Nicaraguan Canal….connections and questions by Paulette Goudge

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Homosapiens is the only species to be progressively destroying its home, the planet, not only through climate change, pollution, deforestation, poisoning our oceans and soils but also through our addiction to the big project.  We now know, beyond doubt, that such a toxic combination could very easily render the planet uninhabitable within the lifetime of our grandchildren and yet we continue with our addiction to the grandiose, the fast, and the “glamorous” without apparently making any connections! The human race is increasingly addicted to big projects….wherever one looks …the mining industry, the agriculture industry, the building industry, methods of communication and even the food on our plate – it is all about doing things on a bigger and bigger scale and as fast as possible. Transport, both of people and things, is no exception. This all takes a huge toll on the planet, using ever scarcer resources and adding accumulatively to the forces of destruction.

I, for one, have a lot more questions than answers about the proposed canal in Nicaragua. Most of the scientists, economists, politicians, commentators seem to have answers but they also have their own agendas. That is the way of the world; no one is “objective”. The problem is they are mostly less than honest about what those agendas are. I will come clean about mine. I would like to preserve as much of the environment as possible for the sake of future generations and because I hate to see Nicaragua taking the same destructive path that my own country of origin (the UK; I am now a Nicaraguan citizen. I have not left Nicaragua in nearly 10 years) has long since embarked upon. Also these issues are global issues. We all have a responsibility as global citizens to think them through and act. I also care about poverty; a quick glance at our website will offer plenty of evidence of how La Mariposa has struggled to provide local people with sustainable employment as well as looking for other ways to help the poor. For the record, I am a long term supporter of the Sandinista government though not uncritical.

Nicaragua is obviously not alone in its developing obsession with big projects. We are just going along with the rest of the world. Nicaragua does not need a canal. But apparently the rest of the world “needs” one. Why? Because ships are being built that cannot go through the existing one.  Hold on a minute!  Why do we “need” such enormous (and presumably faster) ships? The answer is that we not need them. Some of us want them – to carry essentially two things – oil and plastic things from one side of the world to the other. How can this be justified, in the era of climate change and destruction of the oceans? How many people really “need” more plastic baubles and cheap T shirts (now also mostly made of plastic)?

The redundancy of oil is particularly acute in the case of Nicaragua as the majority of its energy is already being produced by renewable sources. So why on earth are we currently building, and at the most incredible speed (working round the clock), the biggest oil refinery in Central America? The practical answer is to process Venezuelan oil but there is no answer to the moral question …..why an oil refinery when Nicaragua plainly does not need the oil, except to fuel the increasing number of outsize vehicles,  and the world in general needs to be moving away from dependency on oil?

What part the canal will play in the Chinese challenge to US world hegemony remains to be seen.  I do not know if there is any agreement on whose navy gets to use the canal, maybe I just missed it.  Protestations of Nicaraguan “sovereignty” ring hollow when one considers how little effect Nicaraguan laws, especially in relation to the environment, have on the operation of internationally controlled zona francas. Mucho menos, even less will they be in control, I suspect in the case of the canal. Who, it must be asked, will be policing the inevitable secure zone alongside the canal? Again maybe I just missed this information.

The major promised benefit for ordinary Nicaraguans focuses on jobs as the main route to poverty alleviation. However, Xang Jing is undoubtedly a good businessman (at least one assumes he is or he would not be where he is now) and good businessmen, in this capitalist world of ours, do not get to be rich and successful worrying themselves about poverty or environmental issues. On the contrary. Big projects do not, globally speaking, have a good track record in alleviating poverty. Of course there will be jobs on the construction though I imagine, as any good capitalist would, Xang Jing will keep costs, including wages, as low as possible. Construction work is, by definition, short-lived – though I accept there is bound to be another big project following on for some workers to move on to! How many jobs is also an interesting question…I would guess that the most intensive phase will be at the beginning (building the camps and road access) but surely the bulk of the excavation will be done by massive machines and not by people. Further I suspect that the top best paid jobs will not go to Nicaraguans at all. Any more than is the case with any foreign run outfit, anywhere in the world.

There are two aspects to reducing poverty. The first is a sustainable, reasonable income, which the canal will not provide. The second factor is how that income is spent. A family may have a “reasonable” income, say, with a member employed in a zona franca. But if she suffers from cancer as a result of working in a place where she is constantly breathing in small textile fibers that float in the air – then most of that income has to be spent on medicines (most are not covered by social security). Industrialized agriculture, mining, construction – especially in impoverished countries – all take their toll largely because “good businessmen” put profits before the lives and health of their workers.  This adds to poverty.

Poverty is not just about money. The basics that we need (need as opposed to want) to live are air, water and food. Nicaraguans will not be helped to access any of these by a canal. But they may all be adversely affected. I imagine a fair amount of cement will be used in the construction – cement is Nicaragua’s single most polluting industry.  Plus the loss of trees (it is not relevant whether they are in a national park or someone’s back yard) will both add to the carbon dioxide in the air (increasing global warming) and reduce the amount of oxygen.

Water….where is the water in the canal going to come from?  And the damage to the potential drinking water of Lago Cocibolca is incalculable. I live in the meseta of La Concepcioñ, our water comes from an underground aquifer. We also supply much of the new (big) constructions along the Carreterra Masaya.  I asked an ENACAL official what happens when it runs out, as it will. I have not received an answer.

