“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 nearby property more than 40 or 50 years ago and that's what it is.
What were these properties used for?
That has been a cattle farm for a long time, there were corn crops and other things. It seems to me very risky to say that climate change has changed the rain cycles, I don't know why, but corn crops in that region have been disappearing. There aren't many peasants who grow corn anymore, so they have dedicated themselves to cattle raising, and well, my father had a small cattle 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 is not good for the ecosystems. The pastures erode the land and then we begin to think, what do we do with this? Do we keep it that way? 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 put a hand to this 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 cattle this year and start the process of regeneration and conservation.
What were the options that were 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 guys who need to feed ourselves and the land is what produces the food. Contrary to what some people think that it is very ecological for everyone 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 in a little while. So we need to put the land to produce food, but efficiently and intensively. But that is no longer business. Before, I could sell meat to the butchers of the town and that was what supported me. Now it is not possible, all the slaughterhouses have closed it. Cattle can now only be slaughtered in large slaughterhouses. It is a message for the small peasants, 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 can't sell raw milk, that's 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 yet where we are.
Another option was to produce oxygen, conserve biodiversity, and in that respect we did meet the requirements, and in this regard the dry forest is scarce, very valuable, it is very fragile, and this dry forest has a comparative advantage and it is that it borders the area of protection of the Hidroituango reservoir, and because my property is small, but more than that of the neighbor and more so the protection zone of Hidroituango, it makes an interesting volume of land to regenerate the fauna, flora and then the land acquires a very important value in that sense, and later on it will have a spiritual, contemplative value, which 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 more and more people are understanding that. It is very valuable to be in the middle of nature and appreciate 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 who is very close to nature, but there are more and more people interested in that enjoyment, in walking there, in touring, in being more aware of the respect for those things.
For the peasants, wildlife was their enemy all their lives, the opossums were their enemies because they ate chickens and snakes too. The dogs were friends because they hunt rabbits and served them as meat. The 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 went through some parts, you would see the garbage that people left behind from their lunches, but you don't see it anymore. This is something that is being 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 going down the road and I met a young girl alone on the road, and I asked her where she is 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, whatever they want to put on 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 in more contact with the countryside, people went to live in the countryside, in the towns, and people realized that life is cooler there, calmer, all they needed was internet and there i have it.
What is a Habitat Bank for you?
It is an extension of land destined for restoration and regeneration so that native species of both animals and vegetation can live and be restored. About.
What will happen from today to 30 years in this Habitat Bank?
In the area where we are, some parts are in good condition, especially the ravines that are well wooded. Then there are other areas in the paddock 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 where you can go for a walk, that it has plant species, some timber that can be used in 50 or 100 years. But it is to say, 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 ravine, but I go to slaughter cattle. I would like to go to the farm simply to be there. 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 the landowners who are in that 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 to do, 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 by doing this." He has a silvopastoral system, which is a more or less wild cattle, they have more or less lost that and that territory can be recovered and gives him more. That's what I tell you, those lands are not suitable for intensive livestock farming and that it is really profitable, if it is not used for livestock farming or extensive agriculture it is useful for ecological functions. So let's use it for what it's for.
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 work for cattle, allocate it for conservation and we can extend this Habitat Bank in the future. Within the options that exist, I think it is the best.
What impact would it have in the area if more and more people joined in strengthening this Habitat Bank or creating others?
The people of Liborina had a lot of hope with the Hidroituandgo reservoir because they imagined that it was going to be like Guatapé, that the reservoir is very extensive so it becomes a very important tourist center. In Liborína there was that hope. 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 possible to be otherwise. There, finally, if there are going to be two ports of embarkation, if there is going to be some kind of navigation in the future, it will not be “Ski” tourism, and of 2-story 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 surrounding areas, there will be ecological tourism, so there can be synergy with that other economy that the town may have in the future, in 10, 15, 20 or more years.
They ask me how long this is, and I say this is 30 years and they say “Oh no! brother, that's a lot”, and I say: “that's why you have to start now, that's why you have to start at once because that takes a long time, you 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 little sister has never been there. They know that the road is there, but they have never gone. Terrasos insisted that we hold a meeting with them to present what had been found in the first technical visits. What was the state of affairs and to me that seemed kind of silly. I complied with sending them the summons to the meeting. And if you saw how excited those girls were. That is already a small miracle. This in any case is a project for the enjoyment of the land. Nature has a more spiritual than monetary value and well, let's give it to this.