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“The option was to produce oxygen and conserve biodiversity”

Interview: Mauricio Montoya. July, 2021

 

Mauricio Montoya decided to convert the land that his family has traditionally used for livestock activities into a Habitat Bank, the Habitat Bank of Liborina, in Antioquia.This project will help preserve the Tropical Dry Forest,one of the most threatened ecosystems in Colombia and which has had an impact on its conservation as a result of productive and extractive activities and the development of urban projects.

Mauritius in which ecosystem is the Habitat Bank?

The ecosystem of the property is what is known as Tropical Dry Forest. It is one of the few areas that still remains of this ecosystem. All that region in the Cauca canyon corresponds to Tropical Dry Forest.

How long have these properties been in the family?

 

Those properties have been in our family for a long time. My grandfather had them for 80 years. Something like that. Later, part of what was my grandfather's was my dad's. My dad bought another piece of land nearby more than 40 or 50 years ago and that's what it is.

 

What were these properties used for?

 

That has been in cattle exploitation for a long time, there were corn crops and other things. It seems very risky to me to say that climate change has changed the rain cycles, I don't know why, but the corn crops in that region have been disappearing. There are no longer many peasants who grow corn, so they have dedicated themselves to ranching, and well, my father had a small ranch and when he died, my sisters and I kept it and we have been supporting it. What also happens is that we believe that the livestock business is not good, it is not a good business, on the one hand, and on the other hand, livestock farming is not good for the ecosystems. The grasses erode the land and then we start thinking, what do we do with this? Do we keep it like this? We thought it didn't make much sense, shall we sell it? And who do we sell it to?

 

So we started to explore and we found that the use of the land for conservation could be a very good option and well, we made contact with Terrasos. We have not touched that land for more than 5 years, so the regeneration of some vegetation has been gaining ground, but not others. Our plan then is to finish the cattle this year and start the regeneration and conservation process.

What were the options you had in mind with this territory?

 

I think that the earth has 3 vocations in the place where we are. The first thing is to produce food. We are 7 billion people who need to feed ourselves and the earth is the one that produces the food. Contrary to what some people think that it is very ecological for each one to have their "little plot" and grow their tomatoes there, I believe that this is not enough to feed the 9 billion that we are going to be shortly. So we need to start producing the land with food, but in an efficient and intensive way. But that is no longer business. I used to be able to sell meat to the butchers in town and with that he supported himself. Now you can't, all the slaughterhouses have closed. Cattle can now only be slaughtered in large fridges. It is a message for the small farmers, that is not their business, the business here is industrial.

 

On the other hand milk. We milked and sold raw milk. With that we made some cheeses and with that we supported the farm. But what was the message? You cannot sell raw milk, that is prohibited, people die if they drink raw milk. Before they didn't die, but now they do... Now you can only sell industrial milk and sell it to a dairy company. Then that also disappears. So it is not possible for that land to produce food on the scale that is needed, so other vocations remain. The rural area is being used for housing and is being valued tremendously, but certain areas. The urban border has expanded and now with the pandemic more. Eastern Antioquia, in the north, in the southwest, but not where we are yet.

 

Another option was to produce oxygen, conserve biodiversity and in that aspect if we meet the requirements, and in this aspect the dry forest is scarce, very valuable, it is very fragile and this dry forest has a comparative advantage and it is that it adjoins the area of protection of the Hidroituango reservoir, and well, my property is small, but more than that of the neighbor and more the protection zone of Hidroituango, it makes an interesting volume of land to regenerate the fauna, the flora and then the land acquires a very important value in that sense, and later on it will have a spiritual, contemplative value that is what nature is also good for.

What do you think is the real value of complementary biodiversity if you want to the value of ecosystem services?

 

Monetary, they tell one the story that biodiversity will help the sciences of the future such as genetics, bioeconomy. But I really believe that the real value of nature is its enjoyment as a spiritual value and that is being understood by more and more people. It is very valuable to be in the middle of nature and value it, where there is really nature, where there are little birds, like for example look at this little bird, look at this fox dog, being in the middle of the trees, that for me is an enjoyment that is possible for one that is very close to nature, but there are more and more people interested in that enjoyment, in walking there, in exploring, in being more aware of respect for those things.

