By Laia Mataix Gómez
San José del Guaviare, Colombia, Sep 5 (EFE).- Both in Colombia and abroad, Guaviare is infamous for deforestation and violence, but the southern-central department is fighting to preserve its biodiversity with innovative projects that show that it is possible to survive without cutting down the Amazon rainforest.
“We have worked very hard to convince someone from the other side of the world that there is no more war here, that this is a safe place (…) We get a lot of negative exposure, instead of positive visibility,” the founder of the ‘Eco-meadow Lodge,’ Ricardo Alexis Miño, complains.
On the pastures outside San José del Guaviare, the regional capital, a small haven of conservation can be found.
“We are surrounded by cattle farms, that’s why there are so many little animals here, it’s like their shelter in the middle of this whole area,” Miño tells Efe.
When his father bought the land it was little more than a ranch for livestock, but he has restored it and planted more than 4,000 trees to start a company that is “dedicated completely to tourism that is really focused on raising awareness of the environment and sustainability,” he says.
Miño, who arrived in the area 20 years ago with his parents, owns about 60 hectares, where the lodge’s cabins run on solar power, have dry showers, and rely on a Roman-style aqueduct.
Everything is focused on “small groups of guests to cement the connection between the person and the place, to come to Guaviare not just to take a photo, which is sadly what tourism is being reduced to.
“Everything is nice, everything is beautiful, but we are putting to one side the issue of protecting these places,” and ignoring the fact that “conservation is a great tool to generate financial resources,” he says.
Those who have chosen the path of sustainability and conservation have had to join forces and “start doing what in many cases the government has not wanted to do (…) the government is completely absent in this regard, as we have leaders who prefer to back the cattle and livestock industry rather than conservation efforts,” Miño says.
One organization that has worked with environmentalists, Miño continues, is the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the North and Eastern Amazon (CDA), which is in charge of patrolling and protecting natural resources as an environmental authority as well as a sustainable development corporation, says its director in Guaviare, Orlando Castro Acosta.
The army and security forces have also committed to increasing environmental awareness in the region that has been exploited through deforestation for decades.
To that end, the army has as part of its daily operations introduced conservation initiatives, such as the nursery installed in the battalion where soldiers cultivate native plants and trees that they later plant or distribute to the people of Guaviare.
Colonel Giovanni Tauta Ramírez says they have been able to stop approximately 2,000 hectares of jungle from being destroyed. They also plan to install environmental control army outposts to fight the illegal logging and fishing trades.
The army is also aiming to raise awareness among the local population through leaflets that warn of the consequences – including legal ones – of damaging the environment in ways apart from cutting down trees.
A few hours from San José del Guaviare, in what started as a training and reintegration camp for FARC guerillas who laid down their weapons, lies another tourist attraction that was created to provide an alternative to environmental exploitation and deforestation.
The former rebel fighters have set up cooperatives to help local farmers not to fall into cattle ranching or the cultivation of coca leaves for cocaine.
They achieve that by taking yucca and plantain at a processing plant and transforming it into semi-processed products that are much easier and cheaper to transport and sell in the rest of the country.