The issue of food security in Nicaragua is a disgrace. An incredibly fertile country, we should be able to produce all our food requirements easily. But instead it is easier to buy US rice in the local markets than home grown. Why? Partly because of unfair subsidies to US farmers but also because so much of the land here is used (again by good businessmen) to grow export crops for profit.  A large percentage of land is given over to coffee, sugar, tobacco which (when you think about it) are simply drugs for Western consumers. These products, together with the zona franca output (mostly clothes in the case of Nicaragua), are sold as cheaply as possible to maintain demand. So profits have to be at the expense of paying the workers low wages, often just above “extreme poverty” level.  More and more land is being used and forests felled to supply the hamburger market with beef. Cows, incidentally, also contribute their fair share to global warming just by existing as they emit so much methane gas! The canal will aggravate this dire situation by encouraging the export of more and more, faster and faster!

Importing more and more plastic baubles and cheap T shirts is not the answer to poverty. People are increasingly pressured to buy trash (just go look see what is on sale in your local market) which is deliberately designed to last for the shortest possible time. So people have to buy more. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty but, of course, ensures good profits.

Furthermore, the talk about poverty reduction through job creation also ignores the jobs and productive land that will be lost. Outside Brito, the first eviction notices have been served and people are not being offered the market value of their land. I think many of us would resist being thrown out of our houses and lands for the sake of the greater good! But it is always so much easier to bully the poor. And where are the dispossessed to go?

The effect of the canal on the existing tourist industry can only be imagined.  It will take just one oil spill (and please do not tell me this cannot happen…human error is always a factor even in the grandest projects) to ruin the southern shores of Omatepe (what value then being an international biosphere reserve?) and the shores of Lago Cocibolca. Should the oil reach the islands and beach of Granada??….that is the direction the current flows and that is where most of the trash ends up. The southern part of the Pacific coast will no longer offer amazing sunset views and surfing paradises as it will become a traffic jam for barges and ships waiting their turn to enter the canal. Plus more oil spills – most oil spills at sea are not the major Exxon disasters but merely ships cleaning out their tanks and dumping their waste whist waiting about. This will accumulatively have a dire impact on Nicaragua’s reputation as a relatively unspoiled tourist destination. Precisely what attracts most visitors. Many community and environmental based tourist organizations could be hit hard. With the loss of more jobs! Building a major tourist complex alongside the canal (another splendidly grand project for sure!!) will not address these problems.  Especially as the probability is that such a complex would be largely foreign owned and when that happens the profits (for example of the Hilton hotels) do not stay to be invested in Nicaragua……and tourist complexes do not in general have  a strong record of concern for the community or environment .

I have personally been “informed” by an INTUR official that the number of tourists in Nicaragua will go up exponentially thanks to the canal. I just do not see this and I have been working in tourism for the past 10 years. Why would anyone come to see a sea level canal? The Panama Canal is surely more interesting with its lock systems. Maybe just because it is bigger….but this has limited attraction I would argue.

So far I have considered the environment in terms of how it is essential just to ensure human existence. But of course there is a much deeper significance. Biodiversity keeps us healthy. So do clean air, soils and water. But to my mind at least we are not the only species that has a god given right to live on the planet, though I have heard government officials argue that what is put on this planet is here just for our use. The fact that nature (in its many forms…trees, plants, wild animals, birds insects) has been ruined does not mean that we should go on trashing it!! This too is an argument I have heard several times….well, Nicaragua is now so deforested that what does it matter if we fell more  trees and replace them with various designs of concrete! This is OUR HOME!!! If your home has a leaking roof does that mean you trash the rest of it? The usual response would be to repair it…….and repairing at least some of our environmental damage would provide jobs…..

A final point on poverty reduction and environmental protection.  One of the most impressive aspects of the current government has been precisely its poverty reduction strategies which have had an observable impact on extreme, especially rural, poverty. How did they do this. With small, local schemes…such as micro loans to small businesses (bicycle repair shops and the like) and producers, housing and roofing projects, ensuring every schoolchild gets a daily meal. That is what works. This approach has worked in the experience of creating and sustaining jobs at La Mariposa.

But the most important change towards reducing poverty and, at the same time, helping the environment is for Westerners especially to consume less (the USA has 5% of the world population but consumes 25% of its resources) and pay a fair price, incorporating the true cost of the product, whether it be a pair of jeans made in Nicaragua, coffee or rum.

A couple of last points….something that was apparently not thought about before work started on the Panama Canal. Where will all the excavated soil go? I cannot even contemplate what might happen should there be a major earthquake….it would be good to see the disaster plans.

The risks of this project are too enormous, both for Nicaraguans and in the context of what is happening globally. I, for one, will be doing whatever possible to oppose it.

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You can now book your sustainable rural adventure with La Mariposa

By horse or by foot – views of the live crater of the Masaya Volcano and, in the distance, the crater lake , Laguna de Masaya. L to R - Ariel, who leads the horses; Linda, group member; Franklin, local guide; Marlin, program coordinator; Nick, group member and photographer; Ismael, program coordinator and Bismark, local guide.

By horse or by foot – views of the live crater of the Masaya Volcano and, in the distance, the crater lake , Laguna de Masaya. L to R – Ariel, who leads the horses; Linda, group member; Franklin, local guide; Marlin, program coordinator; Nick, group member and photographer; Ismael, program coordinator and Bismark, local guide.

SUSTAINABLE ADVENTURE WITH THE COMMUNITIES OF THE MASAYA VOLCANO

La Mariposa has worked for several years with our neighboring indigenous communities – primarily the barrios of Panamá, Aguirre and Venecia – now we can offer a two week sustainable tourism program of exceptional diversity, based in these communities and the surrounding landscapes. Our program has such variety and depth thanks to our longstanding relationships with the communities, our focus on assisting their self-development and our commitment to protecting the environment.

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Our guides and homestays are from the local communities. We are not experts in any one specialty but can tell you a great deal about the area – from its history, geography, myths and legends to the flora and fauna. We introduce you to different farming practices, organic and non-organic and products as varied as pineapple and coffee. We can show you traditional medicinal plants and healing practices. We focus on the efforts of the communities to combat the impact of climate change, especially since the serious drought in 2014.

