The Comptroller General has found that the agriculture ministry’s environmental affairs unit (DGAAA) failed in its duty of supervision of high intensity agricultural operations in Loreto and Ucayali regions. Both former and serving staff were aware of the negative environmental impacts of two enterprises operating without certification between 2013 and 2017. Yet they took no action.

The finding follows criminal trials in which agriculture ministry officials were given prison sentences for land trafficking in Iquitos and Pucallpa in 2019, yet the role of the Comptroller is limited to making recommendations. The enterprises responsible for the deforestation in the two regions were Cocoa of North Peru and Plantations Ucayali. Both enterprises were established by the US entrepreneur Dennis Melka, who is also under investigation by the public prosecutor of Iquitos.

The Comptroller established that the agriculture ministry was made aware of the illegality of the deforestation by the forestry service SERFOR, as well as by the body tasked with supervision, OEFA, and an Amazonia conservation NGO, ACCA.

The Comptroller noted that although these bodies had alerted the ministry to the loss of forest cover and of endangered species, it took no action to stop the forest clearance operations; nor did it apply sanctions after the event.

Instead ministry officials approved soil classification studies in Loreto confirming the aptitude of the forest for permanent agriculture and overturning a court order that protected 2,000 hectares of forest from conversion to cocoa. In similar vein the DGAAA approved an environmental impact study for two palm oil plantations, despite their location within Loreto’s permanent production forest.

The Comptroller has recommended that the ministry contact the public prosecutor to start legal proceedings against the officials involved and that DGAAA pursue North Peru Cocoa and Plantations Ucayali for proceeding without environmental certification.