region’s unique ecosystem biodiversity, and sustain agricultural and agro-biodiversity resources for community resilience and adaptation to climate change. Working with agro-industries and associated communities, the project is centred around the development of two permanent Plant Conservation and Sustainable Agriculture Research Centres (PCC) in the Ica region of Southern Peru.

Through the establishment PCCs on land belonging to agro-industries and organic farms, we will develop the scientific and practical approaches necessary to enable restoration projects, provide training and employment to a network of skilled ex-farmers, women’s groups and engaging local schools. The nurseries produce field-conditioned native tree species for local reforestation, supplying schools, community gardens, small farms and agro-industries with useful species. Research included propagation and substrate protocols, root symbionts, and conservation methods. Economically and ecologically important plants are prioritised including genera such as Acacia, Annona, Capparis, Casimiroa, Carica, Inga, Pouteria, Prosopis, Psidium, Schinus, Solanum and Spondias. The project will also establish, research and monitoring ‘gene park huertas’ through the development of demonstration plots, community school forest gardens and traditional kitchen gardens.

The project will develop demonstration and incentives for restoring vegetation incorporating useful and functional species within the agro-industrial context to prevent flood damage and improve groundwater recharge. Research includes understanding and modelling the vegetation services in watersheds; the impact of establishing restoration corridors and associated biodiversity through the industrial agricultural landscape; analysis of ecosystem functionality for pollination, biocontrol providing the scientific evidence-base necessary for change to more sustainable operation models.

Key publications since 2006

Cadwallader, L., Beresford-Jones, D. G., Whaley O. Q. & O’Connell T. C. (2012). The signs of maize? A reconsideration of what δ13C values say about palaeodiet in the Andean region. Human Ecology 40 (4): 487–509.

Whaley, O. Q, Beresford-Jones, D., Milliken, W., Orellana, A., Smyk, A. & Leguia, J. (2011). An ecosystem approach to restoration and sustainable management of Dry Forest in southern Peru. Kew Bulletin 65(4): 613–641. DOI: 10.1007/s12225-010-9235

Beresford-Jones, D., Whaley, O., Alarcón, C. & Cadwallader, L. (2011). Two millennia of changes in human ecology: archaeobotanical and invertebrate records from the Lower Ica Valley, south coast Peru. Veg. Hist. Archaeobot. 20(4): 273–292.

Whaley, O. Q., Orellana, A., Pérez, E., Tenorio, M., Quinteros, F., Mendoza, M. & Pecho, O. (2010). Plantas y vegetación de Ica, Perú - Un recurso para su restauración y conservación. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Whaley, O. Q., Quinteros, Q., Álvarez, H., Borda, C., Tenorio, M., Pérez, E., Pecho, O., Orellana, A., Salvatierra, F. & Gómez, C. (2010). Sembrando un futuro - Restauración y manejo sostenible de los bosques y la naturaleza de Ica, Perú. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Beresford-Jones, D. G., Alarcón, C., Whaley, O. Q., Chepstow-Lusty, A., Arce Torres, S., Gorriti, M., Portocarrero, O. & Cadwallader, L. (2010). Ocupación y subsistencia durante el horizonte temprano en el contexto de cambios ecológicos a largo plazo en las cuencas de Samaca y Ullujaya, valle bajo de Ica. In: P. Kaulicke & Y. Onuki (eds). El Periodo Formativo en el Perú: Enfoques y Evidencias Recientes. Cincuenta Años de la Misión Arqueológica Japonesa y su Vigencia. Segunda parte, Boletín de Arqueología. PUCP 13, Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Pecho, J. O., González, O., Pérez, E., Tenorio, M. & Whaley, O. Q. (2010). El Pájaro Carpintero Peruano Colaptes atricollis en la agricultura tradicional de la región de Ica, Perú. Primeras observaciones de anidación y el desarrollo de polluelos. Cotinga 32: 8–11.

Beresford-Jones, D. G., Arce Torres, S., Whaley, O. Q. & Chepstow-Lusty, A. J. (2009).The role of Prosopis in ecological and landscape change in the Samaca Basin, lower Ica Valley, south coast Peru from the Early Horizon to the Late Intermediate Period. Latin Amer. Antiq. 20: 303–332.

Project Background - Kew Magazine

Whaley, O. Q. (2009). Conservation section: Rescue mission. Kew Magazine (Winter): 18–23.
-  (2007). Messages from the Past. Kew Magazine (Winter): 36–39. (Environmental Award Garden Media Guild)
-  (2006). Reviving the Trees of Life. Kew Magazine (Winter): 30–34.

Project partners and collaborators

Servicio Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (SERNANP), Peru

Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (SERFOR), Peru

Asociación para la Niñez y su Ambiente (ANIA), Peru

Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambientales (SPDA), Peru

Universidad Nacional San Luis Gonzaga de Ica (UNICA), Peru

Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima (UNMSM), Peru

Universidad Nacional Pedro Ruiz Gallo, Lambayeque (UNPRG), Peru

Comunidad Campesino San Francisco, Peru

Samaca Productos Orgánicos, Peru

Agrícola Chapi S.A., Peru

Topará Orgánico, Peru

Sociedad Agrícola Drokasa S.A. – AGROKASA, Peru

Banco Base de Semillas - INIA Vicuña, Chile

Centro del Desierto de Atacama (CDA), Chile

University of Cambridge - George Pitt-Rivers Laboratory for Bioarchaeology, UK

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, UK

Project funders


Sainsbury's PLC

Darwin Initiative

Trees for Cities

Foundation and Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Nigel Simpson Educational Trust