One of the indigenous communities we visit, the Aguirre family. They will teach us about their history, their organic integrated farm, local flora and fauna and their medicinal plants.

One of the indigenous communities we visit, the Aguirre family. They will teach us about their history, their organic integrated farm, local flora and fauna and their medicinal plants.

The program includes:

Riding and hiking through stunning scenery, exploring a variety of natural eco systems including Pacific dry tropical forest, a live volcanic crater, lava flows, open grassland, a crater lake.

  • Laguna de Masaya (from the Masaya side)

    Laguna de Masaya (from the Masaya side)

Visiting a variety of local farms, looking at the impact humans have had on the various landscapes – especially through farming but also, more recently, tourist developments.

  • View of the Masaya Volcano from a tobacco farm. You will see the mixture of types of small scale agriculture, of which this is one example. We can see, in season, how different crops like tobacco and coffee are processed.

    View of the Masaya Volcano from a tobacco farm. You will see the mixture of types of small scale agriculture, of which this is one example. We can see, in season, how different crops like tobacco and coffee are processed.Interacting with the communities around the rim of the Masaya Volcano, focusing especially on the indigenous, who have received the least input from national/local authorities and so have retained many indigenous customs.

    Interacting with the communities around the rim of the Masaya Volcano, focusing especially on the indigenous, who have received the least input from national/local authorities and so have retained many indigenous customs.

  • Meet Don Pablo who has lived here for 60 years, loves to tell his story and introduce us to his cows.

    Meet Don Pablo who has lived here for 60 years, loves to tell his story and introduce us to his cows.

    Learning about traditional food and cooking, music and dance, natural medicine, myths and legends, the history of the area…….

    Helping to provide funds and volunteer help for developments requested by the communities themselves. The lack of official interest has also meant of course that the level of poverty and access to basic facilities such as drinking water and schooling has been severely restricted.

  • Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Staying with local families, with overnights in hammocks, offers a real way to understand the problems and joys of community life as well as ensuring that resources go directly to local families.

    Trying to keep our tourist footprint as light as possible. Transport is mostly by foot or horseback. We use motor vehicles only when absolutely necessary!

  • Trekking around the rim of the crater of the Masaya Volcano on horseback

    Trekking around the rim of the crater of the Masaya Volcano on horseback

    Bird watching opportunities and the chance to observe night animals at our specially built observation hide.

  • Black headed trogon...just one of the many species of birds living around the Masaya volcano

    Black headed trogon…just one of the many species of birds living around the Masaya volcano

    The program has been worked out with the communities who will benefit directly from the income. The communities also receive help in the form of construction, education, drinking water projects and more. A major Mariposa project involves donating eco cookers to reduce the reliance on firewood and reduce smoke emission, thus mitigating health risks associated with cooking on open fires. This project has been linked in with reforestation so when families accept a cooker from us they also take trees from our tree nursery to plant on their land.

  • Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

    Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

    Reaforesting the shores of the Laguna de Masaya

    Reaforesting the shores of the Laguna de Masaya

    This program is:

    • a 14-day program but you can opt to do one week, you can also combine with the Mariposa Spanish class/activity program the preceding week or the succeeding week.

    • The group needs a minimum of 3 people to function. Maximum 6.

    • Cost for one week per person is $450

  • Thanks to Nick Saraceni, Marlon Reyes, Tim salt and Ann Tagawa for the photos

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La Mariposa Sustainable Tourism

La Mariposa is embarking on a whole new set of projects, working closely with several very poor rural communities, with the focus of sustainable tourism benefiting directly those communitiesLas Conchitas (3)

The barrios we are working with form a semi-circle around the rim of the Masaya Volcano (the barrios of Panama, Camille Ortega, Las Sabinitas, Arenal, El Pochote, Venecia). These are the communities to the right of the land (marked in orange in the map above). The idea is to try to combine eco tourist initiatives specifically designed to work towards alleviating the worst poverty whilst at the same time offering incentives to community members to help us preserve and improve the environment. We have already had several community meetings (using the new land as a  base to organise and a meeting area) and it is already clear that local people are very worried about the effects of the lack of rain. We have had almost nothing in the first 3 months of a 6 month-long rainy season and this of course follows a 6 month dry season.  It is the worst drought since 1976.  Nearly everybody who has come to the meetings has lost one crop of beans and had a much reduced corn harvest (in other parts of Nicaragua cattle are dying of thirst and hunger). And these are people who live on the economic margins, for whom losing a  crop of beans is the difference between eating and not eating. It also means there are no seeds to plant the next time around.  What is remarkable is the level of understanding and discussion that of course these problems are the result of climate change and the situation is only going to get worse in years to come. One person commented to me that “rich people are not going to help us so we have to see what we can do”.

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega...but there is less than one third of a normal crop

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega…but there is less than one third of a normal crop

A major issue we will have to confront is the current devastation in the Masaya Volcano National Park, right on our doorstep.  The park was badly affected by fire a year ago, even though it is supposedly the most protected piece of land in Nicaragua. Strong rumours suggest the fire was deliberately set in order to allow for the development of various mega tourist attractions, which are now in their beginning stages, with backing from the European Union and Luxembourg Aid. The park has suffered from many unconstitutional activities including the organised cutting of precious woods, the extracting of water from the laguna in order to assist local road building and the poaching of rare animal wildlife ( a group of white faced monkeys seems to have completely disappeared). Firewood is taken out by the weekly truck load by commercial sellers as well as local people using it to cook. A current plan is to construct a hotel and various roads within the park boundary (also against the park constitution). Apart from providing a minimum number of low paid jobs, the benefit to the local communities will be derisory. But the damage to a precious nature reserve (the forest is – or was – Pacific dry tropical forest of which only 2% of the original remains) will be irremediable.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch...this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch…this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me!)

