Decoin’s Work, 2017

By , November 22, 2017



The biggest, coolest most current news is being honored by the United Nations Equator Initiative to receive its 2017 Equator Prize. We were one of 15 organizations chosen from 800 that competed from all over the world for the prestigious prize. The award is awarded every two years for organizations making a dereference in sustainable development and conservation.  This is what the Equator Prize said about our work and the reason we were chosen:

DECOIN, an organization active in the Intag Valley for over 20 years, provides essential support to communities resisting mining interests, conserving over 12,000 hectares of Andean biodiversity and advancing alternative livelihood options for 38 communities. SGP Ecuador has been working as a partner of DECOIN since 1997 and has been supporting several communities and organizations in the Intag Valley in the production of agroecological products and sustainable livelihoods.

                                                                           Photo Credit: Virginie de Haugoubart
Besides the $10,000 dollar we will receive, the UN flew us to New York for the ceremony in September 2017, and me with the rest of representatives from the 14 other organizations from all over the world. The real reward was in the opportunity to publicize our work, and the challenges faced on the ground to guarantee the area’s conservation.

The following is a brief description of our work.

Decoin is a small, grass-roots organization founded in 1995 with the expressed mission of conserving Intag’s renewable resources, with emphasis on Water, Forest, and Biodiversity. We are the only Non-Governmental Organization in Intag with this emphasis. Our area of work is restricted to the Intag area of Imbabura Province, and our staff is made up of people who are Intag residents, which helps to account for our success.

Intag’s forests are part of the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot, considered to be the most diverse of the world’s 36 Hotspots. The area is still rich in cloud forests and pristine rivers and streams. Of the world’s Tropical Rainforests, less than 2.5% are cloud forests.

Areas of work:

In order to accomplish our mission, we work in the following areas:

Forest Conservation:

Working closely together with 40 local communities and several community groups, as well as Municipal and Parish governments, and with international backing (including UK based Rainforest Concern and GEO schützt den Regenwald), we have been able to conserve approximately 13,000 hectares of primary and secondary forests, that  not only protect Intag’s highly endangered forest and wildlife, but also provide safe drinking water to thousands of Intag residents, as well as protect valuable watersheds. Many of these forests are within the buffer area of the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve, one of the world’s most important protected areas (biologically more important than the Yaasuni National Park).  For more information, please see this YouTube video:

It is worth noting that DECOIN does not own any of the land under protection. Instead, all the land is owned by communities and local governments that obtain their drinking water from the community reserves.  We strongly believe that, in the context of Ecuador’s highly questionable experience in conservation, community-owned hydrological and forest reserves is the best protection option. The overwhelming number of these reserves are owned by local communities or Parish governments.

REFORESTATION: To date, we have helped the communities reforest  nearly 100,0000 trees, reforesting a total of about 62 hectares . Of the about 30 species used, about 70% are native. One of the more important achievements related to the reforestation work is the generation of valuable information on reforestation with native species in cloud forests. Several students from the U.S. and Canada have helped gather, validate, and organize the information, and we managed to publish a pretty complete manual on the topic to help communities here and elsewhere, with this very important work.

In the long run, without people understanding why we are conserving large swaths of forests, there is no way they will be conserved (this holds true for all of the official government reserves) This is why protection without education is bound to fail. And it is why we are spending more and more time and energy and funds on it. Part of that work involves  giving a series of workshops on environmental concepts in over a dozen schools, plus distributing educational material (books, videos). It’s a start, but there are more than 80 schools in Intag, and the official school curriculum is terrible when it comes to Environmental Ed. In 2017, we were able to visit and give workshops to 727 grade-school as well as High-school kids


DECOIN, with help from Rainforest Concern, has carried out several investigations into water quality and species richness in Intag. For example, in March of 2016, two biologist from the Jambatu Center in Quito, hired by DECOIN, discovered eight species of frogs on the list of endangered species, and one that was thought to be extinct since 1989 (  We helped finance two species inventories in the forests of Junin and Cuellaje areas, as well as an in-depth study on the value of Ecosystem Services provided by Intag’s ecosystems (read the report here:  Additionally, we financed an in-depth investigation  on mining’s true impact on Intag’s communities, forests and watersheds by a team of international scientist hired by DECOIN. The report was printed and distributed to local, regional, provincial and national authorities IN 2016.


