By Carlos Zorrilla, January 2010
DECOIN was founded in January 1995 as a grass-roots environmental organization to find ways to conserve the unique biodiversity in the Intag area of northwestern Ecuador. All of DECOIN’s members live permanently in the Intag area. The area is part of two of the world’s most important biotic regions, the Tropical Andes, and the Chocó-Darien Western-Ecuadorian Biological Hotpots. Many threatened species roam this area, from Jaguars and Spectacled Bears, to Mountain Tapirs, Mantled Howler Monkey, the critically endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey, Pacaranas, and the spectacular Plate-billed Mountain Toucan; to mention just a few of the approximately 28 species of mammals and birds facing extinction.
The area of influence of our work encompasses several life zones, including tropical rain forests, and cloud forests. One of the main reasons for the creation of our organizations was to confront a large-scale mining project, which still threatens to destroy Intag’s environment and communities, and the sustainable development example it is creating.
Our main areas of work are:
Support of Sustainable Development
Legal Remedies to Loss of Biodiversity
I. Direct conservation:
a) Community Ecological Reserves.
Our policy and personal beliefs is that, in countries like Ecuador (and most of developing countries), it is impossible to guarantee long term conservation of natural areas without the participation of local communities. So, we make it possible for communities to purchase forested land for strict conservation purposes.
To date, we have created 41 community owned and managed reserves. For example, the Junin community is managing approximately 1,500 hectares under community ownership, most of it in primary, lightly altered primary and secondary cloud forests. The area is exceptionally rich in water resources, its forests protecting hundreds of streams that are the source for several rivers. The forest is part of the ecological tourism project, which we also funded. The proposed copper mine would destroy all of the forests, as well as the community of Junin. Had the mining project been allowed to take place, a 200 hectare tailings pond was planned, filled with arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium and other toxic material would be sitting where the community is right now.
In February of 2002 we helped a local young adult group purchase a 120-hectare forest in the community of Santa Rosa for conservation and sustainable economic activity projects (such as eco tourism) The group’s main objective is conservation, implementing sustainable projects and environmental education. They have been grouped as Volunteer Park rangers since 1993.
Watersheds and Conservation: The Cuellaje Integral Conservation Project: With help from GEO schützt den Regenwald e.V. (Germany) is a holistic conservation project in the Cristopamba watershed that encompasses support of productive activities, conservation and environmental education aimed at protecting the Cristopamba river, one of Intag’s most beautiful and clean rivers. To date (July 2010), the project has acquired 2200 hectares of mostly primary cloud forests bordering the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve, and foresee its applicability in several other sub-watersheds in Intag and Ecuador. Several other reserves are in the hands of local organizations. This project is ongoing.
II Watershed Reserves.
As of early 2009, DECOIN has helped established 37 community watershed reserves with help from Rainforest Concern (UK). As in all our other conservation projects, the areas are owned by and managed by the community (benefiting in total 40 communities). Decoin is planning on developing management plans for the reserves, whose main objective is conservation of quantity and quality of water, plus the biological diversity extant in them.
The watershed reserves range from a few hectares, to over 150. Besides creating genetic banks for native plant and animal species and guaranteeing the communities safe water, one of the main objectives is to concretely show the communities the value of conservation. Where reforestation is to take place, native species preferred- including endangered plant species. To date, the communities have planted over 50,000 trees as part of the project- all grown in community tree nurseries. The project also entails teaching communities how to monitor water quality and biological diversity with water testing equipment distributed to participating communities, and includes training on how to take, analyze and interpret water samples, and how to manage their reserve. The project is in its tenth year, and because of the general awareness of the importance of having safe sources of drinking water, the communities are actively protecting their reserves. We are swamped by requests from local governments and communities to enlarge and create new reserves, but funding is a constraint.
IV. Economic/Sustainable Alternatives.
a) Alongside our direct conservation measures, one of our projects supported hundreds of families and several communities in installing home-gardens, chicken and egg production, as well as fish farming and other productive activities. The project’s main objective is lessening the environmental impacts of the expansion of agriculture on the native forests by supporting sustainable agricultural production One of the components of this project was working with community nurseries to identify disease resistant stock in order to drastically reduce pesticide use on the two most important cash crops that are heavily sprayed: Tree Tomatoes and Naranjillas. Currently (August 2010) the first phase of the project is coming to an end, but we hope to get more funding to continue work in this area.
b) DECOIN created the shade-grown sustainable coffee project, as the Association of Small Coffee Growers “Rio Intag” (AACRI as it is known in Spanish) is known. The association is now completely independent of Decoin. Presently there are over 400 members belonging to the association, and it incorporates strong environmental objectives in its bylaws, which we took part in creating. The coffee is shade grown, organic, and is being sold in the fair trade market in Japan, and nationally.
c) Ecological Tourism> DECOIN helped create the first community ecological tourism site in Intag, as a alternative to extractive industry, such as mining (see above). The lodge was finished in July of 2002, and has received several groups. The business is wholly managed by approximately 30 members of the community with some of the profit going to a special community development fund. Additionally, project members also help manage a 1,500 hectare reserve, which we also helped them acquire.
