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“Habitat Banks are economically profitable”

Interview: Gladys Tamayo. July, 2021


Gladys Tamayo is part of a family that for more than a century has been dedicated to cattle ranching in the eastern plains of Colombia, but along with these productive activities, they have been convinced of the conservation of ecosystems and the importance of preserving them for the enjoyment of his family and the entire municipality of San Martín, Meta.She and her family were pioneers in linking properties to Habitat Banks projects in Colombiaand in this interview he tells us his reasons for betting on this project. 

Why did you decide to conserve the biodiversity in the Matarredonda properties?


It's simple, because we are conservation. In my family, my ancestors are conservation. Because I grew up telling my grandfather “we have to take care of the forest”. I heard him when he said “don't touch that spring of water because the water is jealous and if you touch it it goes away and grabs it from another side”. Which we did with my son, Cesar. Once we took water from there, we put a tube in it and “plup”, it was lost. So, we were born into conservation. Fauna has always been cared for, there was never another perspective.

What has the Habitat Bank brought to La Reserva?


A lot of things. I could say that, perhaps, it is the best thing that has happened to us in the last 15 years. A few years ago we were able to return to the farms because we had abandoned everything. We rebuilt, we started again, to see how everything was. With my son we once went on an outing, with the Institute of Culture and Tourism of Meta. We went and stayed, and they scolded us, we didn't say that we were going to stay, because the guerrillas were everywhere, but I think we had never been so happy. On that occasion we planted grass, we made a loan, and Cesar was already in charge of that.


And why were they so happy that day?


(Silence and tears) Go back, ride a horse and feel that one is completely free. That the world is beautiful and belongs to one, and that one can appreciate it and everything is marvelous and splendor. That doesn't compare to anything. With nothing! That fills one and one has one for life.


In those days I met the people of the Civil Society Reserve Network and I identified myself. We thought the same, we felt the same, so it was fantastic. We became members of the network and held a national meeting, together with the WWF, with the Instituto Campesino del Valle, with the Javeriana University, with other environmentalists. At that moment, the peasants who had their small reservations came from the lake, and we were able to show them what the plain was.


We also had meetings with the little children who were called the heirs of the planet, which was very nice, and they did different activities. At that time there was also a tax discount law for conservationists.


From the 1980s to here and all that war that took place in the plains, everything changed and the land stopped being productive and suddenly 10 years ago the Bank of Habitat and Terrasos appeared, and we realized that the forest can be valuable, if there is someone who appreciates the forest, and suddenly Terrasos has been worth it.


My son began working with Mariana (CEO of Terrasos) to collect very valuable information in a very intense and exploratory job, and we decided to sign him up for this project and today, 4 years later, we have the results. We are very happy. Not only because we continue to conserve or because we already have an economic input, but because of all the internal changes that it has generated, a dynamic in people, an understanding of native plants. The boys who work there knew some names, but already knowing them, going to collect the seeds, participating in that collection and seeing the little plants as they grow and seeing the process of putting them in the ground, has been a wonderful process. Seeing another activity and possibility on our farm outside of livestock has generated dynamism for everyone.


What can be the impacts of the Habitat Bank beyond the farm?


If there can be an impact beyond. For the municipality it is important to know that it has the first Habitat Bank. Second is a lesson that, if it can be conserved, and third that economically there is a possibility. This is something that will last, that is not done to comply with a norm, here is a reason for conservation. The fact of being certain of the fauna that exists is very important. Forest corridors can continue to be built, interconnections that allow a greater opportunity for all these species that are in extinction. We have a neighboring farm, and we believe that there is a magnificent opportunity for the Habitat Bank to grow.

How do you imagine the Bank and Habitat 30 years from now?


I believe that in the coming years we have a very important task and that is to tell what we are doing, what is happening here. On the other hand, if we have even the slightest awareness of what is happening on this planet, it has to continue to grow. For example, my grandchildren are living inside the Habitat Bank, they are watching the little plants grow, and they have to go sow, they have to go collect the seeds, they have to make this space grow. I want my grandchildren to be able to see all that fauna and that wonder that is generated there and how it is increasing.

How can we do so that all the children who live near this Habitat Bank can live the same?


We had visits from schools to see the reserve, but as I told you, we need to strengthen the commitment of the teachers so that they transmit to the children the importance of conservation processes like this one. We need both teachers and students to become aware of the implications that preserving fauna and flora has for our lives. I know that reaching people and youth is not easy because I have been a teacher. And it is important that we all think about our environmental origins and approach the countryside so that we can value it. With the local authorities we also need to work on that aspect, I can collaborate, designing a subject, I don't know, but this is everyone's job.


That is my next question… How can local authorities promote environmental conservation processes?


Very important, promoting the infrastructure, they have to fix the roads so that people can pay a visit. If you don't have a good jacket, it's difficult. We need to show the authorities how the process has been, we need them to know that these processes have an impact in the region so that they commit. We need you to know that San Martín is the first municipality in Colombia to have a Habitat Bank.

Why should a property owner in strategic ecosystems be linked to a Habitat Bank project?


Look, because economically it is profitable. of one Livestock farming at this time, I cannot say that it is not profitable, but it is very unprofitable. It is a lot of effort, taxes and inputs are very expensive, and in general it is very difficult. The big herds are gone. Everything has changed. They should definitely be linked because there is an economic contribution, there is an economic valuation of what has been done for many years to conserve. Yes, it is worth it!

And on the other hand, why should a company with compensation obligations do so through this mechanism?


That is very clear and from experience I tell you. We have another farm in Puerto Gaitán and do you know how they made compensation? "Here we bring you some little trees so that you can plant them", How so? Where do we plant them? What care should we take? What are they for? When do you have to plate them? When do you have to fertilize them? Any. That was lost. And so there were 53 farms. Look at the magnitude of the compensation and the effort and it was lost.


The gentlemen of OCENSA, who have made their compensations in the Habitat Bank of Meta, know that their compensations are there, and that we have a commitment so that these compensations last for 30 years. My grandchildren are aware that this land is for conservation. There is an insurance for the money that is being invested.


What has surprised you the most within the Habitat Bank?


The nursery! I remember the day they went to collect the seeds. I said no, I'm going to go over there to sunbathe, bend over, no... But when you see the different kinds of plants, of trees, and how they start to grow, for me that was the most wonderful thing. And I saw that, if there are possibilities that it can grow, that nature responds, that it is eager to bear fruit, that it only needs us to believe in it and give it our love.


How does it feel to be the pioneer of a process that is gaining so much strength in Colombia?


That effort and perseverance pay off and when you join forces you can do very important things. How nice to be invited to a Habitat Bank and tell what my experience has been. I think we can hold owners' meetings, share experiences, promote the effort that we are all making.