Colombia is number two in the world in terms of biodiversity, but it’s not only nature that relies on the country's unique habitats. 35 million people rely on the Colombian Andes for water, much of it originating in the cloud forests and paramo. These areas face significant challenges ranging from poor local land management to hot, dry, unstable weather due to climate change. In 2015, Colombia's Valle del Cauca suffered the lowest levels of downstream flow ever, with many towns in the foothills turning off local water service for up to 12 hours a day.
In the El Rincon microwatershed, landowner Don Manuel Vicente Restrepo is trying to do something about it. Working with the international conservation group, Rare, and the regional environmental authority La Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle del Cauca, or CVC, Manuel is proactively changing the way he farms his land to help protect the water sources and water courses on his farm. Through an innovative program of Reciprocal Water Agreements, or Acuerdos Recipricos por Agua (ARAs) in Spanish, downstream water users help fund upstream improvements through a water use tax that goes into a special conservation fund. Incentives for the upstream landowners include fencing to manage cattle more sustainably, transitions to more diverse agroforestry, and help planning and protecting natural buffer zones in riparian areas. The results include both improved economic development for the upstream farmers like Manuel as well as improved water quality and supply throughout the watershed.
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