NEWS UPDATE (on other things besides mining… well, almost)

By , April 20, 2010
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DECOIN NEWS UPDATE April 2010

During the past 15 years DECOIN has been forced to concentrate most of its energies, time and funding on helping to stop two large-scale mining projects that threaten our forest and biodiversity, our rivers and streams as well as our communities.  More importantly, the mining project also threatens a community-based sustainable development model that has emerged out of Intag’s successful resistance to mining.  Because the lack of time, and the importance of stopping the mines, I could seldom concentrate on writing about all the other great work we do.   Now that the mining issue has quieted down, I’m going to try to catch up (BOY WAS I OPTIMISTIC WHEN I WROTE THIS!!!)

MINING ISSUES.

I might as well get this out of the way.  The Junin mining project is, at present, completely stopped.  Copper Mesa lost their concessions a while back, was kicked out of the Toronto Stock Exchange in February 2010, and is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit in Canada.  Presently, their shares are trading at 10,000 to the dollar in the Over The Counter markets (but no one is buying).  I don’t know of any community struggle that has been as successful in, not only stopping a major mining project, but also in setting so many precedents. Believe me, it’s not every day that communities in developing countries sue a major stock exchange or that manage to get a transnational corporation delisted from it.

The Lawsuit.

I recently returned from a trip to Canada with the three Intag defendants who are suing, not only the mining company and two of its directors, but also the Toronto Stock Exchange (see www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com) .  We went to Canada to be at the hearing to determine whether the court thinks there’s sufficient legal grounds for the lawsuit to go ahead (the decision is due this month).  No doubt, if any of the parties lose, the decision will be appealed. We are in it for the long-haul. The lawsuit would not have been possible without the support of the lawyers (Klippensteins), who took on the case pro-bono . Never before has a Stock Exchange been sued for human rights abuses (based on allowing a company like Copper Mesa capitalize in the exchange then use the money to violate our rights, after being warned not to list the company).  But do check out the site and donate.

For right now, and until the governments  get it and keep it in their head that most people here are against mining, and that we are developing a more rational and sustainable model of development in Intag, and that, in fact, mining makes absolutely no economic, social, or environmental sense in Intag, all these victories will not be final.     So, we know we cannot fully relax. And one of the reasons we can’t is that the present government has bought into the ludicrous myth of sustainable mining and is openly in favor of large-scale mining projects to replace the rents from the dwindling petroleum resources (in spite of the recent greenwashing publicity).  For us, that translates into a real concern that the government will want to develop the Junin project in a partnership with a multinational like Codelco (Chile’s state-owned mining company).  So, there’s lots of work yet to do.

SUSTAINABLE INTAG:  BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION, WATERSHED RESERVES, REFORESTATION, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION, AND MORE…

Synthesis.

We still continue to establish community protected forests and watershed reserves whenever we have enough money (last count was 41 or 42 reserves protecting close to five thousand hectares)

During the past 12 months, DECOIN has purchased around 750 hectares of native forests for several communities and a local governments; helped communities and small-farmers plant 20,500 fruit and lumber trees;  gave materials to over 120 families and seven groups in 10 communities to help them implement sustainable farming techniques; produced two manuals: one on the impacts of pesticide use, and the other on sustainable farming; helped community members take the Toronto Stock Exchange and Copper Mesa to court in Canada; reproduced and distributed around 2,000  documentary videos on the mining struggle here in Intag, and nation-wide; produced radio shows on conservation issues; and opened a fair-trade store in Otavalo marketing Intag’s handicrafts and other goods produced by our organizations (we  also serve Intag coffee). We also supported four groups of high-school students get to school by helping pay part of their transportation (we are doing the same this year but now it’s 7 groups!!). Currently we are also helping a group of sixty young adults build their classroom in Chalguyacu Bajo so they can continue with their distance high-school education program.  We’ve been busy.

Don’t be shy; if you see a project that you’d like to support, let us know.  Most of the activities above  (and below) are under-funded, or currently have no funding.

