Proyecto Aldea Global: Project Global Village
In the past, numerous attempts have been made to assist the local people so as to help them breach the poverty gap and create more productive crops or to increase the successes of the other income-generating resources. Many failed due to the lack of integration of the methods into the local's lives. It was not that the ideas that were projected were lacking in quality or quantity. It was most commonly due to the method in which they were presented as well as some of the integrated techniques being suitable only for a culture different from the people to whom it was being given. That is why a few NGO's were created to assist local peoples in attaining social, economical, and sometimes spiritual growth and prosperity through self-reliance. This is accomplished through integrated development projects that teach the communities the necessary methods for success. Two NGOs were shown to us on this trip to Honduras: World Neighbors and Proyecto Aldea Global (PAG).
PAG and WN seem to differ only in one aspect: PAG is a Christian organization. All of their goals focus on developing and nurturing projects by incorporating spiritual values into strengthening community development, improving living conditions, and improving the attitude of the community in the conservation, use, and management of the environment. PAG has succeeded because they know that there are vital principles that must be followed. The people must participate willingly, without bribery, and continue to practice the prescribed methods that have been taught. The programs within PAG's mission vary from health care to agriculture to literacy and they are integrated so as to complement each other, since they are all connected anyway. Environmental stewardship is taught along with Christian values that promote unity and self-value. Most importantly, the projects are focused so that the development that is created will continue to thrive long after PAG volunteers have left. Without that last principle, all the efforts devoted to making these projects prevail would essentially collapse and the time spent would be wasted.
But we know it is worth the time and it works. It was a clear picture our class saw when we visited a small town where one campesino had been chosen to be the local model and primary educator within his own community. PAG volunteers instructed him on the basic techniques for practicing sustainable agricultural methods. His back yard became the experimental plot in which he tested various methods of plant spacing, organic fertilizers and herbicides, and the compatibility of species among each other. One of his most recent experiments involved growing a viable tomato plant with special organic treatments. The information he gained from this method was then applied to his real crops.
As he talked to us, he told us how in the beginning, he was the laughter of the town. Other farmers did not want to believe in these radical ideas that would mean they would have to sway from their traditional methods, ones that worked enough for their fathers and grandfathers. But as time passed, and his crop production soared and thrived, the laughter faded and turned into approval. His family consumed a portion of the crops, but with the new method, he could sell 4/5 of the total production. With factual evidence as tasty as this, fellow campesinos became eager to follow in his footsteps. That is a successful part accomplished by the PAG.
So how does this relate to deforestation? Directly. The demand for land for agricultural reasons is one of the primary causes of deforestation. Especially with the increase in the human population, the effect on the tropical forest ecosystem is greatly accentuated. Traditional methods that have been passed on from generation to generation create a degradation of the land, causing the family to pack up and move to healthier soils, many times deeper into the forest. It is stated that this shifting agriculture method takes up 35% of the share of the causes behind deforestation.
Historically, campesinos practiced shifting cultivation in which fields are allowed to recover as they lie fallow for a few years or more. This worked until population increases caused a shortage of land, forcing the farmer to use his land continually. Although he grew more crops in the short term, it stressed the soil and depleted it rapidly, making it unproductive and vulnerable to erosion. In one study involved in the Amazonian region, the yield for an entire village began at 18 tons per hectare in the first year of production. Only 13 tons per hectare was harvested the year after, and only 10 tons in the third year. Typical farms last only three to seven years. The only solution after that point is to move on and try to start fresh again.
Even on the first and second day of our travels through Honduras, we saw the land and were saddened to see its deterioration as a tropical forest ecosystem due to the expanses of farmlands. The flat lands as well as the steep mountain sides were stripped of the natural vegetation, only an occasional Ceiba tree left standing because of the myth that surrounds it, saying that it is a bearer of good fortune. However, not every inch of land has been cut down to produce a low-to-the-ground monoculture. As described before, many campesinos are using agroforestry and a practice called "living fences" in which certain tree species are planted in a row where a fence is desired, and as the tree grows, its branches can be cut and collected as a constant source of firewood. But the fact that the natural landscape, the thick tangle of lush greenery stacked among each other in layers with only the canopy layer at the top can be seen, is gone, I could not help feeling sorry for the land. I felt as if a fellow human had lost his skin to a third degree burn. Although someday the pain may leave and the surface may heal, there will always be the scars and memories and things can never be the same again.
