Since the early 1990’s, many environmentalists have stressed the importance of the Chocó Andino region located in the Pichincha province, northern of Ecuador. Environmental advocates of the UNESCO declared biosphere reserve had been working on its conservation for a few years, launching in 2017 “La Red de Bosques Escuelas” to teach children and local communities about the region’s value.
Special Report by Cristina Ramirez Doval
Inspired by a visit to the Bosque Escuela in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, the Red’s faculty member Inty Arcos realized that giving classes on the open ground helped students own how important these ecosystems are for every community.
The Choco Andino’s natural reserve in which the Red have been established is not only inhabited by wildlife, but it also has a population of 880,000 people. Natives from Ecuador and nearby countries settled in the area hundreds of years ago and continued carrying out the same agricultural practices and merchant activity initiated by the first community formed there, the Yumbo.
The Yumbo culture developed trade networks with the Quitu and the Caru tribes, building roads and relationships throughout the region. The population was also engaged in agriculture, particularly the planting of fruit and vegetables, especially the cultivation of sugarcane, breeding of trout and tilapia, and livestock. These practices have been passed from one generation to another in Chocó Andino and are presently being taught at the forests’ network.
However, Arco says the mining industry poses a challenge for the preservation and conservation of the area.
“Foreign mining companies have established themselves here; they come from different parts of the world, including China, Canada, and Colombia”, he explained.
Arcos said that until now the Ecuadorian government has granted 12 mining concessions in the area, and that there are plans to grant an additional six.
Other types of industrial activities detrimental to the region’s preservation are large scale agricultural businesses and the exploitation of single crop mass production.
Community leaders have asked the Ecuadorian authorities to abstain from granting an exceeding amount of contracts to companies that will only destroy the region’s ecosystems. “There is such a thing as ecological limits, and Chocó Andino has reached its ecological limit, it cannot tolerate any more harmful activity, such as mining”, Arcos said.
Along with other community organizers, the teacher has worked towards spreading awareness about sustainable business models that are not harmful to the area’s ecosystems.
One of the lessons recurrently being taught at the schools and the communities is how to work with nature without causing it any harm.
The teachers want children to know about sustainable farming and agriculture, and the importance of preserving the species found in Chocó Andino, one of the reasons why many of the courses taught at the schools are Agroforestry, Organic Agriculture, Research, and Preservation.
“This Reserve has more biodiversity than the Amazon region, and it has a lot more species on the edge of extinction, a lot of the species here are endemic”, the Red’s Coordinator said.
“There are plant and animal species you can’t find anywhere else and some that have yet to be discovered, just recently, a new mammal was discovered there for the very first time; the cloud forest olingo”, he added.
Children and teenagers part of the Red’s programs understand there’s an ecological balance that must be respected whenever they visit the region.
The scenery these ecosystems provide have made Chocó Andino the perfect place for nature expeditions, sports and ecotourism, and the development of small hotels. The area’s proximity to the country’s capital, Quito, also makes it more attractive for outside visitors.
Arcos is hopeful that the forest school is something that begins to become part of the curriculum in every Ecuadorian classroom in public schools, especially in rural areas, for it is proven the model is benefitting the students, wildlife and future generations.
Photo Credit: Nina Duarte/Bosque Escuela de Intillacta