In a nutshell

Location Bolivia

Project timeline 

"Project is 100% completed "


Supported in part by Swiss Re's International ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management (Winner 2010), Natura Bolivia pioneered an alternative approach to incentive-based conservation known as Reciprocal Watershed Agreements (RWAs). Locally designed, funded and implemented, RWAs rest on two simple axioms, namely, that protecting upstream forests, or water factories, helps maintain the quantity and quality of water supplies, and that downstream water users should contribute to such protection.

In this approach, cash contributions from downstream water users are used to fund locally appropriate development projects, such as beekeeping, fruit production and improved cattle management. Upstream landowners voluntarily participate in the economic development programmes in return for agreeing not to deforest their land. Even relatively low levels of compensation to poor farmers upstream can benefit entire regions downstream as water quality increases and sedimentation and flooding decrease.


This project aimed to substantially scale up the initial ReSource Award investment by making the RWA approach more local and self-sustaining. In it Natura Bolivia developed and ran a programme for teaching 100 municipalities in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru how to implement RWAs.


  • Over the course of the project, Natura Bolivia synthesised 10 years of lessons learned from implementing RWAs in Bolivia and produced, piloted and improved a five-step how-to guide to help others implement RWAs. This guide and these teaching tools, updated during the project, underlie the course curriculum design for the Watershared School.
  • Based on lessons learned, Natura Bolivia piloted a training course that later became the basic course curriculum for the Watershared Schools. The five-step curriculum was refined and improved as it improved its teaching processes.
  • Natura Bolivia ran 10 Watershared Schools, each of 4-6 days’ duration, one in Ecuador, two in Peru, and seven in Bolivia. A total of 177 Bolivian technicians and 117 technicians from seven other Latin American countries participated.
  • As a direct result of these trainings and with minimal subsequent support from Natura Bolivia, school participants set up local Watershared funds in 30 municipalities and protected more than 23 000 hectares of water-producing forests.
  • The Swiss Re-supported schools excited great interest in developing the model in other Bolivian municipalities. By the end of the project, requests from more than 20 municipal governments to help set up Watershared programmes had been received.
  • Natura Bolivia developed a web-based learning portal that presents the components of the Watershared School to reinforce the learning experiences of students who have attended and help build the technical capabilities and leadership of people who are not able to attend. 


The copyright for all images displayed lies with Fundación Natura Bolivia

Our partner

Fundación Natura Bolivia was created in 1997 and is recognized as a private civil non-profit organisation. Its mission is to conserve critical ecosystems and improve the quality of life of the Bolivian people through alternative and innovative mechanisms of conservation and sustainable development.