“I am very excited about the Habitat Bank”
Interview: Margarita Rosa Serna Agudelo. June, 2021
Margarita is part of the Serna family, owners of the property where the Bosque Niebla Habitat Bank - El Globo is now located. When his father died, he took the leadership of the livestock activities that were carried out on the farm. However, and after understanding that a worldwide commitment was beginning to protect water and air, he decided, together with his brothers, to stop the cattle exploitation of El Globo and let the forest recover. Today, 20 years after that decision, he is very happy to start this Banco de Hábitat project.
How has the history of this territory known as El Globo been since it was in the hands of the Serna family? How does a cattle farm become a conservation project?
The El Globo farm, which has always been called that, was bought by my grandfather in the fifties and a few years after acquiring it, he gave it to his children, that is, to my father, who was 19 years old at the time, and to his brothers. . Not all the brothers were interested in that land, so they liquidated the company and my father kept El Globo. In 1953 he began to “set it up” to convert it into a cattle farm, mainly to raise cattle.
Thus, many years passed in which the farm worked well, but two events began to appear that made everything difficult. When my father started in El Globo, that area was inhabited by many peasants and there were those who worked, but over time, when the cities began to be more attractive to the peasants, they began to leave. On the other hand, in the mid-1980s, public order problems began to arrive, not only in the region, but throughout Colombia, but in that sector in particular, which is now known as the Garden Blade - Támesis, began to the presence of armed actors, which further accentuated the abandonment of the land by the people. By the early 1990s, this was a very critical area that you couldn't go to.
In 1995, when my father died and it was no longer so dangerous to visit the farm, I began to manage livestock activities. So we went until the year 2000 when the abandonment of the field was already critical, there were no people with whom to work the land. In addition to that, with my brothers we began to notice that everything that was done was to maintain the farm, and that so much effort was not generating any economic gain for us. Around that same time, I went back to university to study agricultural business administration and among the things I learned, several international treaties for the environment began to sound, and I understood that taking care of the land was a long-term investment, for the importance that they were going to take the water and the air. With this, then, I decided to propose to my brothers that we stop with the livestock in El Globo and that we let it be assembled so that the forest would naturally recover… That was 20 years ago.
At the time they decided to stop ranching in El Globo, how much of the farm was dedicated to ranching and how much was covered by forest?
When we made that decision to let the farm be set up, being very optimistic, 30% was in forest cover. This corresponded mainly to the high and steep part that was never touched and to the edges of the ravines, because that was the rule for the peasants. In paddock, believing that it could be more, there was 70% of the farm.
There is something that I find very funny and it is that my nephews who are leading this Banco de Hábitat project, tell me that in El Globo there is still a lot of pasture. About a fortnight ago I visited the farm, after 18 years of not having been, I went to see from my concept of what it is to have a set up farm, if it was true that there were so many paddocks, and compared to how I knew it, that is now very hilly, there is not so much grass and there is a lot of low stubble, which is exactly what we wanted to happen 20 years ago.
When you made that decision, did you do any land restoration process or did you just leave it at that?
We did absolutely nothing. What's more, on the farm until recently he had still won. When we decided to stop exploiting it, so as not to lose it and since it was so difficult to get there, we leased it to the farm's foreman and his family, who are the people who have lived there all their lives. The value of the lease was the value of the predial. At that time I told them that they could take advantage of it, but let it ride, so they had fewer and fewer cattle because there were fewer and fewer clean pasture areas... All that was done was to let it recover naturally.
How does Margarita see the fact that El Globo is today a Habitat Bank with respect to that dream of a few years ago of beginning to receive some economic gain for conserving? If it is being fulfilled?
Of course! I see that what I understood at the time when I was in college is beginning to happen, and that is that they were going to start paying for producing oxygen, for capturing carbon or for leaving the land in forest so that the quality of the land is not diminished, and one form of this is the Habitat Banks.
How does Margarita understand that Habitat Banks make conservation profitable?
What I understood about the Habitat Banks is that we can receive profits by conserving that land because the actions that must be carried out to recover the forest more quickly must be paid for by other companies in order to compensate for the impacts that their activities generate. in nature – I found that very interesting! – In addition, I understand the Habitat Banks as work for the area and also for the owners of the Habitat Banks who can receive economic gains either by directly participating in the restoration activities that are going to be carried out in the Bank or by the part that it corresponds once the biodiversity credits are sold to the companies that have to compensate. The Habitat Banks also reduce the inherent expenses of owning the land, for example, property taxes.