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me! in May 2013)

We cannot work with the authorities to improve this dire state of affairs (we have tried and failed) so we are embarking on, in conjunction with members of the communities, an exciting though demanding combination of the following -

  • Establishing a rural tourism initiative through local homestays, volunteer work in local schools and in the campo and learning Spanish. There will also be a camping option for students and guests. Combined with local activities such as providing local guides for horse riding, bird watching, and hiking. The aim is to provide as much local sustainable employment as possible and therefore income directly into the communities  (very much along the model successfully used to date by La Mariposa).
  • Hand in hand with the above we would like to establish programs working in environmental conservation and improvement. We have already established a scheme whereby over a hundred of the poorest families have been provided with eco cookers, which use 50% of the amount of firewood used in traditional open fires and are also much healthier as they emit far less smoke.
    The info on the eco cooker - given to representatives of each of the communities along with a demonstartion.

    Info on the eco cooker – given to community representatives at the demonstration.

    The photos below show Marisol, from Coci Nica, who gave the demonstration and Carlos, from the Los Aguirres section of Camille Ortega who is walking slowly towards the cooker telling everyone that it is amazing, he can feel no heat at all coming from it! The second pic is of cookers about to be carried away to their new homes!

    DSC00032DSC00053

  • We recently helped to install running water for several families in one of the poorest neighborhoods (Los Aguirres)- several Mariposa volunteers really enjoyed working hard on this project together with people from the beneficiary houses. More than one volunteer commented that “it is amazing how kind these poor people are – they kept offering and insisting that we take food and drinks from their houses”.
  • Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the  water pipes

    Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the water pipes

  • Future plans include providing solar panels and helping dig latrines.
  • One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

    One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

  • We are not asking for payment in any shape or form – but what we are asking of local people is that they help us with re forestation projects and we have already, to this end, donated/planted some 1,300 forest trees in the area. The Mariposa tree nursery has a few more thousand to donate and we are actively looking for sources of precious and rare trees. Future initiatives will include working towards eliminating chemical pesticides in the area.
  • Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    School kids involved too.

    School kids involved too.

  • On the new land itself, plans are progressing to build a butterfly house to raise and release local species of butterfly, digging of  a frog pond starts this week,  actually two ponds linked by a running stream to encourage other wildlife especially dragonflies (powered by a solar pump). And of course plants  and trees(at present we are concentrating on those which attract butterflies and birds, especially the local groups of parakeets….we have had groups of over 30 feeding regularly on our fruit and seed trees) are being continually planted (though this is hindered by lack of rain). Plans for a bee project are in the initial stages.The aim is that these developments will attract more tourists to this area, some of whom might wish to stay in the communities and learn more about life here as well as the flora and fauna. Of course it will also be a wonderful resource for local people and Mariposa students to visit and enjoy.
  • DSC00174

    This is the now almost extinct cocobola tree, we ahve planted two on the new land. Also known as rosewood, it has been mercilessly exploited for musical instruments and “fine” furniture

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    Digging the frog pond...

    Digging the frog ponds…

    Nicaraguas national bird.....the guardabarranco. Alreday there are several living on the new land.

    Nicaraguas national bird…..the guardabarranco. Already there are several living on the new land.

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Masaya Volcano Community and Environment Eco-tourism Initiative by Dr Paulette Goudge

La Mariposa is embarking on a whole new set of projects, working closely with several communities that form a semi-circle around the rim of the Masaya Volcano (the barrios of Panama, Camille Ortega, Las Sabinitas, Arenal, El Pochote, Venecia). These are the communities to the right of the land (marked in orange in the map below).

Las Conchitas (3)

The idea is to try to combine eco tourist initiatives specifically designed to work towards alleviating the worst poverty whilst at the same time offering incentives to community members to help us preserve and improve the environment. We have already had several community meetings (using the new land as a  base to organise and a meeting area) and it is already clear that local people are very worried about the effects of the lack of rain. We have had almost nothing in the first 3 months of a 6 month-long rainy season and this of course follows a 6 month dry season.  It is the worst drought since 1976.  Nearly everybody who has come to the meetings has lost one crop of beans and had a much reduced corn harvest (in other parts of Nicaragua cattle are dying of thirst and hunger). And these are people who live on the economic margins, for whom losing a  crop of beans is the difference between eating and not eating. It also means there are no seeds to plant the next time around.  What is remarkable is the level of understanding and discussion that of course these problems are the result of climate change and the situation is only going to get worse in years to come. One person commented to me that “rich people are not going to help us so we have to see what we can do”.

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega...but there is less than one third of a normal crop

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega…but there is less than one third of a normal crop

A major issue we will have to confront is the current devastation in the Masaya Volcano National Park, right on our doorstep.  The park was badly affected by fire a year ago, even though it is supposedly the most protected piece of land in Nicaragua. Strong rumours suggest the fire was deliberately set in order to allow for the development of various mega tourist attractions, which are now in their beginning stages, with backing from the European Union and Luxembourg Aid. The park has suffered from many unconstitutional activities including the organised cutting of precious woods, the extracting of water from the laguna in order to assist local road building and the poaching of rare animal wildlife ( a group of white faced monkeys seems to have completely disappeared). Firewood is taken out by the weekly truck load by commercial sellers as well as local people using it to cook. A current plan is to construct a hotel and various roads within the park boundary (also against the park constitution). Apart from providing a minimum number of low paid jobs, the benefit to the local communities will be derisory. But the damage to a precious nature reserve (the forest is – or was – Pacific dry tropical forest of which only 2% of the original remains) will be irremediable.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch...this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch…this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me!)

