Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lina Johnston - Organic Agriculture Facilitator, Pinar del Rio, Cuba

I arrived in Pinar del Rio just over 3 weeks ago, and it has been a truly eye-opening adjustment period! The first phase of our pilot project to develop organic farms devoted to producing medicinal and culinary herbs involves interviewing many farmers. Most of my time has been spent biking out of the city centre to sub-urban farms, meeting many extraordinary farmers, and observing their farming practices. Not only has it been great to explore the incredibly green and lush sub-urban areas of Cuba, but it has also been inspiring to witness the commitment to organic agriculture and community development among farmers here. Greater production of medicinal plants, or what Cubans call “green medicine,” is not only a commercial endeavour for these farmers, but also, and more importantly, a way to support community needs for medicine. 

In addition to this project, I will be working with a farmer to develop his property using Permaculture design principles to cultivate medicinal plants, and will be helping to design a local community garden in a nearby neighbourhood.  

Oxen-- animal traction (Los bueyes-- la tracción animal)

Worm Humus (Lombricultura

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cavan Gates – Biodiversity Restoration Facilitator in Costa Rica

Londres, Costa Rica, is a town of about 1000 people inland fifiteen kilometers from Quepos, a larger town on the coast.  The predominant tourist attraction of the area is Manuel Antonio Park which is a twenty minute/50 bus ride from Quepos.  The road there is lined with restaurants, hotels, hostels and houses, all very expensive for the area and relatively expensive in the Canadian context.  A double room in a hostel might cost $40 and a hotel room $80, a burger $5-10 and a beer $2-3.  This is somewhat more expensive than the rest of the region, but in Quepos a double room at a hostel might cost $20 and a burger more towards $5 than $10.  This is all supported by a well developed tourist industry which means that most shop keepers speak some English, take US Dollars and that there are many North Americans and Europeans walking around town.  Food is diverse with restaurants ranging from “Comida Típica” to Mexican or Sushi restaurants. 

Londres, on the other hand, does not see many tourists and does not have the same tourist infrastructure.  For one thing, while it is only fifteen kilometers from Quepos, the road is unpaved and it takes about forty-five minutes to get there by car or bus.  The two main tourist attractions are horse back tours and rafting down the Rio Naranjo back down to Quepos.  Even with these, tourists do not normally explore the town or stay in town.  As a result, less people speak English, food is a little cheaper and there are less of the negative consequences of tourism.  A lot of people in town either work in Quepos or on the palm oil plantations that are endemic in the province.  There is an elementary school and a high school, although the elementary school has many more students and some high schoolers are bused to a different school.  Overall, the area is pretty laid back and the people are friendly.

My work so far has been mainly computer work, updating the website, translating and editing, but there is some field work with mapping an Analog Forestry plot and setting up a tree nursery.  Learning about Analog Forestry is great because it fits in so well with permaculture and organic agriculture.  The gist of it is to restore forests to the same form and ecological function as native climax forests while allowing some changes in species composition.  This allows more mainstream anthropocentric plants to be grown in an ecologically functional system.  Of course, staple carbohydrates like rice or wheat still require an open canopy system, but that can be incorporated into the AF or permaculture design of the farm.  Overall, it is a great system for restoring areas that strikes a balance between human and natural requirements.

El Rio Naranjo is the main river that runs through the town 
down to Quepos.  
One of Milo's Analog Forestry plots planted 18 months ago