The area of influence of Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve in Paraguay ranks among the world’s richest in biodiversity: the last continuous remnant of Atlantic Forest in a country that has suffered severe deforestation, with over 90 percent of its tree cover swept away in just fifty years. Conserving Mbaracayú is the core purpose of Fundación Moisés Bertoni, established in 1981. And as part of this mission, it has resolved to bring on board the 30,000 people living in the zone, a diverse mosaic of groups including indigenous and peasant communities, generally of very limited means. The Foundation’s conservation model has forged a successful synergy between human wellbeing and the wellbeing of nature.
“When we began,” recalls Yan Speranza, “we realized that the only way to sustain the project to perpetuity was to work with the area’s inhabitants. Back in the 1990s, the paradigm in the conservation world was to keep away from people. But we said no, we cannot separate ourselves off, we need to connect with those who live here.”
The Foundation’s star project is the Mbaracayú Education Center, offering subsidized study places to young local women. “Educational access is generally poor in these parts, but girls suffer disproportionately. And that’s why we have concentrated our efforts on female education. Also, studies have found that, given the power, women will choose to invest in the family, with notable benefits for the welfare of their communities. It is amazing to see the effect training has on people that have never travelled beyond their immediate surroundings.” Between 2009 and 2017 some 250 pupils of limited means from peasant and indigenous communities earned a high-school diploma in environmental sciences at Mbaracayú Education Center, half of whom have since gone on to university.