By Susana Madera
Quito, Feb 21 (EFE).- With more than 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) established, hundreds of species of flora and fauna and a world of flavors and knowledge the “world’s biggest biodiverse agro-forest” is a model of sustainable and community development in Ecuador incorporating the efforts of assorted actors to strengthen the local social, environmental and conservation fabric.
At present, the project “has managed to establish 33,000 hectares for conservation, via acquiring lands through the Bocavaldivia Foundation and by assembling already existing preserves,” as well as by getting the participation of companies, local governments, international and community organizations, among others, according to what Rodrigo Pacheco, the project’s creator who is seeking to transcend borders with it, told EFE.
“We’re going for more,” he said, adding that forestlands comprising a million hectares in both Ecuador and Peru could be added to the project, which – for the moment – is confined to the central Ecuadorian coastal province of Manabi and which Pacheco calls the “world’s biggest bosque comestible biodiverso” (BCB – or biodiverse agro-forest).
The BCB “is a local solution to global problems,” since plants are “the best existing technology for humans, not only for capturing carbon (but also for) preserving water resources, sheltering wildlife, (as well as) providing food, building materials, medicines, assorted other materials, beauty and economic opportunities.”
The project has been under way for 10 years, and Pacheco has found more than 150 species of birds in the BCB and has noted anteaters, howler monkeys, humpback whales, dolphins and marine turtles there, since the forest “also includes an ocean portion.”
“We see water, but underneath there’s a coral forest, there are plants and algae,” he said, clarifying that the marine portion is not included in the surface area of the zone “because we don’t have a way to legally encompass that.”
Pacheco, a chef by training and a United Nations goodwill ambassador, emphasizes the high level of biodiversity within the BCB.
“I’m on the coast. In five minutes, I’m in a mangrove swamp seeing little ducks and other kinds of birds completely different from the seabirds, and when I go into the dry tropical forest for just a few meters (yards) I find chachalacas, orioles and many other species of birds. It’s a wildlife show that exists in these transitional forests,” he said.
The chef also warned that “less than 2 percent of Ecuador’s dry forests remain, a country that has 0.2 percent of the (world’s) land area and houses 10 percent of all the plant species in the world.”
Pacheco, 41, doesn’t have enough time to enumerate all the plant species in the BCB – including cocoa, avocado, guava, mangoes, coffee, oranges and many more – but he uses them in his cooking, since he believes that gastronomy can also help to fight climate change.
“Gastronomy is responsible, in large measure, for climate change because we create systems of production, distribution and waste management that don’t go hand in hand with conserving resources,” and so it’s important to know how to grow things responsibly, to know where products come from and how to process and manage waste, he said.
Pacheco got the idea for the BCB a decade ago and began “with zero hectares,” but with the support of biologists, ecologists, designers, communicators, experts on amphibians, marine life, dry tropical forests, along with experts on legal, financial and circular economy issues, he got the project off the ground and under way.
He said that the engine driving all this was gastronomy: “The land was bare, we sowed cocoa and began to develop more and more crops, but we began with nothing, with seeds, with love, with vision, but also with water, land and the necessary climate,” he said.
At the start, they had to travel 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) to buy things they needed, and so they decided to grow what they were going to serve in the Bocavaldivia hotel and restaurant, where they are reviving ancestral cooking.
People from more than 100 countries have come to the biological and cultural area and have enjoyed Bocavaldivia’s cuisine, which uses unique products, given that its emblematic dish “is biodiversity.”
The BCB also has assorted ecosystems spread among different forests: Cantagallo, Passiflora, El Abrazo, Maquipucuna, Playa de Oro, Minacuno, Cordillera del Balsamo, and others that together support the local biodiversity, restoring ecosystems and helping local wildlife thrive.
“The agro-forest creates life,” said Pacheco, adding that his neighbor cut down the forest on his land, and now – whereas in the BCB they’re taking advantage of the wide biodiversity, enjoying the multicolored landscape and the symphony of nature – over the property line the silence of monocultural agriculture reigns.