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Earth Day Reminiscing: Las Gaviotas Reforestation Project

project examples Apr 22, 2021

Imagine replacing hours spent walking to get water with having children play on a seesaw and the water is brought to you. Thinking differently can create new possibilities from challenges!

In honor of Earth Day, this Throwback Thursday I share with you an incredibly unique reforestation project in Las Gaviotas, Columbia.

Gunter Pauli led a group of international experts on a tour of Las Gaviotas, Marandua, and several other substantial sustainability projects in Columbia in 2006. My husband and I were delighted to witness these historic projects and meet such interesting people, especially Paolo Lugari, who has been called “inventor of the world.”

This blog post focuses on the initial reforestation project, Las Gaviotas. It inspired expansion of reforestation on a massive scale in Marandua, Colombia.

Las Gaviotas Reforestation Project

Gaviotas is a village in the remote, barren savannas of eastern Colombia. The area has also been affected by Colombia’s history of political instability. Our tour group happened to include UN officials and other high-profile figures and at the time of our trip, military accompaniment by guards and air escorts was necessary to patrol for guerrilla fighters.

For centuries, the land was an unproductive savannah. The soil was acidic (pH 4), hot and dry. In the 1980s, Paulo Lugari already had a vision. He had traveled the world as a child due to his father’s work and was home schooled. He saw examples of trying to bring first-world solutions to third world locations, only to fail. Unstable power, unreliable water supply, and lack of access to the parts needed to maintain equipment fueled his passion to develop solutions within the local resources of a desolate area.

Why would you want to reforest a barren savannah? Paolo Lugari began substantiating the concept of carbon sinks to sequester carbon dioxide and stabilize the climate. Paolo realized that the regeneration of the rainforest would bring additional benefits to the local population beyond jobs and the regeneration of the humus cap, the thriving undergrowth and the diverse forest, it also increased precipitation.

How do you start to reforest a barren savannah? Paulo’s vision included starting to create shade. They tried an innovative use of mycorrhizal fungi to act as the saliva for the tree and get growth started. They planted 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres) with millions of trees including Caribbean pine trees.

Once shade was established, it unleashed a chain reaction of surprising positive effects, including the return of the indigenous rainforest and biodiversity.

Rainfall increased (10%). The valuable pure, crystalline drinking water source became a key ingredient in preventive health care and a revenue generator for Las Gaviotas, combatting the previously common intestinal disruptions. The water was bottled using an interlocking bottle design similar to Lego blocks. This not only reduced size for transport but became a toy once emptied.

The planting of the Caribbean pine tree provided another economic benefit. The 7 to 14 grams of resin a day produced by each tree is locally converted to colofonia, a raw material for the paint and paper industry. The tapping and the processing of the resin brings jobs and industrial activities, and other benefits to the region. Pictured below: Colofonia, a raw material for the paint and paper industries.

The Las Gaviotas pilot project rewrote the science of forestry. It also redrafted the framework for social development. The United Nations named the village a model of sustainable development. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize in Literature) has called founder Paolo Lugari the "inventor of the world." There is so much I could write about the systems thinking and additive events that built the success! Instead, let me invite you to listen to an interview with the author of Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, Alan Weisman.

You  can also hear the story from Gunter Pauli in this 15-minute video for more background information on Las Gaviotas: 

Summary

The community of Las Gaviotas farms organically and uses wind and solar power. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals, and schooling. There are no weapons, no police, no jail. There is no mayor.

The ZERI case study summarizes many more facts. Here is an excerpt:

“How often do we wonder about the financing of sustainable development? Las Gaviotas planted trees, brought back biodiversity, regenerated the rainforest, created jobs, fix carbon dioxide while offering a permanent solution to the health issues that had dominated the region for decades. Today the local population has free access to drinking water. This is considered a basic right at Las Gaviotas and combined with the regular exercise everyone gets since the only means of transportation is the bicycle; the local population has now the best health indexes in the country. The surplus water is sold in Bogota competing with Evian and Fiji water.

The shift that Gaviotas demonstrates is that it is impossible to solve one problem with one solution. Gaviotas moved from a one problem - one solution approach, to a system approach where all problems are tackled at once, and all solutions jointly provide more opportunities than ever imagined thanks to an autopoetic process that seems unstoppable. How come we are so obsessed by tackling one issue at the time, when the system solutions require you to link numerous problems and provide flexible and adaptive solutions that can evolve over time? This is so simple and easy to understand once you had the chance to see Gaviotas with your own eyes.”

Conclusion

It is a privilege to share this extraordinary example of sustainability with you. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to be a witness of the project, meet the scientists and local people of Las Gaviotas, and become an investor.

Resources for more information:

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