A Visit to La Pedregoza, Colombia
Athina Koutouleas is a sustainable agriculturalist from Australia. Starting in May 2014, she and her partner embarked on a bike tour across Latin America, visiting sustainable agriculture and analog forestry sites across the continent. Reports from her journey will appear on IAFN’s site periodically.
As we fly over the great Orinoco River, we begin to sense that something special is happening in this unique and seemingly isolated part of Colombia. It is the rainy season and we are on our way to visit Reserva Natural La Pedregoza, a reforestation project run by Canadian Dexter and Kochurani Dombro, a lawyer and dentist, respectively, who have turned their skills to conservation.
We are told that during this time of year the roads can often be flooded by the heavy rains that fill the Orinoco and Río Bita, so the sense of adventure is heightened as we speedily bump our way down the 67 kilometres of gravel road to get to the property. We get twilight glimpses of the surrounding vastness, but arrive in the black of the night. The next morning we are awoken by the sounds of migrating birds and step out to witness a spectacular view of the farmland. The property is reminiscent of outback Australia with its deep hues of red earth and pale blue skies.
We spend the days visiting sections of the huge 2800-hectare site, sometimes by foot, other times by car and yet others by my favourite mode: canoe! There is a wide variety of plantation sites, which include production of eucalyptus and acacia, which are grown alongside African honeybees. Other products include flor de jamaica (hibiscus), marañon (cashew), tamarind, mandarin, lemon, oranges, guava, neem, moringa, melina, and jatropha (used as a biofuel). Along with this commercial plantation, Dexter and Kochurani are dedicated to saving important native species which are becoming more and more scarce each year due to the loss of local knowledge about seed collecting.
The focus on conservation, reforestation and productivity is not only present but well organised. The organisation offers a “CO2 Tropical Trees” program which plants native and tropical trees for the purposes of carbon sequestration. Thus, environmentally conscious companies and individuals looking offset their emissions back home can contribute to the cause by investing in wood plantations. They also conduct an annual river turtle rescue program including an egg hatchery and juvenile turtle release area.
After spending a few days on-site, we dig some token holes for some seedlings – drops in the ocean, as over 1 million trees have been planted since 2006. Staring into the clear night sky as the nocturnal inhabitants come to life, you really begin to understand the magnitude, importance and impact that La Pedregoza has on the local and greater community.