Meet miPáramo: The extraordinary program preserving an endangered Colombian watershed

Posted: February 04, 2021
Meet miPáramo: The extraordinary program preserving an endangered Colombian watershed

In Colombia nearly two million people rely on fresh water that flows from the High Andean Wetland of Santurbán. Known as a ‘páramo' this fragile ecosystem has long been subject to harsh agricultural practices and mining operations, devastating deforestation and rising global temperatures – all leading to water shortages and reduced water quality. 

In response, businesses, international funds, non-profit organizations, regional and national governments, local farmers and others have come together to preserve the páramo. What's followed has forever changed lives and the Colombian landscape for the better.

“The lifeblood of our community” 

The water fund Alianza Biocuenca was created in 2016 to protect the endangered wetland and its watershed. Among the founders were Good Stuff International, Germany's GIZ and Bavaria, an AB InBev afilliate. For more than 70 years Bavaria - maker of beloved local beer brands Aguila, Pilsen and Poker - has operated a brewery in Bucaramanga, a city that sources its water from the Surata river that originates in the Santurbán páramo. 

“Beer is a natural product made of 90% water and farmers need high-quality water to grow the natural ingredients we use to brew our beers,” says Marcel Regis, President of Bavaria. “The páramo is the lifeblood of our business, our people and our community. To help sustain it for generations to come, the Bavaria Foundation joined the miPáramo project in 2018, an initiative designed by the Swiss Cooperation and Good Stuff International.” 

Did you know? AB InBev has committed to addressing the world's most pressing water challenges and making measurable improvements to ensure improved water availability and quality for 100% of our communities in high-stress areas by 2025. 

miPáramo partners with local and smallholders farmers living in the buffer zone of the High Andean Wetland of Santurbán. The farmers sign voluntary conservation agreements, committing to preserve and restore the forest, and in return receive support. Through training programs on topics such as the proper use of pesticides and fertilizers, miPáramo has strengthened local capabilities and consciousness around sustainable agricultural practices. This has allowed smallholder farmers to improve their production processes, expand their economic activities and receive incomes from different sources. The project also led to the creation of a network of local leaders who are now change agents within their communities. 

“We can't do it alone” 

Since it began operation in 2018, miPáramo has spread to eleven municipalities, worked with more than 1,000 smallholder farmers, protected more than 5,200 hectares (12,800 acres) of forest, planted over 261,000 trees and incentivized sustainable agriculture in more than 820 hectares (2,000 acres). The current goal is to increase water availability by protecting 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) by 2025. 

“The scale of the global water challenge is bigger than us and we can't achieve our ambitious plans  alone” says Dominique Reyes, Bavaria Foundation Director. “miPáramo is one of AB InBev's most  successful water stewardship projects and that's due in large part to our collaboration with other companies, governments, public water companies and international cooperation. It is a true multi-stakeholder partnership.” 

Why is it called Agua Zalva? The “Z” comes from Zoque, which means “High Andean Wetland” in indigenous language, and Zalva comes from the Spanish word “salvar” which means “to save”.

Consumers are another source of goodwill and support for the effort. miPáramo is funded in part by proceeds from the sale of Agua Zalva, a purpose-led water brand launched by Bavaria. For each bottle purchased, one square meter of forest is protected. To date more than 11 million bottles (made with 100% recycled PET plastic) have been sold, protecting 20 million square meters of wetland or approximately 1,140 hectares. In 2020, Agua Zalva won the World Beverage Innovation Awards in the category of Best CSR/Sustainability Initiative from among 229 competitors. 

In 2021, miPáramo will continue to expand its reach, with the help of the water fund Alianza Biocuenca and rare.org, the leading behavior change organization in environmental conservation.  

“Changing how people think and behave starts at home,” says Alicia Lozano, Bavaria's Sustainability Manager. “We are eager to continue to expand the impact of miPáramo with locally led solutions to bring about a lasting impact in our communities.” 

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