Natural resources in Peru, the country with the greatest biodiversity in the world
“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land,” penned American environmentalist Aldo Leopold in 1948. In Peru, one of the world’s 12 megadiverse countries, this insight is borne out by the lasting love affair between Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and the first Peruvians, who revered various elements of nature as deities.
More recently, the importance of natural resources in Peru’s history is immortalized in its national coat of arms, which features a vicuña, a quinine tree and a cornucopia. These riches from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms on the national heraldic symbol are an important display of Peruvians’ ancestral respect for nature.
It is impossible to talk about Peru’s natural resources without also touching on this country’s contribution to the world, and there is no better place to start than the history of the potato. As is well known, this tuber has fed millions over the last few centuries, but on the Peruvian Altiplano its history stretches back 8,000 years, when it was domesticated by communities of hunters and gatherers. The Incas would go on to continue experimenting with it, inventing chuño, a dried potato packed with all of the tuber's nutrients that looks like a small cookie.
Today, the country’s natural resources are evident at all levels: Peru is considered one of the 12 most biologically diverse countries in the world, its genetic resources are vital to the world’s food supply, and it has enormous mineral deposits (it was one of the top three producers of copper, zinc and silver in 2017). This nation holds vast quantities of hydrobiological resources, in addition to massive reserves of water in both liquid and solid form. The Andean Amazon is a wellspring of new species and natural resources, and as such it is considered one of the best preserved rainforests in the entire world.
Ecosystems and species
As one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, Peru holds more than 70% of the Earth’s species within its borders. Its flora and fauna is considered among the most varied on the planet. The country boasts 11 ecoregions, including cold ocean, tropical ocean, coastal desert, equatorial dry forest, Pacific tropical forest, hilly steppe, dry highland plateau (puna), moist highland plateau (páramo), montane rainforest (highland jungle), tropical Amazon rainforest (lowland jungle) and palm savanna. These varied landscapes give rise to the endless variety of species living in the country. In 2015 alone, 71 plant species, 33 species of terrestrial fauna, 6 types of freshwater fish, as well as saltwater fish, insects, and others were discovered. These new species take their place alongside well-known endemic species such as the vicuña, the north Andean deer (taruca), the cock-of-the-rock and the immense variety of fish in the Peruvian seas, rivers and lakes. Some of the most important species of endemic plants– vegetation that grows by itself naturally, without any human intervention– are the natural grasslands in the Andes, the forests of the Amazon and the vegetation of the coastal hills.
Natural resources: carpintero peruano (Colaptes atricollis, Black-necked Woodpecker)
Many of the planet’s most valuable minerals are found in the rich ores under Peru's surface. Gold, lead, silver and zinc are among the top metals produced in Peru. It also boasts an abundance of oil and coal, among other nonmetal mineral resources.
This startling wealth has allowed Peru to lead the world in gold, zinc and lead production. The heritage of producing gold and silver, an important historical legacy of pre-Columbian civilizations in Peru, remains strong today: Peru is the world’s second-largest producer of silver– at 4,100 metric tons– and its sixth-largest gold producer (4.8%). It is also the second largest producer of copper, at 2,353,859 metric tons.
Artesanía de filigrana de plata en Catacaos
Amazon and forests
Without a doubt, the Amazon and the rainforests are two of the greatest natural riches in Peru and in the world. But in addition to its biological richness, the Amazon jungle produces 20% of the earth’s oxygen, earning it the nickname of “the planet’s last lung”.
Peru's enormous forests fall into three types: Amazon rainforests, coastal dry forests and moist Andean relic forests. As a result of the rising demand for resources and the impact this has had on rainforests, programs to preserve ecosystems, natural areas and forests have been put in place with the active participation of local communities, who have kept their ancestral respect for mother nature alive, living in harmony with their surroundings and taking an active role in caring for them. A clear example of this is the effort made to protect the vicuña, Peru’s national animal (appearing on its national coat of arms), in the Pampa Galeras Bárbara D’Achille National Reserve in Ayacucho.
Tourists at Tambopata