Success Story: Ronald Corvera, alum uses genetic investigation to restore biodiversity in Peruvian Amazon

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: June 13th, 2019

Ronald Corvera (’97, Peru)

Throughout his primary and secondary education, Ronald Corvera (’97, Peru) was a stand-out student, connected to his community, passionate about his country and embedded in conservation work.

The Peruvian Amazon covers 57% of my nation’s territory. It ranks fifth in the world for most biodiversity, first for diurnal butterfly diversity, third for bird diversity, and fourth for mammal diversity,” Ronald shares proudly.

After graduating from high school, he began studying environmental law – thinking that would be his best way to contribute to Peru’s environmental remediation. Thanks to information from Federación Agraria de Madre de Dios (a labor union for farmers within Peru’s southeastern province of Madre de Dios), he learnt about opportunities to study at EARTH University and a more direct way to serve both his community and planet.

For his parents, it was no surprise then that he had decided to apply to EARTH – a university characterized for promoting sustainable development, innovative business training and ecological stewardship – even if it was located all the way in Costa Rica.

Ronald recalls that only a few days after applying to EARTH, his region was visited by the professors Jorge Celso and Víctor Quiroga. The two came to conduct interviews and administer entrance exams to applicants. A few weeks later, Ronald received news that he had been accepted and granted a scholarship. “I wondered why they would give me a scholarship to study. In exchange for what?” He soon learned that the funding would be an investment in his future that provided him with the necessary skills to promote sustainable resource management in his community.

Ronald started his studies at EARTH with a desire to learn how to meet humanity’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. The four years in Costa Rica fortified his drive to ensure balance between economic growth, environmental protection and social welfare. And learning by doing gave him deeper insight into the world. “That education has served me immensely since graduating.

Upon returning to Peru, Ronald worked as a research assistant for the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana, the Amazon-focused investigative arm of Peru’s Ministry of Environment. In that role, he studied the native Bertholletia excelsa (Brazil nut tree) in order to reproduce the species for the purpose of accelerating reforestation. The task was not easy because he needed to identify the distribution and historical use of this tree species in primary forests and then successfully cultivate it in deforested zones used for agriculture. He worked with modern horticultural tools to improve its genetics and decreased the maturation time needed prior to fruit production by nearly a decade.

He learned how to conduct applied research that cares for natural resources and generates livelihoods for local families and small producers. And he embraced agroforestry – in this case, planting the Brazil nut tree alongside other non-timber crops – to boost biodiversity within ecosystems while also integrating cash crop species (such as cacao and acai) that can sustain local livelihoods.

In 2002, Ronald moved to Puerto Rico to begin a graduate degree in agriculture and soil science. “In the master’s, I worked on a project that studied how land use can affect bodies of water. Afterward, I went back to Peru with more analytical tools for research and greater knowledge of water resources.

He returned to Madre de Dios, Peru, in 2005 to lead Amazonian research for the Ministry of Environment. He continued pursuing his interest in the area’s emblematic species while concentrating on population genetics and molecular biotechnology – all to understand the genetic distribution of species and identify the best prospects for replication in reforestation projects. His successful and decorated work was celebrated and further explored in books and several peer-reviewed scientific journal articles.

In 2015, he became the regional director of the Madre de Dios and Selva Sur zone – two areas whose biodiversity has been devastated by human activities, including mining and deforestation as a result of agricultural expansion. Ronald’s main challenge is overseeing the area’s habitat restoration using techniques such as bioremediation (the use of microorganisms to revitalize the environment) while also safeguarding the economic interests of its many constituent families and productive units.

Because illegal mining has affected more than 30,000 hectares within the area, it is now necessary to devise technologies that can restore these areas previously polluted by mercury. The forest restoration involves planting species that can extract heavy metals, such as mercury, and repair water resources.

Currently, Ronald is promoting and directing new research projects about:

  • the ecological restoration of areas affected by mining
  • the development of aquiculture projects in the region
  • domestication programs for emblematic species of the Amazon to ensure their use in reforestation campaigns
  • The main aim of my work is to develop productive and efficient scientific models that offer food security and allow for commercial activity, that contribute to people’s incomes and improve biodiversity in the area.

    More than 20 years since graduating, Ronald remains certain that his EARTH education has granted him far more than a prestigious degree.

    EARTH University has a distinct focus, and what makes it unique is the applied research promoting entrepreneurship and benefitting the external community. This is a focus not all universities can offer. It means moving research far beyond the accumulation of basic knowledge, knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It means pursuing economic and practical value by improving our understanding of how humans can interact sustainably with ecosystems.