Jun 27, 2012

Mi vida en Totonicapán

On several occasions I have been asked how I came to work with EcoLogic. This is my story.
In 2007, there was a call for work in Totonicapán that caught my attention because it was where I had grown up and, well, it was time for me to return home. It was time for me to use my knowledge, experience, and support for innovative projects for people and families as part of my goal in life, which is to help others.

For several years I worked outside Totonicapán, now this was my big chance both to return and to help people who had been less fortunate in life.

That's me all the way on the right, with my friends Don Augustin, the Greenhouse Manager in Totonicapán and Técnico Fernando Recancoj.

In Totonicapán, among my first projects working for EcoLogic was training and consultation with the board of the 48 Cantones, an indigenous quasi-governmental structure that has helped govern local communities of Totonicapán for over 800 years. Working with the communities and the 48 Cantones, we were able to create a modern project that used a system of micro-irrigation (a watering system that maximizes water use) to produce more trees for reforestation with less work then had ever been done before in the area.

Greenhouse Manager  Don Augustin showing the rows of tree saplings that, when large enough will be reforested.

I also promoted EcoLogic’s fuel-efficient stoves. With these stoves we give families the hope of an improved quality of life.

A local family showing off their new stove.

Another project of particular significance was collecting and organizing the ancestral knowledge about natural resources, mountains, forests, and water from community elders. This was one of the projects with greatest impact on teachers, students, authorities and the general public.

EcoLogic's Traditional Memory project aims to preserve the values and traditions of the Totonicapán Quiché Maya by inspiring the next generation of leaders to learn, understand, and continue their customary system of forest management. Here, Quiché Maya offer prayers to the forest before reforestation begins.

Working with less fortunate people and families is one of my purposes in life, something that has brought me pleasure, happiness and personal joy. To be someone’s source of hope for a greater tomorrow, to take action to ensure availability of water for children and women, is priceless. Personally, this brings me immense satisfaction.

I was presented a banner by a local group of women and recent fuel-efficient stove recipients to show their appreciation for their new stoves.

With respect to the culture of Totonicapán, I understand that each day is like an experiment with the individual aspects of life, in my case I can say that I have total connection: of thought, culture, language, leadership, love of my neighbors. This connection is not just with the Quiché Maya village, but also with the Keqchi people, the Man, Chuj, and other indigenous communities which have a wealth of ancestral knowledge.

Aside from my work with EcoLogic, for two years now I have been a member of the Board of Directors for the 48 Cantones, as Mayor of my Paquí community. I coordinate volunteering services to the community and to the town of Totonicapán. Here the experience is enormous in regard to leadership, decision-making, management, politics, administration and more.

In Quiché the word chiwimequena means “over hot water”, in Spanish it is totonicapán which comes from the Náhuatl Atotonilco, totonilco means “the place of hot water.” And it’s true, in Totonicapán there are hot springs accessible to everyone. However, I feel like the communities of Totonicapán, and the families I call neighbors are not in hot water – but on the road to a very bright and sustainable future.

- Francisco Tzul, Program Officer for Guatemala
Francisco provides technical assistance to EcoLogic’s Guatemalan partner organizations. He is from the western highlands of Guatemala and has an agricultural engineering degree focused on systems of production. He enjoys working directly with people and looks forward to developing new ways to support EcoLogic’s partners in Guatemala. He speaks Spanish and Maya Quiché. 

Jun 20, 2012

Painting the town REDD

It was happening.

After paying my dues for over a year as an intern for EcoLogic, reading stacks of reports and articles about the Lacandón Rainforest and the three Mayan communities that own it, and being just days away from finishing my grad program on sustainable international development, it was actually happening. I was finally getting the opportunity to meet the communities and the forest I had read so much about first hand. This past April, EcoLogic’s very own forest carbon ninja, Bryan Foster (aka CarbonPlus Director), and I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to collect data for EcoLogic’s Sierra Cojolita REDD+ project.

A landscape view of the Selva Lacandona.

Because you’re all dedicated EcoBlogic readers, I’m sure you remember Dave’s excellent description of REDD+ -- a type of project that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that’s produced when trees are chopped and/or burned down by working with communities to prevents deforestation. Over the next week, I quickly discover that reading dozens of academic articles and reports does not compare to experiencing the Lacandón Rainforest first hand.
That's me on the left taking notes during our meeting.

We arrived in the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez on a Wednesday, and spent two days meeting with other REDD+ folks, who, like Bryan and I, are crazy enough to dive head first into the complex and at times overwhelming world of carbon.  It was exciting to meet our Chiapas brethren who were a fountain of information about all things REDD+ and Lacandón. But I was itching to get to our final destination, the actual rainforest, which still involved a nine-hour drive along the Guatemalan border.

Enrique Chankin showing off some taro root from his garden.
We met Ricardo Hernández, Lacandón expert and Director of our partner organization -- Na’Bolom, in San Cristobal de las Casas, and began our drive with chilly morning temps and plenty of chatter.  But as the hours went by and the jeep cruised down to lower altitudes, the heat and humidity climbed. We drove through town after town for about 5 or 6 hours until we reached what was supposed to be the edge of the Lacandón Rainforest. Instead, I slowly opened my eyes to scorched trees and oil palm plantations. We were in Marqués de Comillas, a section of the rainforest, which has been settled by farmers who migrated from the center of the country. Oil palm plantations aren’t just bad because rainforests are cleared to plant them and reduce natural biodiversity and critical habitat; the oil palm also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions because of its immense need for petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

