Transforming lives on four continents

Worth reading

Peru is one of the most beautiful and biodiverse countries on the planet, and climate change is making its future precarious. BMS World Mission workers are trying to help preserve the country’s breathtaking Amazon rainforest through an agroforestry project. 

 

“I feel like I am in a Wildlife on One documentary all the time. It is an absolutely astounding place to be, as a person who studied biology. The level of diversity is mind-blowing.”

 

 

Laura-Lee Lovering is an environmental scientist serving with BMS World Mission in the Peruvian Amazon – an area renowned for its high level of biodiversity. “For me this is a beautiful, fascinating place,” she says. “God has done such an amazing work here. It would be crazy to think that we could let it be destroyed without worrying about it.”

 

Peru, with its towering Andes, 1,500 mile coastline and tropical rainforest, is one of the most ecologically diverse countries on the planet. But many of its species are at risk. It is currently being disproportionately affected by the damaging effects of climate change – and there is a lot to lose. The country contributes just 0.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, but it has been ranked third in climate hazard risks by the UK’s Tyndale Centre for Climate Change Research, coming just behind Bangladesh and Honduras. The people of Peru are paying an unforgivably high price for the entire world’s failure to care for creation.

 

 

“Peru has one of the highest percentages of tropical glaciers,” says Laura-Lee, “and it is being very adversely affected by climate change. These glaciers are melting very quickly and I’ve seen statistics which say that within 15 years the glaciers will be gone. That will have a huge impact all across Peru.

 

“Peru is very vulnerable,“ she says. “It needs a major revolution.” One huge problem that the resource-rich country faces is contamination from poorly regulated oil and gold extraction. The Amazon River – a life source for humans as well as the huge amount of biodiversity in the region – is being polluted by toxic chemicals such as mercury. And often the indigenous people (the human beings most affected by the pollution) do not have the legal rights to defend their land. Resources that should be benefitting them are being exploited at their cost, and at the cost of God’s beautiful world.

 

In this context, Laura-Lee is putting her love of creation and her desire to protect it to good use. She is based at the Nauta Integral Mission Training Centre, along with fellow BMS worker and plant propagator Sarah McArthur. The pair have been working hard to set up an agroforestry area, trying to model a way of growing produce while enriching – rather than damaging – the environment.

 

The standard way of farming in Peru’s Amazon is to cut down and burn all the trees and plants in an area and then to replant the cleared ground with one crop, for example bananas. This crop is farmed for a few years, exhausting the soil, and then the farmers move on to another plot of land to plant something new. Although the most common way of farming in the area, this is not the most efficient way of growing crops in the jungle – nor is it very environmentally sustainable.

 

“The forest prefers to be diverse,” says Laura. Different plants and trees have different effects on the soil – some plants provide a sort of fertiliser, while others take more nutrients. “We’ve been working on an agroforestry project here – which is a posh way of saying we’ve been planting trees. But not just one type of tree, a whole range of different trees.

 

“It means you get a system that is more sustainable within itself. We are trying to mimic what nature does normally, and make it more productive as an agricultural system.”

 

 

Although only in its early stages, the agroforestry project is already being used to demonstrate to pastors at the training centre the variety of crops they and their congregations could be growing for their families – and even to sell – if they take on this method of farming. Pastors come to the centre from very rural river communities where they work as farmers and fishermen, so successful agriculture is key to their survival. The team at the centre is growing a whole range of produce, from mangoes and pineapples to cacao and avocados. And they sprout up easily, side by side.

 

“This is not a new method. People have been looking at this as a system that is better for tropics for 50 years,” says Laura, “but by doing it here we can show it to the pastors, and that lends much more weight than me standing in front of them and talking about it.”

 

Although some of the pastors were initially sceptical, they are now taking an interest in the project. The plan for agroforestry in the long term is that, as well as providing produce to feed the pastors attending the training events, to share with the community and to sell to support the work, pastors visiting the centre will be inspired to try this method of farming at home. The BMS team hopes that in the future they can help

these pastors to design systems of farming that will work effectively – for them and for the environment – and that they can go and visit these pastors in their communities along the river and see them using agroforestry and teaching it to their children.

 

It’s a drop in the ocean (or the river in this case) but it has the potential to impact many, many communities, 

and the jungle in which they live. But why send Christian gardeners and environmentalists on mission? Why is this important, for humanity and to God?

“For me, it is simple,” says Sarah. “This is God’s earth, he gave it to us as a gift to look after.

 

“It breaks my heart when I see pastors littering and throwing rubbish in the street. This is God’s world. I think Christians need to step up and start looking after what God has given us. If the plants go, we can’t breathe.”

 

Laura agrees. “I’d say as a Christian, the most central issue is about Salvation,” she says. “But creation care helps us live. We are saved, but what quality of life are we saved to? I think God cares about that. The two go hand in hand. They have to.”

 

Words: Sarah Stone

 

 

 

 

 

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