DECOIN was the founder of the organic coffee initiative known as Café Rio Intag, back in 1998. We also helped the Junin community ecological tourism get established in 2000, a community-owed project that is still going strong. In the past, Decoin also has supported agro-ecological initiatives, and other productive activities (including fish-farming).


The threat from mining has not lessened with the passage of time. On the contrary, it’s intensified during the past 2 years, with the government awarding concessions or accepting requests for over 2 million hectares. In the case of Intag, nearly 80% of its forests, rivers and communities are now within mining concessions. This includes Bosques Protectores, which were previously protected. Our work continues focusing on supporting communities uphold their rights, and fighting for a more sustainable livelihoods. This support has many facets, but includes permanent legal support, education, denounciations, helping organize events, plus supporting local productive groups.

Mining’s Black Cloud

Since 1995, the year DECOIN was founded, Intag’s communities have opposed a  large-scale copper mining project that, according to the only Environmental Impact Assessment ever done for a relatively small open-pit copper mines, predicts wide-scale environmental and social devastation. The impacts include:

  • “Massive deforestation”, which would lead to a of a process of “desertification” (these are terms used in the Assessment itself)
  • Impacts to 12 species facing extinction, including Jaguars, Spectacled Bears and the Brown-faced Spider Monkey (critically endangered- Decoin believes that there are no less than 50 species of animals facing extinction, and perhaps dozens and possibly hundreds of plantsalso facing extinction)
  • Impact to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve
  • Contamination of rivers and streams with Arsenic, Lead, Chromium and Cadmium
  • Relocation of hundreds of families from four communities
  • Increase in crime

The following year after publishing the EIA, the Japanese company involved in the initial exploration discovered the possible existence of five times more copper

Since 2012, the communities have had to renew their resistance to the mining project, this time confronting the Ecuadorian state-owned mining company (Enami), as well as Chilean-owned CODELCO, the world’s largest copper producer. Currently (late 2017) the company is close to finishing its advanced exploration of the area.

The Fair-trade store that DECOIN opened in Otavalo about in 2010 to sell goods made by local groups in Intag is still going strong. In fact, it’s still the only Fair Trade store in Otavalo. Besides selling sisal and Tagua handicrafts, hand-made soaps and shampoos, and luffa goods, the store offers cafeteria service, serving freshly brewed RIO INTAG coffee. Next time you are in Otavalo visit us at Calle Colon 4655 and Sucre.

Besides the book on Intag’s water quality, we are helped fund and distributed copies of Earth Economics’s “An Ecological Study of Ecuador’s Intag Region”. The book includes very sound economic arguments showing why mining is less economical than preserving the area’s forests, rivers and biological diversity. The book is already in the hands of dozens of Assembly members, well-known politicians, academics and other influential actors (download here ( In 2016 we published a book on mining’s real impact in the Junin area- focusing on the impacts to water resources. The book was widely distributed to decision makers.

DECOIN is still purchasing land for communities and local governments. We have expanded our environmental education work to more schools and kids than ever before.  The next few years, however, promise to be some of the most difficult years for Intag- mainly because the threat that still hangs over Intag related to the Junin mining project; and beyond. Therefore, we will still continue to support the communities to help them defend their rights before this very destructive industry.  This includes, among many other things, holding a lot more meetings, conferences and workshops on the issues; expanding alliances, producing and/or distributing more educational information (posters, brochures, videos) and seeking legal remedies to the mining curse.

Carlos Zorrilla

Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag    DECOIN

Telephone 593 6 2569 023 / 593 6 304 8861

For updates, check Decooin’s Facebook 



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