Where does Margarita think this need for her and her family to want to be part of a conservation project comes from?
There are several factors that influenced that decision. First, on a personal level, a fundamental moment was when I went back to university to study agricultural administration. At that time I was already grown up, I was 42, which means that my classmates were the age of my children. When I entered there was a subject called "ecoclimatology", I don't remember the name well, and in that class they reminded us a lot that the climate crisis was a global issue and they mentioned the Kyoto protocol a lot. At that moment I understood the message. I don't know if it was because I was older than the others and I was already working with my dad, with whom I had to see on other farms, that more than 100 cattle died of thirst and that nothing could be done because... where were we going to get the water?... So at that time, being in college, experiencing first-hand the work in the field, I probably understood very well that something had to be done.
On the other hand, at a more familiar level, we have always had a tradition of being in the agricultural sector, not only because we carry out livestock and agricultural activities, but also because we have that taste for beautiful areas with trees, farms that do not They are arid and have many water sources, and it turned out that our nephews loved this too and took it to another level. I find it fascinating that the brothers, today, are handing over these lands to their children and nephews and that they want to keep it.
How does Margarita El Globo imagine herself in 30 years, under the Habitat Bank scheme?
In 30 years I see El Globo as a completely dense forest, not a primary forest because that is not easy, but a secondary forest that goes in that direction, with a very important water production and with an impressive macana palm population... That is my dream. The macana is a palm from which wood was obtained for the peasant houses. 15 days ago I was in El Globo I saw a place called the "valley of the macanas", where after climbing a lot of hills one sees many of those palms, it seemed like a fairy tale. I dream that this species recovers, I think it is in danger of extinction because the peasants use it a lot, even for that reason it is banned in different parts of the country, that is, it cannot be used. This is how I imagine a divine forest!
How has the Bando de Hábitat project influenced family dynamics?
From a family point of view, I have to say that I am very happy. I am very excited about the Habitat Bank because, in addition to the beauty of conserving all the species that exist there, this project has generated a union between “the boys”, as I call my children and nephews. They are all of different ages, between the oldest and the youngest there are 20 years, they are very different generations and at this moment, thanks to El Globo, they are connected, they talk a lot and have common themes. So that for me has been a very nice thing because people in families when they are getting older, each one starts on their own.
What arguments can we give to people who have livestock activities on their land so that they bet on a conservation project and bet on a balance between these two activities?
The argument would be similar to the one I thought of when I told my brothers to let the farm get set up. In other words, at that time it was possible and I believe that now it is becoming more and more a reality, that water and air are going to have a very high value, so conserving and generating them on our land can mean remuneration and economic income. . For that, people must also be convinced of the current situation of the entire planet.
On the other hand, people have to be made to understand that it is better to put aside the immediacy of economics a little, because when one only thinks about it, it is like taking everything from the earth at once. One is very financial and thinks all the time that “10 pesos today is better than 100 pesos in 50 years”, because we are thinking all the time about productivity at all costs. What happens to the animals that explode and don't even let you move from the post, is the same thing that happens to the land after exploiting it and leaving it bare. By this I mean that we need a very large, organized and conscious educational process that makes people aware of that.
Does Margarita think that suddenly with this issue of the pandemic, we are in the perfect environment to make people more aware of conservation issues?
I say that you have to show it to people a lot and give them the opportunity to experience it, which they are already doing, that is, in my environment there are a lot of people who, due to the pandemic, do not have to be at work in the city then they are happily connected from their recreation farms, where they can have a connection with the countryside and where they are absolutely happy, enjoying the peace and serenity that comes from being in contact with a calmer life near the animals, the green, and the trees. I am impressed with how today people are consciously enjoying that, because it is different when someone goes to a farm for a weekend to take their children to have fun, to be involved in the farms and really feel calm. . So I believe that the pandemic has allowed people to feel more of the countryside and conserve the environment, which can improve their lives. I am inspired! I feel that all those things and ideas of living in calmer and healthier places could convince us to conserve the environment
Anything else you want to tell us?
Yes… Thank you very much, I am very happy with this from Banco de Habitat!