Why would cutting down the rainforest for agricultural purposes not work? It is obvious that the soil must contain the necessary components for these trees and numerous other tropical flora to survive and grow to incredible sizes. The problem arises when the biomass itself- the trees, lianas, and the epiphytes- is removed. That is where all the nutrients and minerals are located, not in the soil. This varies considerably when one compares the pool of nutrients found in the Oxisols to the thick, dark, rich prairie soils called Mollisols, found in places like Iowa and Oklahoma. Oxisols, the soil type that is found in these tropical regions, are the most chemically weathered. Tropical forests can maintain its luxuriousness only because of the efficient biotic recycling mechanisms that quickly consume the organic material that falls to the floor.
One of the solutions that tropical people use to confront this problem is to use fire. Slash-and-burn agriculture, also termed swidden, releases the nutrients back into the soil while at the same time clearing the land of the leaves and wood. The ash reduces the acidity of the soils, promoting better fertility. However, this is not a permanent answer to the soil productivity levels. Fortunately, there are some methods that can be used that allow the farmers to remain on the same plot of land and have increased efficiency. Again, that is where PAG and other ONGs enter the scene.
The campesino's plot of farmland that we viewed utilized techniques that were exactly like those that our class discussed prior to our arrival in Honduras. The most important element to cover is the issue of soil erosion. Since the majority of the country is mountainous, the few valleys are occupied by farms, leaving other farmers to go to the slopes. It is not uncommon to see a crop of maize growing on a 45% slope. Topsoil is thin; therefore a method is necessary to prevent the loss of the precious soil. Terraces along the contour of the land reduce the drastic slope, reducing erosion. Seen on our tour, grasses with deep roots were planted above each ditch. These ditches were dug behind the bund terraces that were spaced a few meters apart. Then organic materials such as green leaf litter are incorporated into the soil along with other organic fertilizers to increase the soil's fertility. Sometimes inorganic fertilizers can be used such as urea, trisuperphosphate (TSP), and potassium chloride (KCl), but on the farm we visited, they were not used. For many poor farmers, inorganic fertilizers cost too much and are risky in terms of needing soil analyses and not having services available for instruction on its use.
Utilizing these wise management methods creates a sustainable system. It increases crop yield, which includes a larger variety of crop products, and raises the income for that family. The land can be continually farmed for many generations, given that these same methods are used, creating a sense of pride for them. When hurricane Mitch swept through Honduras in November of 1998, massive destruction of the land was caused by the torrential rains, ruining many families' only source of income. However, for those who practiced soil conservation techniques, 45% of their crops were salvageable. Their neighbors suffered up to 100% loss from incredible mudslides that stripped the slopes bare of all vegetation and soil that was once there. So practicing these methods creates a form of insurance that guarantees food, income, and therefore a good life.
Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meambar: Meambar Blue Mountain National Park
When searching for reasons for forest loss, one source stated simply that migratory agriculture mixed with timber operations are to blame. It is difficult to precisely determine what the factors are and the percentages they each contribute to the total loss, but it is said from another source that about 30% of Honduras' forest over the past 25 years has been destroyed. Scientific literature has grouped the causes into direct and underlying factors. Direct causes include clearing for agriculture, industrial logging, infrastructure and industrial development, and fuel wood and charcoal production. Underlying causes include population change, economic growth, poverty, market failures, and policy failures. Recently Honduras has been striving towards reversing the trend of biological loss of flora and the fauna (spurred by the loss of habitat) by creating or improving protection and conservation practices. There are 107 actual or proposed protected areas in Honduras and they make up about 24% of the total land mass. Unfortunately most of these parks and reserves are drawn lines on a bureaucrat's map, made without considering the people who live in that area and practice agriculture and other things that would not be permitted in the U.S. National Parks. Usually, there are no fences built, leading to a confusion of property ownership. Problems such as this lead to a scramble for the resources, first come, first serve. After all, why use the resource conservatively when it is known that your neighbor will come in and use what you did not take? Here we see the Tragedy of the Commons happen, much like it did in the beginning days of the United States before we decided to protect our resources.
Our visit to Honduras included stops at two different National Parks, Jeanette Kawas National Park and Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meámbar (PANACAM). PANACAM covers 312km² (194mi²) and is located on the east side of Lake Yojoa. Elevation variation is from 415m (151ft) to 2080m (758ft) and therefore contains areas of lowland humid, pine, and cloud forest. It is one of the more important protected areas due to the territory that it encompasses. The PANACAM watershed is a vitally important resource, providing the water to more than 58 villages in the surrounding region and also providing electricity through two hydroelectric dams, one known as El Cajón.
