Posts Tagged With: Reforestation

Love & Hope in the Mangroves.

what crab on my shoulder ?In every trip I’ve been on this extraordinary year with Heifer, there comes at least one moment when I think … I cannot believe I get to be here.

In Ecuador, that moment came as I was gliding through the mangroves off the coast of Puerto Bolivar as pink flamingoes flamed up from the overhanging trees. flamingoes

In the back of the boat, the women put down the sewing they’d been doing while bouncing through the waves on the rough ride over…sewing on water

…and fired up the big Colombian cigars they’d tucked into their hats, in preparation for getting off the boat and getting down to business of hunting crabs.

ready to crab

The cigars are for pleasure, but they also act as mosquito repellent.

In this coastal community where all life revolves around the water, hunting Ecuador’s sweet red crabs is traditionally women’s work, although the entire extended family is pretty much involved now. Children start hunting when they’re 6 or 7, and they quickly learn the drill. Using a long rebar pole, you find a hole that looks promising, insert your pole and then your arm as far as it can go, and try to get a crab to hook on.

going down for a crab

 Once it’s hooked, you pull the crab up, put it in your sack if it’s a male (you can’t take a female) and move on. boy w crab

 The first crab catch of the day is the lucky one (or the third); a good haul is 5-7 crabs; and in the boat on the way back, they’ll be strung up and go live to the market…red crab line

….where a string of 12 will bring $10 (of which the intermediary will get about half).

Rosa stringing her catch.

Rosa stringing her catch.

Crabs abound here in the mangroves – they eat the mangrove leaves and flourish – but today there are far fewer mangrove swamps (they’ve been developed into shrimp farms or dried out from industrial pollution) and far fewer crabs. beauty

So Amor y Esperanza, the 80-member group of shellfish hunters here, is out to keep their ancestral way of living, while they make the most of their daily haul – with Heifers help.

Started by the indomitable Rosa Santos, her husband and their 7 children, Amor Y Esperanza has a modern-day plan for success: to sell the seafood in a restaurant I call the No-Name Café (for obvious reasons) and to package and sell the crab/clam/calamari and fish they’ve processed in fresh & frozen packets out of a retail store next door.

The remarkable Rosa Sanchez, founder of Amor Y Esperanza.

The remarkable Rosa Santos, founder of Amor Y Esperanza.

Rosa is 57 and had a rough childhood with an abusive father, but her own family is as closely knit and tight as a pair of crab claws. She’s become an outspoken advocate for the health of the mangroves that have decreased by 70% in her lifetime, and Amor Y Esperanza has been responsible for reforesting hundreds of acres of mangroves, as well as advocating for stricter pollution controls on the banana plantations and shrimp farms that release crab-killing toxins into the ocean.

A brave little mangrove sets its roots in the ocean.

A brave little Amor Y Esperanza-planted mangrove sets its roots in the ocean.

Rosa’s dream is to achieve independence for all of Machala’s crab, clam and fishermen from the intermediaries who chomp into their profits and carry most of their loans (essentially turning the fishermen into modern-day sharecroppers). She’s already received grants from the local government to outfit AYE’s store (refrigerator, freezers, food prep tables and equipment) and help from Heifer to open the Café, but she’s hardly stopping there.

Amor Y Esperanza in action on land - where it's a spanking clean operation!

Amor Y Esperanza in action on land – where it’s a spanking clean operation!

For this woman who spends 25 days a month plucking the biggest, reddest, sweetest crabs in Ecuador out of thigh-deep mud with a cigar between her teeth and a serene smile on her face – then comes home to work to save her beloved mangroves …smiling Rosa… well, I seriously wouldn’t put any kind of alchemy beyond her.

Let's hear it for Rosa!

Let’s hear it for Rosa!

Categories: Ecuador, Environment, Food, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Solid Gold Soul.

Yeah, that's the road down there.

The day we left the cloud forests of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, Vivian and Byron, our Heifer hosts, drove us five hours to the veritable border of Mexico and the dry, dusty town of Ixcan. To describe the road to Ixcan as “bad” is to sugarcoat it, but since the scenery was beautiful and we were listening to Bebel Gilberto on Vivian’s i-pod, I figured my kidneys would eventually recover from the pummeling. Besides, I was psyched to be heading to site of the esteemed Golden Talent awards.

Ixcan’s own Jose Salvatore Toc had been chosen as the most visionary beneficiary of Heifer Internationals projects in the country– and the minute I saw him walk into the room the next morning, I could see why. Salvatore is charismatic and clearly a leader. Not only does he wear a hat exceedingly well, his gentle manner and kind eyes belie a ferociously strong will. At 62, he has 12 children, 18 grandchildren and has spent years trying to bring greater productivity to the exhausted piece of land he bought in 1990– and share that knowledge with other farmers. Year after year, he had planted corn, used chemical fertilizers, planted beans, and tried everything he could think of to make his land more fertile. Then he heard about the guama tree from Honduras, a fast-growing brushy tree that the people at EcoLogic, Heifer’s partner since 2010, were touting as a promising way to save forests, farm without chemicals, and produce more corn. Salvatore was hooked.

In the shade of the guama

In 2008, Salvatore received guama seeds from EcoLogic and planted the feisty trees right in the middle of his cornfield. His neighbors thought he was crazy, planting trees where corn should be. His wife Marta feared he was in for another big disappointment. But in just two years, the trees ‘ branches were ready to be cut (giving Salvatore valuable firewood), and the trees’ heavy leaves had dropped, providing 20 cm. of thick mulchy insulation that not only prevented weeds from growing, it also held water in Ixcan’s dry soil. And most important, Salvatore’s corn crop — growing unconventionally under a scrim of trees– was 40% more abundant, producing 3 ears per stalk instead of one or two.

Salvatore was so eager to share the news (and plentiful guama seed pods) with his fellow farmers, he cut a 1/4 mile path from the road to his field to encourage everyone to come see the results of his shade-grown maize. 385 farmers are now a part of the project, a nursery of 5,000 guama plants has been established, and 8 other communities are implementing this promising new method.  Salvatore is a tireless advocate for adopting new agroforestry techniques like the guama tree that lessen dependence on expensive chemicals and destroying forests– as well as any other farming advance that will allow him “not to have to work so hard.”

Despite his Golden Talent monetary award, that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. Salvatore still works three jobs: as a woodworker, a night security guard, and farming his fields, a 45-minute walk from town. And let’s not even talk about the work that his wife Marta does, keeping house for the 4 children remaining at home. Salvatore and his wife Marta have been married for 40 years, and since he was 20 and she 14, they have never spent a night apart (kind of like me and my husband – ha!). They say the hardest thing hasn’t been feeding their brood, it’s the expense of sending them to school. But somehow, despite lung and foot problems, Marta and Salvatore have educated each child – and somehow, she still lights up whenever Salvatore smiles at her.For 18 years, EcoLogic has been asking rural communities what they want and need in development projects, and supporting leaders like Salvatore who are so committed to improving life for themselves and others, they “treat their land like their own children.” Now, in partnership with Heifer, they’re helping Guatemalan communities work towards less deforestation, cleaner water, healthier soil, a better harvest… and a better life for beautiful, hard-working families.

To me, that’s solid gold.

Categories: Environment, Guatemala, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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