 

For the peasants, wildlife was their enemy all their lives, the opossums were their enemies because they ate the chickens and the snakes as well. The dogs were friends because they hunt rabbits and served them as meat. Birds were cool to catch and put in cages. But I have seen that this has changed. These things are no longer seen because little by little respect for living beings and respect for ecosystems has been gaining ground. Some time ago when you walked through some parts you could see the garbage that people left from their lunches, but you don't see it anymore. This is something that is earned.

 

In Liborina, there are environmental managers, professionals who work in CORANTIOQUIA in micro-plants, and they tell me that they are in the process of planting, they offer me trees, they invite me to nurseries. One day I was on the road and I found a young girl alone on the road, and I asked her where she was going, and I took her. And he told me that he was going to do some laps in the educational park because they were promoting scholarships to study. And he told me that he was going to study environmental management at SENA. So one who sees that more and more people are interested in protecting the environment. More and more people are aware of the value of nature, anyone who wants to put it.

Could it be that after what we have experienced with the pandemic we are more aware of protecting nature?

 

I think that what has happened has put us more in contact with the countryside, people went to live in the countryside, in the towns, and people realized that life is more cool there, more peaceful, the only thing they needed was internet and there I have it.

 

For you, what is a Habitat Bank?

 

It is an extension of land destined for restoration and regeneration so that native species of both animals and vegetation live and are restored. About.

What will happen 30 years from today in this Habitat Bank?

 

In the area where we are, it has some parts in good condition, especially the ravines that are well planted with trees. Then there are other areas in the pasture that have to be restored. What will happen in 30 years? although I think that before, I think that this is going to become a forest, with which we can live, that is to say that it has some paths along which you can go for a walk, that it has plant species, some timber that can be used in 50 or 100 years. But that is, a friendlier place to be. I tell you my way. I go to the farm and I enjoy it relatively, because I walk through the creek, but I go to slaughter cattle. I would like to go to the farm just to be. So I imagine it fresher, more populated with species. I dream of going with my son, that my sisters go with their children, that we walk around, which is what I think we are going to end up using that farm for. And I love it, that's my dream.

What would you say to landowners who are in the ambiguity of conserving or producing?

I think it's worth doing. I speak for the region of us. Maybe there are other regions where it can be more difficult. It seems to me that in our area it is the best thing that can be done, it is a good economic option, it seems to me that due to the state of conservation of the area it is also good. The neighbor asks me why I am going to do that, and I tell him: “you win doing this”. He has a silvopastoral system, which is more or less wild cattle, they have more or less lost that territory and that territory can be recovered and gives him more. That's what I tell you, those lands do not serve for intensive livestock and that is really profitable, if it does not serve for livestock or extensive agriculture it serves us for ecological functions. So let's use it for what it's worth.

 

A few days ago we were defining boundaries with my neighbor, and I told him: think about it, you have areas that are not going to be useful for livestock, allocate it for conservation and we can extend this Habitat Bank in the future. Among the options that exist, I think it is the best.

 

What impact would it have on the area if more and more people joined in strengthening this Habitat Bank or creating others?

The people of Liborina had great hopes with the Hidroituandgo reservoir because they imagined that it would be like Guatapé, that the reservoir is very extensive, so it becomes a very important tourist center. In Liborina such hope existed. I don't know why they let them feed that hope. It was known that this was not going to be the case, because the water fluctuates a lot, and Empresas Públicas de Medellín was not interested in that being the case.

 

But in this area it will be able to be otherwise. There finally if there are going to be two embarkation ports, if there is going to be some navigation in the future, it is not going to be the “Ski” tourism, and double-decker boats with vallenatos and rancheras at full throttle, that is not It will be like this but it will be another type of attraction, they will navigate the river and see nearby areas, there will be ecological tourism, so there can be synergy with that other economy that the town can have in the future, in 10, 15, 20 or more years.

 

They ask me how long it is, and I say this is 30 years and they tell me “Uy no! brother that's a lot”, and I say: “that's why we have to start now, that's why we have to start at once because that takes a long time, we have to think in the long term.”

Anything else you would like to share with us?

 

A personal detail. This land belongs to my sisters and mine, my older sister has not been there for many years, she must not remember when she went. My younger sister has never been there. They know that this is the road, but they have never been there. Terrasos insisted that we hold a meeting with them to make a presentation of what had been found in the first technical visits. What was the state of things and to me that seemed half silly. I complied with sending them the summons to the meeting. And if you saw how excited those girls hit each other. That is already a small miracle. This is anyway a project for the enjoyment of the earth. Nature has a more spiritual than monetary value and well, we are going to give it to this.