costa rica and el salvador: community exchanges contribute to forest regeneration and organic farming
Community forest management in Costa Rica has proven to be an effective alternative to the unwanted commodification, privatization and devastation of forest territories. Other enticing alternatives include agroecological systems such as those developed by peasants like Señora Zinia. Yet there is still a great need to share information about these alternatives amongst different communities.
Friends of the Earth El Salvador and Friends of the Earth Costa Rica decided to support a ‘community exchange’ to open a space for grassroots leaders to participate in a collective learning process around community forest management, food production in agroecological systems, and community resistance to megaprojects that impact on biodiversity and livelihoods.
Visitors from El Salvador visited an old pineapple field in Costa Rica, which has been managed for 20 years by Felix Diaz and his family. The family had decided to let the original forest recuperate , allowing biodiversity to flourish again. Today the family and the community enjoy a highly diverse secondary forest with 137 identified tree and plant species, 2 endemic species from Costa Rica, 9 of which can be used for medicinal purposes. Wildlife also came back as a result of the improved environmental conditions, including two species of quite unique poisonous frogs.
The family has build an interactive school around the forest and they were eager to exchange their knowledge and experience with peasants from El Salvador, hoping to contribute to the recuperation of other highly diverse territories.
With the Diaz family, participants learnt an interesting method for regenerating forests, in which saplings are grown at 3 meter intervals. This means that when the trees reach a certain height, the best ones can be retained, and the others used as wood for building houses or handicrafts, leaving a final distance of 6 meters between trees.
The next visit was to Señora Zinia's field. Señora Zinia is a peasant woman who has developed a 4ha organic pineapple field. She designed a closed system in which everything is recycled within the field, allowing for meat and fish production, the natural fertilization of soils, the production of plant fertilizers, and the use of beneficial bacteria which live in a latent state in the forests, but can be activated with a homemade compound of molasses and water (which is used to control bad odors coming from the piggeries). Señora Zinia also shared her knowledge about the medicinal plants used by her family. The visitors learned how to produce organic pineapple in a highly diversified field, and also found that the taste of those pineapples was quite different from that of conventional ones.
The visit continued on to the community forest in Santa Elena de Pital, next to the peasants' settlement of Santa Elena. This nature reserve belongs to the State, but its protection and management is in the hands of the peasants who - after five years of formalities - were able to declare the 89 ha of tropical rainforest the “Refugio de Vida Silvestre Tres Amigos”.
The visits also revealed that whilst there is a systematization of information about community forest management and forest recuperation, there is little information available about organic production in a highly diversified field like Señora Zinia´s.
The Diaz family’s forest recuperation experience is a model that FoE El Salvador and the communities they work with could replicate in El Salvador. The methods developed and implemented by Señora Zinia could also be replicated in agroecological production in El Salvador.
with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)