Women’s Groups. In the past DECOIN has supported women’s groups engaged in clean handicraft production made from local fibers and using natural dyes, hand-made soap production. We also we worked with two women’s groups involved in sisal handicraft production, and producing cassava and plantain flour.
Solidarity Store: DECOIN was able to get the funding necessary to open up the Toisan Solidarity Store in May of 2004 in the town of Otavalo, and since September of 2009, the store moved and changed its name to La Casa de Intag. The store and coffee shop is a place where organized groups in the Intag area are able to sell their sustainable products and services, thereby stimulating and supporting sustainable productive initiatives and the creation of more organized groups. The store runs under Fair Trade principles. The Store was set to help resolve one of the major problems small producers face all over the developing world: lack of markets. Its location in Otavalo (a World renown Indian market), will also facilitate foreign business contacts with local producers. On the other hand, the Casa de Intag will be an important information-awareness center for the promotion and dissemination of information related to the different environmental struggles, and conservation efforts being carried out in the Intag area.
V. Environmental Education.
Though limited by lack of funding, our environmental education programs are focused on making people aware of the importance of conserving Intag’s natural resources, and specially it’s unequalled biological diversity. To this end, in the past we have organized and funded grade school writing and painting contests on ecological themes. To date, we also have created different posters on : a) bird conservation, b) forest fire prevention and correct land use, c) the importance of Intag’s forests and wildlife, and d) watershed-biodiversity conservation; e) River conservation and restoration; f) Impacts of Mining, among others. We’ve also produced several booklets on mining and the environment and distributed thousand of them to locals, national legislators, the press, and NGO’s.
Most of our environmental education work is aimed at informing our neighbors and local government officials of the real impacts of mining, and we have held several and countless community meetings (in October of 2004, over 520 people came to the Forum on mining in the tiny village of Barcelona, stuck away in a very hard to reach area!
We work with high-school students, and lately we distributed books on environmental education to second and third graders. We also use the local radio station to promote environmental ethics and sustainable development.
For details on some of the other sustainable projects we are involved with, please contact us.
VI. Legal Remedies: The Ecological County and Protected Areas.
Decoin was directly responsible for our County being declared the first Ecological County in Latin America, in September 2000. This measure, which is backed by a legally binding Municipal Ecological Ordinance and which affects all of the 1800 square kilometers of Cotacachi County, seeks to re orient development in the county by backing real sustainable activities (organic farming, clean industries, ecological, rural, and community tourism, etc.), that benefit communities and the environment, and not industry. It makes the conservation of native forests a priority. In addition, the Ordinance also prohibits environmental destructive activities, such as mining and industrial logging, and imposes strict environmental controls on the flower industry. It encourages a change in attitude towards the environment, through social and economic incentives, and institutionalizes recycling, among many other measures.
One of the main objectives of the ordinance is the creation of a model of sustainable development for Latin America, one in which communities are empowered to conserve their natural resources, and use them wisely.
In 2008, DECOIN also helped fund and took part in the creation of the first Municipal protected area in our County, with the creation of the 18,000 hectare Junin-Toisan Conservation area. Most of the protected forests and watersheds sit on top of mining areas, thus providing another layer of protection for the area’s biological diversity.
In 2009, we helped local residents present a massive lawsuit against Copper Mesa Mining Corporation and the Toronto Stock Exchange for violence and human rights violations. The lawsuit was presented in Canada, and it was the first time a stock exchange has been sued over violence related to a mining company trading stocks in a its exchange.
DECOIN is the main organization in the area actively working with communities, organizations and local governments to stop the JUNIN mining project, which threatens the forests, rivers, communities and the sustainable alternatives described above. The project is firmly rejected by most communities, as well as local governments count on the firm and resolute support of the Cotacachi Municipal Government. Due to the civil society pressure and rejection of the project in Intag, in late 2008, the government took away the company’s mining concessions. The area, and all of its organizations- for the meantime- can concentrate in other things besides stopping a destructive mining project.
The mining project, as mentioned above, would be situated in areas of pristine cloud forests, bordering the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, arguable one of the world’s most biodiverse protected area. The environmental impact study carried out by two Japanese overseas development agencies, call for impacts to the reserve, for “massive deforestation” (cited from the study), in addition to relocation of four communities and contamination with heavy metals. DECOIN identified 28 species of endangered mammals and birds whose habitats would be impacted, including jaguars, spectacled bears, pumas, ocelots and many others.
There are many other activities DECOIN is involved in related to the creation of a sustainable way of life in Intag and the country. For example, we actively participated in, and transported hundreds of people from Intag to the site where the country’s new Constitution was being drafted, in an effort to expose the legislators to our vision of development- which included a ban to large-scale metallic mining. Because of our work against large-scale mining, DECOIN is respected as one of the most knowledgeable organizations in this field in Ecuador. In fact, the experience of Intag in creating alternatives to mining development, has become a reference for other communities confronting similar threats.
These are some of the projects and activities we are involved in. If interested in learning more about us, get in touch.
For more information: www.decoin.org
Or write to: Carlos Zorrilla
PO BOX 144
Telephone 593 6 264 8593