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me! in May 2013)

We cannot work with the authorities to improve this dire state of affairs (we have tried and failed) so we are embarking on, in conjunction with members of the communities, an exciting though demanding combination of the following -

  • Establishing a rural tourism initiative through local homestays, volunteer work in local schools and in the campo and learning Spanish. There will also be a camping option for students and guests. Combined with local activities such as providing local guides for horse riding, bird watching, and hiking. The aim is to provide as much local sustainable employment as possible and therefore income directly into the communities  (very much along the model successfully used to date by La Mariposa).
  • Hand in hand with the above we would like to establish programs working in environmental conservation and improvement. We have already established a scheme whereby over a hundred of the poorest families have been provided with eco cookers, which use 50% of the amount of firewood used in traditional open fires and are also much healthier as they emit far less smoke.
    The info on the eco cooker - given to representatives of each of the communities along with a demonstartion.

    Info on the eco cooker – given to community representatives at the demonstration.

    The photos below show Marisol, from Coci Nica, who gave the demonstration and Carlos, from the Los Aguirres section of Camille Ortega who is walking slowly towards the cooker telling everyone that it is amazing, he can feel no heat at all coming from it! The second pic is of cookers about to be carried away to their new homes!

    DSC00032 DSC00053

  • We recently helped to install running water for several families in one of the poorest neighborhoods (Los Aguirres)- several Mariposa volunteers really enjoyed working hard on this project together with people from the beneficiary houses. More than one volunteer commented that “it is amazing how kind these poor people are – they kept offering and insisting that we take food and drinks from their houses”.
  • Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the  water pipes

    Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the water pipes

  • Future plans include providing solar panels and helping dig latrines.
  • One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

    One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

  • We are not asking for payment in any shape or form – but what we are asking of local people is that they help us with re forestation projects and we have already, to this end, donated/planted some 1,300 forest trees in the area. The Mariposa tree nursery has a few more thousand to donate and we are actively looking for sources of precious and rare trees. Future initiatives will include working towards eliminating chemical pesticides in the area.
  • Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    School kids involved too.

    School kids involved too.

  • On the new land itself, plans are progressing to build a butterfly house to raise and release local species of butterfly, digging of  a frog pond starts this week,  actually two ponds linked by a running stream to encourage other wildlife especially dragonflies (powered by a solar pump). And of course plants  and trees(at present we are concentrating on those which attract butterflies and birds, especially the local groups of parakeets….we have had groups of over 30 feeding regularly on our fruit and seed trees) are being continually planted (though this is hindered by lack of rain). Plans for a bee project are in the initial stages.The aim is that these developments will attract more tourists to this area, some of whom might wish to stay in the communities and learn more about life here as well as the flora and fauna. Of course it will also be a wonderful resource for local people and Mariposa students to visit and enjoy.
  • DSC00174

    This is the now almost extinct cocobola tree, we ahve planted two on the new land. Also known as rosewood, it has been mercilessly exploited for musical instruments and “fine” furniture

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    Digging the frog pond...

    Digging the frog ponds…

    Nicaraguas national bird.....the guardabarranco. Alreday there are several living on the new land.

    Nicaraguas national bird…..the guardabarranco. Already there are several living on the new land.

Leave a comment »

Mariposa Community Environmental Education and Camping Centre

Las Conchitas (3)

The orange line encloses the new land (called Las Conchitas) just purchased by La  Mariposa. It is very close (as the crow flies anyway!!) to the existing Mariposa….just follow a straight line to the bottom of the above photo and you will be here (though in practice of course we have to go round by the road as our neighbours would on no account let us walk through their orange plantations!). you can see how incredibly close we are to the Masaya Volcano National Park. I have written previous posts (and on facebook too) about problems with this park (and indeed with other reserves too, such as Bosawas) including the impact of  a massive fire which destroyed about 25% of the forest (the damage is still visible one year later) and the ongoing impact of illegal logging of precious woods, taking firewood out of the park, hunting animals within the park…etc etc. Our hope is that having this land can help in some small way to conserve and improve the environment locally…maybe to offer a sanctuary to some of the beleaguered park wildlife and to act as a resource for concerned local people who are seriously worried and affected by global climate change as well as what is happening on their doorstep. The communities that are currently working with us are those that go out on the right hand side of the photo.

 

So below are some of our ideas so far…….we would love to get comments and suggestions….and help!!

Overall objective of Las Conchitas

  • To establish an environmental education centre for both local people and visitors to the Mariposa (both Nicaraguans and extranjeros)
  • To build an extension of some aspects of the current Mariposa (Spanish classes, accommodation….especially camping) in the hope of bringing in some income to support the first objective
  • Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

    Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

Progress so far

  • Reforestation (about 700 fruit and forest trees planted. PS the fruit is for wildlife!)
  • Live fencing planted around bottom edge of land
  • Mapping for potential camping areas, this was carried out by Bettina and Chad a couple of Mariposa volunteers. Map complete and some costing work begun. There is the possibility of using wood from 2 fallen trees to construct camping platforms.
  • Constructing bat boxes, a volunteer family is working on this now.
  • There is an existing house on the land with 2 rooms (one large), a patio, latrine. Needs renovating but could be either the nucleus of the EE centre (favoured option) or communal eating area for campers….
  • Meeting held on the patio of the house on 5/6/14 (see below)
  • Hard at work planting trees