Reforestation.

DECOIN is currently finishing another year of reforestation work in the El Paraiso and Cristal-Peñaherrera communities.  By the end of April or start of May, 13,500 trees (15 native and two non-native species) will have been planted in the community-owned reserves this year.  I’ve frankly lost track of how many trees have been planted in total, but I believe it’s close to 40,000 (though I think it’s more like 50,000). We’ve worked with 47 species of trees, about 85% of which are native species. In the process, we are generating very useful information about reforestation with native species in cloud forests habitat.  Our partners for this reforestation work are Geo schutzl den Regenwald and Rainforest Concern. We couldn’t have done it without their faith in us and the communities (project ends next year)

Sustainable Intag.

During the past two years, and thanks to a project financed by Rainforest Concern, we’ve worked with over 120 families and several groups that are next to, or within the mining concessions to help them get back on their feet after years of having to sacrifice their time to stop the mining companies (the people in the photo at the top are part of the project team and community  advisors that participated in the project) . The work included training a team of agricultural extensionists on sustainable farming, delivering tens of thousands of dollars worth of materials and farm animals, including layers and broiler chicks, thousands of Tilapia and trout fingerlings, pigs, sheep, guinea pigs, thousand of meters of plastic hose for fish ponds and family gardens, eight grain mills, a sisal spinning machine, industrial blender, pounds and pounds of vegetable seeds and thousands of meters of wire mesh for dozens of home gardens, in addition to carrying out several workshops on sustainable farming, and the impacts of pesticide use, etc,.  The project also entailed several very important crop trials with disease-resistant plant stock, and trials with new seeds.  And, thanks to this project we were able to open the Casa de Intag fair trade store in Otavalo (check it out www.lacasadeintag.org).  This is most, but by all means not all, of the project’s activities. Yes, this one project kept us busy!

Community protected areas.

Last count, we had helped establish 41 community and local government reserves.  Most of these are community watershed reserves (totaling close to a thousand hectares), but includes the largish Cuellaje Township government reserve (about 1600 hectares), the Junin reserve (about 1,500 hectares) and a few reserves for local groups, such as Flor de Mayo, in Santa Rosa.  Our partners for this cool work are Geo schutzl den Regenwald and Rainforest Concern. This is one successful project.  The communities come to us asking help to protect their drinking water sources, and in the process thousands of hectares of native cloud forests and their endangered wildlife (much more endangered than the Amazon), are being protected. When the areas are deforested, we train community people to plant trees and help them reforest.  None of the reserves has been invaded, logged, or in any way negatively affected. Why? Because they are actively being protected by the communities who have a strong desire to protected it, and not by multinational foundations or by remote control from Quito. Part of the reason for the success is that every last hectare of land belongs to the communities, local government, or the groups protecting them.  Besides actively conserving Intag’s threatened forest and biodiversity, this cool work is also safeguarding the drinking water for thousands of residents, many of which were previously driking water from pastures and sprayed agricultural areas, and saving local governments and community money  In my opinion,  this conservation strategy is, far and away, the most effective way to assure long-term conservation of natural resources in countries like Ecuador.

Socio Bosque and the Intag Forest Network.

Another interesting conservation initiative popped up about a month ago when we were asked to help create a Network of Community Forest Reserves in Intag.  It sounds like a great idea, but there’s no funding that came with the idea.  Then there’s the project to help property owners sign up for the Plan Socio Bosque, a government conservation initiative to help private property owners protect the forest they still have on  their land through an annual stipend (from $10 to $ 30 a hectare).  There is also no funding for this very important initiative, part of which entail helping the property owners and communities through the beaurocratic maze to comply with requisites (including measuring the land, and producing management plans).

Environmental Education/Capacity Building.

