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Reforesting desolate Colombian savannah shows sustainability can be created anywhere

Page history last edited by Rosemary 11 years, 9 months ago

Miles and miles of desolate savannah in Eastern Colombia, without a tree or bird or child in sight, was for Paolo Lugari the perfect place to show that if a sustainable community could be created in such adverse conditions, it could be done anywhere on the planet. Since 1992, the Environmental Research Center at Las Gaviotas has done just that, and much more. Las Gaviotas now is poised to do nothing less than reshape the face of sustainable development and, consequently, the world.

The centre, in conjunction with the Kyoto Protocol and the Japanese government, began substantiating the concept of carbon sinks to sequester carbon dioxide and stabilize the climate. With cash generated by its renewable energy project, Japanese government funding, and the innovative use of mycorrhizal fungi which acts as saliva for the tree, Las Gaviotas successfully planted 8,000 HA of Caribbean pine trees in an acidic savannah that had been unproductive for centuries.

This initiative unleashed a chain reaction of positive effects that surprised even the program's initiators. Today, more than a decade later, the newly-forested area has attracted 10% more precipitation (some 110,000 m3 per day), converting Las Gaviotas into a net supplier of excellent drinking water. With drinking water more costly than petroleum, Las Gaviotas showed that reforestation also addresses the world’s critical need for natural potable water.

Additionally, the 7 to 14 grams of resin a day produced by the pine tree is locally converted to colofonia, a raw material for the paint and paper industry. Tapping and processing the resin brings industrial activities to the region. As well as the pine trees, some 300 hectares of palm trees will provide a permanent supply of vegetable oil, easily converted into biodiesel that will replace imported diesel fuel used to power trucks and tractors. The first biodiesel plant with a capacity of 1 million gallons per year is already operational at the Center in Bogota.

Las Gaviotas is now a self-sustaining community of around 200 full-time workers, independent of donor money. It has become a center of creativity, where innovations are driven by the meticulous observation of natural phenomena, and the self-confidence in the search for local solutions for local problems.

The initial Las Gaviotas pine forest shows that monies generated by renewable energy systems and additional funding provided under the Kyoto Protocol can become the catalyst for development that goes far beyond simply creating a carbon sink to stabilize climatic changes. The next step is to expand this program beyond the initial 8,000 HA to reforest the surrounding 6.3 million HA of savannah - twice the size of Belgium. On July 6, 2004, the President of Colombia agreed to this expansion, handing over the first 45,000 HA in November 2004 to begin implementation over a 25-year period. This initiative will cost approximately US $6 billion, which will come from both the Kyoto Protocol and the value-added revenue streams created by an integrated and systemic agenda.

The economic power of drinking water (thanks to the forest), hydroponic food crops (thanks to the abundant water), and biodiesel (from the forest) provide a positive picture for Colombia, potentially creating 120,000 new jobs, securing a local source of drinking water, eliminating the need to import diesel fuel, and reducing national foreign debt.

Colombia's project coordinators will partner with the banks already carrying the Colombian government debt. The banks will substitute the debt of Colombia with a corporation paying for carbon dioxide emissions rights. For example, US$1 billion of the Colombian debt is replaced by the takeover of the guarantee offered by multinational corporations committed to purchase products from the forest over the next 25 years, and to pay carbon emission rights – known as a guarantee swap. Part of the money needed to jump start the development in Colombia could be paid by the Colombian government in pesos, while it reduces its debt in dollars. Everybody wins.

However, broad assistance is needed to start multiple projects. Not just a tree-planting project for climate stabilization, Las Gaviotas is about catalyzing a development program that will pave the way for a sustainable future for our children where society can meet the basic needs of all for water, food, health care, shelter, energy, jobs and education with local resources.

 This story was adapted from an article entitled Reforestation: Las Gaviotas, Colombia, found on the Zeri website. For more information about this case study, visit the article "The Renaissance of the Rainforest" by Gunter Pauli. The picture of the reforested area comes from the Zeri website. Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives.

(ZERI) is a global network of creative minds that was created in 1994 to translate ideas and scientific knowledge into concrete projects. From biology to architecture, art to economics, the science behind ZERI is geared towards implementing ideas that will improve how we provide water, food, housing, healthcare, jobs, energy and education, while simultaneously enhancing the environment. Zeri’s 50 projects world-wide include industrial projects, community based initiatives, business related enterprises, and government and bilateral and UN aided co-operation.

People have been fascinated by Gaviotas for years. See: Nothing Wasted, Everything Gained, by Alan Weisman, Mother Jones, March/April 1998; Weisman’s book, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, published by Chelsea Green, 1999; Time for Utopia, by Monica del Pilar Uribe Marín, New Internationalist, June 2003; Dispatches from a Colombian Utopia. Gaviotas: In a War Zone, but Not at War, by Kate Willson, Slate, March 19, 2004; The village that could save the planet: How two men plan to extend the ecological miracle that is Gaviotas, Colombia, across the rest of the Third World, by Paul Kaihla, Business 2.0 Magazine, CNN Money, September 27 2007. Also see The Lessons of Gaviotas in the February 2009 edition of the Biomimicry Newsletter, Bioinspired.


For more stories about forests, see:

Briquettes provide energy, let forests regenerate in Malawi

Click a day plants 16 million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic coastal forest

Community residents protect Malaysia’s oldest forest reserve

Guerrilla tourism helps protect remote mountain forest in El Salvador

Madagascar plan to reduce deforestation achieves excellent results

Pioneering deal offers new hope for preserving tropical forests, global climate, local jobs

Re-establishing forest ecosystem in Uganda fights climate change

Abdul’s dream of restoring mangrove forest in Malaysia takes root in villages

Tanzanian blacksmiths pass on skills, creating jobs and saving forests

Tanzanian botanist honoured for reforestation efforts

Traditional Mexican coffee farms could help regenerate forest

World’s first solar cooker village helps cut deforestation in Somalia

Local forest mapping in Congo Basin may help villagers protect livelihoods


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