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Huarango Project

Habitat restoration, conservation and sustainable plant use in southern Peru


William Milliken, RBG, Kew
Oliver Whaley climbing an old Huarango tree (Prosopsis pallida) in coastal Peru

The dry forest and xerophytic ecosystems of south-west Peru provide essential environmental and economic resources in a region supporting over 680,000 people. The predominant native tree species Prosopis pallida (huarango), has provided local livelihoods for at least 4,000 years. These forests are unique sources of biodiversity, supporting rare and threatened species (e.g. Slender-billed finch, Xenospingus concolor).

Over recent decades land clearance, felling and overgrazing have depleted the remaining dry forest relics almost to the point of extinction. The processes of desertification, including extensive soil loss and salination, are widely evident. In May 2005 blanket invasion of sand dunes over fertile land was recorded in areas of recent deforestation on the edge of the Ica Valley floodplain.

In collaboration with governmental and non-governmental partners, this project has been working since 2005 to conserve relict areas of native vegetation, develop and demonstrate techniques for habitat restoration and regeneration using local species, and promote sustainable production of economically viable products from Prosopis (huarango) pods and other native species. Initial funding was obtained in 2005 to conserve a surviving area of old-growth Prosopis forest in the Rio Nazca watershed. In 2006 funding was secured from the UK Darwin Initiative to support a three-year project entitled Habitat Restoration and Sustainable Use of Southern Peruvian Dry Forest, which formed part of the wider Huarango Project. Work in the region is continuing. 

Progress 2006-2011

Strengthening local/national capacity for applied biodiversity research: The project has trained several young Peruvian scientists through undergraduate and Masters studies and engagement in the project’s research programme. Many of these have gone on to take up influential roles in conservation and research in the region. A new herbarium has been established at the University of Ica.

Developing and disseminating technology for habitat restoration to protect biodiversity and combat desertification: The project’s experimental programme incorporated germination and propagation research, nursery management, seed collection and storage, community restoration trials, controlled restoration trials, testing of innovative irrigation and pest control systems, and biodiversity monitoring (including birds and insects). The results have been disseminated in the form of practical advice through educational activities, a community tree planting programme and the publication of a Spanish-language guide to restoration techniques.

Increasing understanding of dry forest ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity: Intensive studies of the vegetation and ecology of the Ica and Nasca region was conducted over a three-year period, including phytosociology, animal-plant interactions, plant uses and species inventories. The results have been disseminated through scientific journals and the publication of a Spanish-language illustrated guide to the vegetation, flora and ecology of the region. This is presented in accessible format designed to inform habitat restoration and conservation initiatives.

Protecting biodiversity of remaining native forest relics by buffering with restored habitats: Restoration trials established around protected areas and on the borders of traditional and industrial agricultural land provided important lesson-learning opportunities. Water supply is a critical factor during vegetation establishment, and the agricultural setting proved to provide valuable opportunities for mutual benefit including irrigation and natural bio-control of crop pests (due to increased bird and insect diversity).
Evaluating the capacity for increased production of native forest products as sustainable economic options for forest use: Harvesting, processing, production and marketing trials focused primarily on the development of food products from huarango pods. The project supported the establishment of a small local company, Miskyhuaranga, producing huarango products for the national market.

Raising awareness of the importance of south coast dry forests and associated biodiversity, resource values, threats and management strategies: Stakeholder engagement and awareness-building at all levels, from government to local community, has formed a fundamental part of this project. Activities have included environmental education (with integration into the curriculum), schools and community tree planting programmes, media communications and the establishment of an annual festival promoting awareness of local biodiversity and forest products.

Supporting the establishment of protected areas in remaining fragments of native dry forest ecosystems: The project has worked with local partners to secure protected status for two of the important relict areas of dry forest remaining in the region, and to promote the development of long-term management plans for these reserves.For more information on the project, visit

Ongoing and future work

Nursery production, community and schools tree planting, environmental education and restoration trial monitoring activities are continuing, managed by the local project team. Further work on the consolidation of protected areas is also under way.

Funds have recently been secured for a three-year initiative researching, conserving and promoting the development of traditional varieties of important economic plants present in the region. Activities will include mapping of wild and semi-wild populations, population genetics research, seed banking and propagation, and integration with small- and large-scale agriculture. As with all components of the programme, environmental education and community participation will form important elements of this work. Work is under way on a revised, colour version of the project’s restoration manual.

Kew is seeking funds for further activities including conservation of an important area of lomas (coastal dune) vegetation, and a community habitat restoration programme restoring landscape connectivity between protected areas.

Key publications since 2006

  • 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 Bull. 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 partners and collaborators


Asociación Cultural Nasca

Asociación para la Niñez y su Ambiente - (ANIA) - Programa Bosques de los Niños

Consejo Nacional de Medio Ambiente (CONAM)


Grupo Aves del Peru (GAP)

Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA)

Internationales y Biodiversidad Productos Ecologicas de Samaca

Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambientales - (SPDA) - Programa de Asuntos Instituto

Universidad National Agraria, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales, La Molina (LaMOL), Lima, Peru

Universidad San Luis Gonzaga de Ica (USGI)

Project funders


Betty’s and Taylor’s of Harrogate: Trees for life

Darwin Initiative

Rio Tinto PLC

Trees for Cities

Bentham-Moxon Trust

Dr Nigel Simpson

Man Groups plc Charitable Trust