We recently contracted the local- and very effective- Intag radio station to broadcast talks and messages about the environment and organizational capacity building.  In April, we also kicked off a leadership course, most of which will be broadcast in via Radio Intag so a lot more people can participate (it is aimed at board members from local organizations).   Then, during the past 12 or so months, we copied and  distributed thousands of videos documentaries on the mining issue, including Under Rich Earth, and more recently, Rights Undermined (A Cielo Abierto: derechos minados).  Under Rich Earth is the latest documentary on the struggle here in Intag, and Rights Undermined is more about the anti-mining struggle in the country (though it features a good section on Intag). We’ve also given away the documentary HOME, and Leonardo Dicaprio’s The Eleventh Hour away to community leaders.  Videos are one of the most effective educational tools at our disposal.

This year, and with Geo’s support, we’ll be distributing 1,500 The Great Kapok Tree picture books to a bunch of young kids in grade schools.  In addition, we will be working with about 40 high-school kids here in Intag on environmental education.

High-School Transport.

A couple of years ago, somehow we got talked into helping to pay for part of the transportation costs of about 150 high-school age kids to get to three different high schools (Apuela, Peñaherrera and Garcia Moreno). This should obviously be the responsibility of the national or provincial government, but they assume no responsibility at all for school transport.  There are currently seven groups (turned out to be 15 groups!!) asking for our support, from kids from about 10-15 different communities.  The kids mostly travel in the back of trucks, as there is no bus school transport, and DECOIN pays not more than 50% of the transportation costs; and more commonly, no more than 25%.  Without this support, most of these kids would never get a high-school education since they live so far from high-school. Threshold Foundation, as well as Geo, are helping to cover some of the associated costs. If you are interested we could use more support .

Alternative Economic Study.

Eartheconomics will be coming in May of this year to start a series of workshops on evaluating Intag’s ecosystem services, as part of a project whose objective is to try to put a economic value on what our ecosystems and actual productive systems are producing- and could produce in the future- and comparing this to the economic value produced by large-scale mining in Intag.  Depressingly, sometimes this is the only kind of information that the “decision makers” are able to see.  The work will be supported by a team from Barcelona University who will be doing a very important multi-criteria evaluation, which goes beyond ecosystem services.  We’ll be helping Eartheconomics to make sure the workshops are a success.

Miscellaneous.

This can be a huge list because some communities depend on us to help them find solutions to their problems- especially environmental problems.  What follow is a partial list. For example, not that long ago, a couple of township governments asked us to help the buy land to treat their solid waste (we agreed to look for funding).  We’ve been asked by several communities to help them set up school gardens (we’ve helped two so far).  There’s a community that wants us to help them conserve hundreds of hectares of unclaimed land harboring primary cloud forests (no funds for this at present)… A young woman president of a community recently asked for legal support to defend herself from a lawsuit by a big logger (we agreed)….  There’s another community that asked for our help in stopping a new (small) marble mine (yes of course). Then there’s the gold mine in the Corazón area (lower Intag) that is said to be contaminating the Rio Verde river who also asked also for our help.  Others want trees to give away to their community members.  Not that long ago, we donated a couple of thousand meters of one inch plastic hose and helped out a local government bring water to a community that didn’t have a water system.  Then there’s the small and medium Hidroelectric Project to benefit communities and local government  that is looking for support (Hydrointag) And so on and so forth.  You get the idea.  It is very frustrating for us to have to turn away some of these requests, and while we try not to, it’s worrisome at times how much it strains our financing.

Dragons in Eden.   In spite of some major victories lately, the nightmare doesn’t end, because the copper is still there. But it sure is a lot more bearable these days!

Your support makes it possible for us to keep working on transforming Intag into a model of sustainable, community-based alternative development.

We sincerely thank you all for your support.  If you feel inspired, get in touch (and don’t forget to visit our store if you visit Otavalo)

Carlos Zorrilla

toisan06@gmail.com

Because we have so many requests from farmers, schools, local governments and communities for reforestation and comunity reserves, and we seem to never have enough financial support for these activities, we are looking into the possibility of offering carbon-offsets for those of you who would like to support reforestation and native forest conservation here in Intag with native species, and offsetting at least part of your carbon footprint in the process.
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