    Hard at work planting trees

Meeting with community representatives

  • Present were several Mariposa workers (including teachers, maintenance staff, gardeners, project managers) and people from Las Sabanas, Arenal, Camillo Ortega, Venetia (poor rural communities close to the Masaya Volcano National Park) and several problems were identified. These included – contamination of drinking water from use of, amongst other things, flushing toilets – shortages of drinking water – lack of rain especially this year affecting the bean crop – logging of precious trees including in the national park – taking out firewood – loss of local biodiversity – poisoning of soil from use of pesticides – disappearance of pollinating insects esp bees.
  • Some tentative ideas were suggested for addressing some of these problems but with the necessary caveat that many of them have global origins. It was stressed that the over exploitation of the land and natural resources has gone hand in hand with the exploitation of the poor. In the case of Nicaragua, this started with the Spanish 500 years ago and still effectively goes on today under CAFTA.
  • La Mariposa will take on paying for the help of 5/6 community activists to help us work  directly with the local communities.
  • One of the issues we talked about...use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)

    One of the issues we talked about…use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)

FUTURE PLANS

  • Develop the land primarily as a nature reserve (with possibility of camping etc) – to include (1) water feature (pond, moving water) for frogs dragonflies etc (2) a butterfly and hummingbird centre (mariposera) (3) planting of fruit trees and flowers to help with nesting/feeding places for bats, birds and iguana, also install feeding places and nesting boxes (4) investigate how we might help larger mammals eg deer (almost extinct here due to hunting), guatusas, ?????? (5) plant rare and native trees, shrubs, flowers as much as possible to increase biodiversity as well as caring for the trees and plants that are currently growing there……this work will include building a retaining wall to contain the roots of two large cenizero trees and removing a rubbish tip from the edge of the land.
  • One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

    One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

  • Work with the local communities through the paid reps to identify where we can combine help with environmental education and improvements. For example, Franklin has identified 8 families, living in the poorest area close to the national park, who have no electricity and take firewood from the park. One possible solution is to offer them solar panels and eco cookers in return for their help in protecting the national park.
  • EE centre – to include (1) wildlife observation and information (2) permanent exhibition on what is happening to the environment both locally and globally with historical and geo political explanations (3) workshops, seminars, practical demonstrations from local people and others on what we might actively do in our own lives such as implementing worm projects (save on pesticide use and expenditure), build eco cookers, use eco friendly building materials etc. (4) trails and walks offering info on plants and wildlife and the links between this and current environmental issues (5) a small library where people can access info on eco building, organic farming etc (6) meeting spaces for large and small groups
  • With the local communities and the reps, establish links and dialogue with (1) members of other communities around the national park who might be interested in this initiative eg Nindiri AND relevant authorities including (1) the local town hall and their environmental team (2) the national park authorities and MARENA (3) the EU, currently funding a tourist initiative in the national park (4) the national press
  • Establish an NGO with the above objectives
  • And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two....this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

    And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two….this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

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The Consumption of the Bosawas Reserve and the Attack on Indigenous Peoples

Bosawas is an enormous, incredible nature reserve in Northern Nicaragua and home to many indigenous communities. They are all being destroyed, destroyed very fast. You need to know about this even if you have never been to Nicaragua. Their death will affect us all. But you may well not even heard of Bosawas, nor of its inhabitants. I have lived in Nicaragua for nearly 10 years (and been visiting regularly since 1988) and it has only recently entered my consciousness in any real way. Just as it is disappearing! Estimates vary as to how long it can survive but no one puts it above 20 years.

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But this reserve is of vital importance to us all. It is no exaggeration to say that it is of life-giving importance to every other living creature in the world. Together with the worlds other forests, it basically provides the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the soil we need to give us food. It also happens to be a place of indescribable beauty and home to an incredible array of biodiversity. Does all (or any) of that make it worth saving?

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You would think so…….A few basic facts… it is the second largest rainforest outside the Amazon (largest in Central America), roughly the size of El Salvador (around 14% of Nicaragua’s territory). There is a nucleus and what is called a buffer zone – together they add up to 21,000 sq kms for those looking for more exact figures! Because of its international importance, Bosawas was declared a UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1997.

For generations, Bosawas has been home to the Miskito and Mayangna (Suma) indigenous peoples. Ironically, they were more content to live under the British protectorate as subjugated but nonetheless independent nations than to be incorporated into the Nicaraguan state (a process which began in the early 20th century). Many indigenous still perceive the Nicaraguan state (under whatever government) to be a colonizing force.

King and Queen of Miskitia (british style!)

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During a delegation (organized by Nicaragua Network) in March 2014, we spoke to several indigenous leaders and visited a number of communities. There is no doubt that their forest is perceived in a very different way from how we Westerners might perceive it. Actually, to say it is perceived is not right…..the forest is not, for the indigenous, an environment to be looked at, considered or even protected (much less exploited) it is, simply, home and all that implies. The forest provides not just the necessities of life – shelter, food, medicines, but – as a good home does – an all pervading identity. To destroy the forest is to destroy its people. And, as one of the leaders told us, “people from Managua” (read outsiders!) “see the forest as an enemy, only any good once it is chopped down”. Below is one of the leaders we spoke to.

A Mayanagna Leader

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Both the forest and its peoples are under a number of different but interwoven threats. It is, of course, the desire to make fast money (lots of it) that forms the most obvious motivation behind the destruction but the cattle and the gold would not make anyone money without consumers. The Mayangna Sauni As received legal title to their land in 2006, much of which is deep inside the Bosawas reserve. The Sauni As create different “zones” which they put to a variety of uses – conservation, hunting, agriculture, water use, sacred areas, artisanal mining. Houses are small, built around a communal area of grass where a few cows and pigs may be grazing. There are no large herds. In fact, the activities are all on a small, subsistence scale, done with the objective of causing as little damage as possible. It is no paradise but it is sustainable.

