Titi monkey in Madidi National Park

Working in Madidi: the most bio-diverse national park on the planet

By Emma Donlan, Christian Aid country manager in Bolivia

Macaws, monkeys and the majestic jaguar, thick jungle forests and mountains rising from the muddy river arteries – the beauty and richness of Bolivia’s Rurrenabaque region in the Amazon basin never ceases to amaze.

For the past 5 years, Christian Aid in Bolivia has been working with indigenous communities at risk in Madidi National Park. It is a remote location reached by boat through the Beni river town of Rurrenabaque, which straddles the Andes mountains and the Amazon basin.

Although Madidi is only 1.8 million hectares (some 4.5 million acres) in size - which accounts for 0.0037 percent of Earth's surface - it is home to as many as 3 percent of all plants and almost 4 percent of all vertebrates, as well as 9 percent of the planet's birds, according to Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). It is officially now the most diverse national park  on the planet.

Boat on the river Beni in Bolivia

Madidi National Park is also home to 46 indigenous communities from six different tribes including the Chamas, Maropas, Chimanes and Tacanas who have lived in the south and southeast regions of the park for the past three centuries.

Most of these local communities make a living from eco-tourism as well as from small commercial ventures such as handicrafts, fishing, and agriculture which rely on sustainable management of natural resources and help protect the fragile ecosystems with which they live.

Solar ovens used for cooking in Bolivia

Christian Aid is supporting solar ovens. They reduce the amount of wood needed for cooking and give women more time to do other things outside the home.

Sustainable eco-tourism

Christian Aid and our local partners work alongside indigenous organisations and communities in Madidi to implement their territorial management plans and working on sustainable development through eco-tourism and eco agriculture to build the resilience of the most vulnerable communities.

For many years, we have been supporting community tourist enterprises in order to boost the tourism industry which was affected by the floods in 2014 and competition from other countries. In 2019, the national park entered the Best Green Destination category for the World Travel Awards. We also support communities to use renewable energy and train young entrepreneurs with their small businesses.

Our work seeks to generate sustainable alternative development models as opposed to the predatory agroindustry, logging and mining that threatens their livelihoods as well as the mega- infrastructure projects, such as the planned hydro-electric plant which would potentially displace thousands of families and flood an area the size of England -total extension of the Beni River watershed: 133,010 km2.

Our work in Madidi may only reach a few thousand people in disperse and isolated forest communities, but it is of global importance due to its critical role as a climate change regulator and a depositary to the planet's animal and plant life.

The cost of working in these hard to reach communities, that require long journeys by foot and boat – but the cost of doing nothing and losing it is even higher – not only for the indigenous communities that we work directly with, but for all of us.

Find out more about solar ovens in Bolivia