The Tumbesian dry forest is home to numerous endemic species – or species found nowhere else on the planet – but is as endangered as the Amazon rainforest.

For decades, this spectacular landscape in southern Ecuador has been threatened by land clearing and unsustainable agricultural practices such as unregulated cattle grazing and biofuel crops. However, the native Palo Santo tree has become a mechanism for conservation by providing a much needed source of income to a rural population with limited resources. For generations, harvesting the tree’s valuable oil was accomplished through deforestation.

Now, with the help of our regional office in Loja and a team of biologists from the Technical University of Loja, communities in Zapotillo are harvesting the oil from the fruit of the Palo Santo tree as an alternative income source that leaves the forest intact. In partnership with the municipality of Zapotillo, we helped organize the Bolívar Tello Community Association to manage the Palo Santo resources and market the product to companies such as the Brazilian-based cosmetics company, Natura.

In June of 2014, the Bolívar Tello Community Association was awarded the United Nations Development Programme’s Equator Prize for the Palo Santo project’s outstanding effectiveness in reducing poverty through biodiversity conservation and sustainable business practices.

Also in 2014, UNESCO declared the entire region a Biosphere Reserve, encompassing 1.25 million acres of pristine dry forest. Our regional office in Loja worked extensively with local schools, national and local governments, farming communities and biologists to rally support for the Bosque Seco Biosphere Reserve and assist the national government in submitting the proposal to UNESCO. We are confident that this global designation will help bring international attention to the region as a top priority for conservation.