In 2006, the Nicaraguan government began to grant titles to the land where the Mayangna haved actually lived for thousands of years. But legal title is one thing. Protecting your land from illegal invasions is another.  Since 2007, colonizers have been arriving in ever increasing numbers from parts of Nicaragua where the ability to farm productively has been wiped out, often by drought (Boaco, Chontales for example). They move in, cut and burn the forest, build houses. Mostly the cleared land is used for cattle ranching. But the soil that is left behind after burning the trees is usually very thin and lacking in nutrients. So the grass that grows is poor and cannot support the numbers of cattle brought in for more than a year or so. So the farmers have to move on and start again….burning and cutting trees. Often the cut wood is not even utilized, just left around to rot! We were told of farmers who had cleared over 50 hectares of original forest in just a month! The area photographed below was pristine forest just a year ago.

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To quote Emiliano Comejo Dixon, president of the Mayangna Young Environmentalists, “If the government institutions do not act firmly, soon the Bosawas Nature Reserve will be one big cattle ranch.”

Bank of the Bonanza river eroded by cattle

 

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Dixon goes on “In 2008, 11 mestizo colonizing families lived within the Mayangnas’ land in the Bosawas. Today there are 103. The colonizers clear protected forest for crops and grazing. While the Sandinista government is responding – two colonizers were recently found guilty of land usurpation – insufficient resources have been allocated to patrol the territory and new colonizers are arriving at a faster pace than the government is removing them”

The problem is exacerbated, as Dixon mentions, by criminal lawyers and people who act as intermediaries but are actually land traffickers, selling Mayangna land to unsuspecting campesinos. In recent years, some of them have been arrested but not enough to prevent the Mayangna taking the law into their own hands and driving settlers out with the use of force.

As well as the land invasions and cattle, the forest is being decimated by logging, both legal and illegal. Over one third was lost to deforestation between 1987 and 2010. For example, exports of granadillo – a precious wood used to make musical instruments and furniture – grew from just over $100,000 to $6 million between 2008 and 2011.Plus Bosawas has been a particular target for illegal timber extraction (worth $100 billion worldwide). This trade is run by “wood mafias” operating with the help of corrupt officials and transporters.  Honduras is the first destination and Honduran armed criminals have actively cashed in on the trade. There are also links between illegal logging and the trafficking of drugs…several of the indigenous groups spoke to us of “our villages being swamped with drugs”.

Below – legal extraction of precious woods

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As if all this is not enough, the area around the reserve has been recently declared one enormous mining concession. The beneficiaries are international companies, mostly based in Canada. Mostly gold, but they are looking to see if there are other exploitable minerals. This is Wikipedia has to say about the impact of industrial scale gold mining“includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to increase the available room for the storage of the created debris and soil. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affects the health of the local population”.  You can watch Mayangna children playing in a river just downstream from a gold mining area.

Below – panning for gold in Rosita.

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One of the companies located in the appropriately named town of Bonanza (right on the edge of Bosawas) Is HEMCO. Reading their website you would think all the problems are now solved by technological developments. To quote them “Direct application of cyanide solution in 7 agitator tanks is used as a recovery method. In this stage the reagents dissolve the gold and silver. The gold is later recovered through the Merril Crowe system (precipitation with powdered zinc) and is sent for separation to 6 filter presses. The solid product or precipitate is then diffused to obtain the metal Dore, which contains gold (25%), silver (45%) and impurities (30%). A washing stage against the current in two parallel batteries of 4 thickener tanks ensures maximum recovery of precious metals. The last tanks discharge a waste low in valuable metals and low concentrations of chemical substances into a pond for industrial residues. The solutions are then reused in the ore reduction process making it a closed circuit”.

It all sounds very impressive though the mere mention of cyanide sends a shiver down the spine! The idea of a “closed circuit” precludes any possibility of a leak which is a dangerous assumption anywhere but especially in a country very susceptible to earthquakes.

In any case, several of the indigenous leaders commented to us that these concessions were given without consultation with them. The Humboldt Centre reports that in 2012 and 2013 the number of mining concessions in Nicaragua grew by 24% over 2011 and that currently over 13% of the country is under concession for mineral extraction!

The role of the government and government agencies in all of this is, to say the least, ambivalent. On the one hand, the Mayangna together with other indigenous groups were granted legal title to their land and the Ecological Battalion (the BECO) of the army was formed to help protect Bosawas from invasions, logging and so on.

On the other hand, there is evidence of government involvement in some of the destructive activities. Alba Forestal is partly government owned and is certainly logging in the area. The newspaper La Prensa asked on March 13th 2014 “how many tons of wood is Alba Forestal taking out of Bosawas? Which country is its destination? Why are they taking out mahogany and other precious woods when it is prohibited by law?” La Prensa says it got no answers.

But the major driving force behind the destruction of the world’s last remaining forests (and one could equally apply this to the wrecking of our oceans and other ecosystems) is the increasing consumption levels. We may lament the extinction of another forest animal or the poisoning of our seas but we do not make the link with the beef or the processed foods (which use a great deal of palm oil) we consume or the waste we generate.

No one illustrates this ambivalence better than Dr Paul Oqist. As the Sandinista government’s representative to world climate change forums, he is very concerned about the effect on Nicaragua of climate change. But, as a Sandinista Minister of State, he is also a prime mover behind the drive for more exports. Quoted in an interview with tortillaconsal, he says “Let’s look at an example of access to new markets, the case of beef exports, which has grown by 107% …from $148 million in 2006, to $400 million in 2011. Looking at destinations, the first is Venezuela, both in terms of beef as well as livestock; then there are the traditional markets…United States…. Mexico does not even figure in this list…yet Mexico is investing $100 million here in SuKarne so as to export Nicaraguan beef to Mexico. The Russian Federation has already sent experts to certify Nicaraguan abattoirs, because Russia wants to import Nicaraguan beef. Our beef is of excellent quality, which is why they fetch excellent prices”.