PANACAM has a unique relationship with PAG. In 1992 Proyecto Aldea Global signed an agreement with the Honduran government to establish and manage the park. This first agreement lasted only five years, but things went so well, that another management plan was signed in 1997 to continue to run it. Originally their goals focused on ecotourism, biodiversity, watershed management, and soil conservation. Concentrating only on those four objectives, and excluding the people and communities that are an undeniable part of the parklands, proved that the park would have severe problems in meeting its objectives. So now the goals include a focus on education and better agroforestry and other agriculture practices on the parklands.
Unlike National Parks in the United States with no or a few inholdings located inside the protected boundaries, PANACAM is composed of two structural regions. The "core zone" is located in the center and meant to be untouchable, much like the Wilderness Areas in the United States. In the surrounding lands, there is the "buffer zone" which contains around 58 villages, consisting of about 60,000 people. Depending on the area, there may be hunting, agriculture, logging, and cattle grazing. Some of this is allowed, however, much is illegal.
Protected areas in countries like Honduras commonly find problems in their management, such as inadequately conceived policies, the lack of people to enforce the laws, insufficient management tools and equipment, and a lack of funding due to a corruption in the governing body. The latter has just recently been experienced in Honduras with the disintegration of the country's department that was in charge of most reserves and protected areas. The Corporación Hondureña de Desarrollo Forestal (COHDEFOR) dissolved less than a month prior to our visit in March and is no longer the agency responsible for the management of the forests and reserves in Honduras. According to the PANACAM coordinator this can be a positive situation, leading to a new agency and an improvement in the laws.
The newest concept in many reserves and protected areas in Central and South America has taken the path of ecotourism. This is a mixture of tourism and environmental conservation that focuses on the benefits for the people involved in that host country. Martha Honey, in her book Ecotourism and Sustainable Development defines ecotourism as "...travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strives to be low impact and (usually) small scale. It helps educate the traveler; provides funds for conservation; directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and fosters respect for different cultures and for human rights."
There are many positive results to ecotourism, the primary one being education of the people who live in and rely on the parklands. Ecotourism also stresses the incorporation of locals into the protection and employment in the reserves. Tourism itself is responsible for the top 10% of the world's jobs, therefore there is an increase in the economy with the money staying within the country of tourism.
Without educational programs, visitors may never understand the importance a tropical rainforest has with the local people, the visitor's home country, as well as biological benefits we all receive such as oxygen, water, and medicine.
PAG is involved in promoting programs that focus on actively promoting reforestation, new agriculture techniques, and stress the importance for the need to stop cutting trees and encroaching on the land that makes up the vital PANACAM watershed. These have helped to educate the villagers and encourage them to become active supporters for the reserve. Once they recognize the connection between themselves and the land, the "stakeholders" theory is created: if something has value to you, it should be protected. Fortunately, through PAG's educational programs, progress has become obvious through new protection and promotional campaigns that have been developed recently for the park. For example, about 15km of hiking trails traverse through the park, there is the Environmental Center at Los Pinos, six cabins, campsites, and a bed and breakfast are available for tourists, and there is a recent increase in visitors from U.S. Universities and throughout Europe.
Ecotourism is undoubtedly a blessing; it funds conservation and scientific research, protects fragile ecosystems, benefits and promotes development of local communities, instills cultural and environmental awareness, and even some claim it builds world peace. I am not sure of the contributions to world peace, but I know ecotourism is a wonderful plan. As I had the opportunity to see with Proyecto Aldea Global both at the two extremes - PANACAM with the government and in select communities through a single farmer - education is the prime focus. Without education of the locals, there would be a constant battle for resources and the protection of those resources. Without education for the tourists, visitors may never understand the importance a tropical rainforest has with the local people, the visitor's home country, as well as biological benefits we all receive such as oxygen, water, lumber, and medicine.
Yearning for more knowledge should never stop, for it is a sign of a healthy mind. Scientists obviously know a large amount about the rainforest ecosystem as well as methods of agriculture and forestry practices that are successful in the tropical regions. They are working hard to spread that information. But the surface has only been breached. Far more can be gained but it will take time, patience, and cooperation from all people that are considered stakeholders with the land involved, be it private or protected. Education is the primary tool that we must learn to properly use if the protection and conservation of the fragile, yet marvelously mysterious tropical rain forest is to occur successfully.
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