A couple hours later, we crossed the Lacantún River, and the landscape completely changed. The midday heat had subsided, and we were closer to the Cojolita communities. In this area the forest actually reaches the edge of the road instead of being lost to slash and burn. But this doesn’t mean this section of the rainforest isn’t threatened. Two of the three Mayan communities that own this land are struggling to meet their farming needs with the land they already have, and would like to clear more of the forest.
Enrique Chankin giving us a tour of the rainforest near his eco-lodge, Top Che.
All three communities reside and carry out their farming around the base of the Cojolita mountain range, and the forest on the Cojolita is part of a 35,000 hectare communally owned reserve.  However, the reserve is a source of conflict for the communities. The Lacandones were given authority over the territory by the government over thirty years ago, and they will not grant the Tzetlales and Choles access to the land in the reserve. The Lacandones fear that the other communities will clear too much of the forest in the reserve for farming. The communities show no signs of settling their differences, which, could be detrimental for the rainforest in the Cojolita Reserve. The REDD+ project seeks to help the communities recognize and achieve the economic reward from leaving the rainforest intact as opposed to the current income generating practices such as cattle ranching that require the forest be cut down.
Tzetlal land that was cleared for cattle pasture. Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the background.

Driving through Marqués de Comillas provided a frightening peek into what could be the future of the Sierra Cojolita that I would never have seen from my desk in Cambridge. The experience helped me thoroughly understand the critical importance of Na’Bolom and EcoLogic’s role in working with these communities to identify and pursue livelihood alternatives, like REDD+, to help minimize their need to deforest, and allow them to achieve the development goals they are so determined to attain.

A waterfall we came across while touring the area.
We spent the following days meeting with leaders from the Chol and Lacandón communities, two of the three communities that will be managing and financially benefitting from the REDD+ project.  During these meetings we interviewed community members about their land use practices. My prior REDD+ experience took place in Papua New Guinea, possibly the least developed country in the world with the most isolated communities. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of our Mayan interviewees was a social anthropologist and another spoke perfect English.  Unlike their Papua New Guinean counterparts, these rainforest communities are on a well-paved road headed straight for development. This reality check reinforced one of the many lessons I learned in graduate school – there is no such thing as “one size fits all” conservation. Despite the many top-down guidelines that exist for implementing REDD+, EcoLogic and Na’Bolom will have to design a project that is carefully tailored to fit the needs of these unique Mayan communities.

On Monday, as we drove back to the city along Chol territory at the edge of the Cojolita mountain range, Bryan and I saw a plume of smoke drifting over the trees in the reserve – a sign that slash and burn may already be underway. It is clear that Na’Bolom and EcoLogic have an important and challenging road ahead.

-Andrea Savage, CarbonPlus Associate
Andrea works for EcoLogic's CarbonPlus program by writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends land tenure right throughout Mexico. She recently completed her Master's in sustainable international development at Brandeis University. 

Jun 13, 2012

I'm on my way...


Quite the equation. Wait, it needs to equal something. How about: Rio+20+Chris = EcoLogic to the zillionth degree!

Okay, let me break the math down (yeah, I called that math). In 2 days I’ll be representing EcoLogic in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20, aka the Earth Summit, aka the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (another equation: Lots of aka’s = lots of importance). Rio+20 is the most relevant and widely attended gathering of sustainable development practitioners, policy-makers, funders, and thinkers in the world. Why “+20?” Twenty years ago, the UN hosted the first Earth Summit in Rio. Out of that conference emerged the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (which Mexico and all seven Central American countries have ratified) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the conference, I’ll have access to hundreds of workshops, presentations, and policy strategy sessions, interacting with representatives from thousands of organizations from all across the world.

That's me looking very pensive. I was visiting a local farmer in Honduras and listening to his presentation on how  he is working with EcoLogic to incorporate agroforestry onto this farm land.

Also coming out of the first Earth Summit in 1992 was a little NGO-that-could called EcoLogic Development Fund. EcoLogic was founded on the principle, promoted by so many rural and indigenous people at the Earth Summit, that truly effective and long-term conservation strategies demanded the inclusion and prioritization of rural voices – their needs, concerns, and ideas. So we’ve got two good reasons for me to be at Rio this year: 1) it’s an important conference for our work, and 2) it is deeply rooted in EcoLogic’s history and legacy.

But there’s an amazing 3rd reason why I’m going, and probably the reason that personally excites me the most. One of EcoLogic’s partners, AJAASSPIB, a local water council in rural Honduras, was named one of 25 winners of the United Nations Development Programme’s Equator Prize. The way I’ve explained the Equator Prize to others is that it’s the Grammys of the community-based sustainable development world. And AJAASSPIB is Radiohead (got to shout out the world’s greatest band whenever possible). Well, that means that AJAASSPIB gets to send a representative, Doña Zumilda Duarte, to Rio to participate in conference activities, multiple trainings, and an award ceremony. Since EcoLogic nominated AJAASSPIB for this award, I’m able to join Zumilda and representatives of the other 24 winners at some of these events. I truly cannot wait to hear what these rural leaders have to say. What they’ve learned and what they still struggle with. What they need and, just as important, what they don’t need.

Doña Zumilda Duarte , community leader and former AJAASSPIB President will be at Rio to accept the Equator Prize. 
So now you see why Rio+20+Chris = EcoLogic to the zillionth degree. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to join AJAASSPIB on this momentous opportunity, engage with peers, promote our work, and learn new insight to bring back to our network of grassroots partners. On top of all that, it offers a unique opportunity for us to reflect, build upon our roots, and reinvigorate our resolve to create a world where both people and nature can thrive.

I’ll keep you posted on how things go. As you can tell, I’m going to be busy. I’ll be tweeting throughout the conference next week so follow us on Twitter @ecologicdevfund and I’ll give you a full wrap up when I return.

Até logo!

- Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. He is also on his way to Rio+20!