It is inevitable that increasing the number of cattle or looking for more gold to mine will affect areas of land thus far unexploited. Where else are the farmers and miners to go? And of course this is happening all over the world though the end products may be different. The fastest disappearing forests are those of Indonesia and here it is the demand for palm oil and paper that is largely responsible

So…..to put it succinctly. We, especially in the West, are consuming more beef (as well as more of everything else) – the raising of which consumes more rainforest. The death of the rainforest leads directly to worsening climate change through a double whammy – the trees release all their stored up carbon dioxide as they are cut down and, once felled, no longer can absorb the greenhouse gases and emit oxygen. And climate change is already with us – melting ice glaciers and permafrost, raising sea levels and temperatures worldwide. None of this can now be avoided, only mitigated by swift and decisive action on the part of ALL OF US. WE can plead with the big palm oil companies (Kellogg, PepsiCo for example) to use “rainforest friendly palm oil (if it exists which I very much doubt) but the great corporations will only change their ways in response to consumer pressure. And in this case consumer pressure is to NOT CONSUME!!

Naomi Klein puts it well in an essay in The Nation “Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival.”

Everybody likes to find someone else to blame whether it be a government not acting fast enough, corrupt public officials and lawyers, greedy individuals and corporations, campesinos who know no better than to slash and burn .  And, certainly in the case of Bosawas, there is some truth in all of these. Interestingly, though, the role of consumers rarely if ever figures on anybodys blame list. Maybe because as Klein says, consuming is to a large extent who we are these days (and this is increasingly true even for the most remote indigenous peoples). We all need to think more, talk more and ACT more to stop this vicious and damaging process. In the case of consumers (that’s us!), that would imply simply consuming less.

 

 

 

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Spanish school….choosing the best

WANT TO CHOOSE A GOOD SPANISH SCHOOL???

It can be hard but applying the following criteria might just help….

  1. Quality of the teaching ….the most intensive learning comes from one on one classes. The teacher can follow your agenda and go at your pace. At La Mariposa, if you would like to spend your conversation class watching monkeys or walking through the village, just tell your teacher. We offer 2 hours per day of grammar and 2 of Spanish, but again you can change that because the agenda is YOURS! Tripadvisor is a good place to check what previous students have thought of the level of teaching. Check that the school invests in teacher training in both grammar and conversation. A good clue as to the overall quality of the school is length of time the teachers stay …..Schools with  a quick turn over are unlikely to deliver good Spanish classes. Another important factor is flexibility. Can the school respond to your particular needs? Does it provide specially designed classes for kids?1381576_699962506699412_225681156_n
  2. What else do you want to do? ….some schools are near the beach, others in a city. La Mariposa is in very pretty countryside, good for activities such as hiking, horse riding (we have several rescued horses) and bird watching. We offer a full afternoon and weekend activity program which has a unique combination of trips out (you can visit the highlights of Nicaragua with us including Leon, Granada, Laguna de Apoyo, Masaya Volcano, Pacific beaches) and activities designed to help you know more about Nicaragua, its history, culture and politics.1010159_695410627154600_360760650_n
  3. What else helps to learn Spanish?….does the school have good resources available, such as exercise books and dictionaries? At La Mariposa we have developed our own grammar book reflecting the uniqueness of Nicaraguan Spanish. What are the classrooms like? It is much easier to learn in pleasant surroundings, with natural daylight than in a tiny, windowless room. As some students have found the wildlife around the Mariposa distracting, we can also offer purpose built indoor classrooms! Climate is important; it can be hard studying in high muggy temperatures. La Mariposa is 500 meters above sea level, nearly always benefiting from a cooling breeze. Even in April (the hottest month) the temperature is pleasant.1619075_761108263918169_1666743701_n
  4. Where will you stay?…. most schools offer a homestay option  and you can always make your own arrangements in a local hotel or boarding house. A few schools have their own accommodation on site….but no one offers the eco hotel facilities of La Mariposa. Situated in green, lush gardens, surrounded by native trees and flowers, it provides an ideal spot to chill out after class or study in hammocks and outdoor ranchos. Solar power, solar heated showers, recycled grey water, our own organic vegetable garden…..1596090_607896185913825_634265896_o
  5. Is it value for money?….when looking at the price be sure to see what is included. The school fees may look cheap but if you end up paying a hotel, food and extracurricular activities on top it can work out much more expensive. This is why we offer a package price of $400 per week ($450 in the high season) which includes 20 hours of Spanish, accommodation in the hotel, 3 meals per day and all programmed activities. We are such good value that we won a Tripadvisor award in 2014….
  6. How safe is the school?….safety is obviously an important issue for everyone. Nicaragua still has something of a negative reputation in this respect, largely due to the bad publicity in the 1980s. In complete contrast, however, Nicaragua is now the safest country in Central America. There is certainly a level of crime and we advise all our guests on certain basic rules to follow especially in relation to taking care of possessions and money. All rooms, including homestays, have a place to lock away valuables.
  7. Does the school help the local economy and/or community? ….is it providing LOCAL employment and shopping in the community to help the local economy? You can get a pretty good idea of this from the website. But be aware that some websites are very vague about this aspect of their work. The more detail there is about what a Spanish School is actually doing to help, the more likely it is to be happening on the ground. And you can always ask to see the projects once you have arrived. And later be sure to write up your views on Tripadvisor so future students have the benefit of your experience.
  8. And if you wish to volunteer/intern? ….the combination of studying Spanish in a classroom and then practicing it in a volunteer setting and with a homestay family ensures the most rapid progress!! Check the range of volunteer placements available (you may want to change once you are there) and be sure that volunteers/interns are not being used to put local people out of their jobs. Because La Mariposa funds over a dozen different projects in the community, we can offer a range of placements. The money volunteers pay us goes directly into keeping these projects going. Most students opt to combine volunteering with homestays……check that the homestay families are well known to the school and there is a training scheme in place for them.1463600_737739699588359_1408528771_n

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