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Saturday, October 24, 2009

TOI ,Crest ( 24/10/09) -A unique green experiment.

In Colombia, a green experiment with civilization by SIMON ROMERO

In the 1960s, an aristocratic Colombian development specialist named Paolo Lugari took a road trip across the nearly uninhabited eastern plains of Las Gaviotas, a region so remote and poor in soil quality that not even Colombia’s historic upheavals of violence had taken root here at the time.
Stopping to rest in this vast expanse, written off by agronomists as the equivalent of a tropical desert, Lugari decided it was the perfect place to experiment with the future of civilization. He founded a village unlike any other in this war-weary country.
“The only deserts that exist in this world are deserts of the imagination,” said Lugari, 64, on a visit this month to the community he named after the river gulls, or gaviotas, he saw flying overhead on that trip more than 40 years ago.
These days, visitors travel by propeller plane over the bleak savanna to get here, or by bus past the occasional guerrilla or paramilitary checkpoint. The visitors rarely come. But when they do, they get a glimpse into a fourdecade experiment to alter civilization’s dependence on finite fossil fuels and industrial agriculture. Its 200 residents have no guns, no police force, no cars, no mayor, no church, no priest, no cellphones, no television, no Internet. No one who lives in Gaviotas has a job title. But Gaviotas does have an array of innovations intended to make human life feasible in one of the most challenging ecosystems, from small inventions like a solar kettle for sterilizing water to large ones like a 19,800-acre reforestation project whose tropical pines produce resin for biofuel and a canopy under which native plant species flourish.
Las Gaviotas, Lugari explained, began with one idea: Instead of choosing an easy, fertile place to test energy selfsufficiency and creativity in agriculture, why not choose one of the hardest? The concept, devised before the 1970s oil crisis and well before this decade’s fears of depleting oil supplies, guided the community’s evolution.
Like an oasis amid this madness, Gaviotas drew peasants from the llanos, or plains, who moved here to earn about $500 a month, about double the wage for rural workers elsewhere in Colombia. Some once nomadic Guahibo Indians joined them. Scientists, while largely avoiding Las Gaviotas now because of the surrounding violence, helped design the village’s cluster of homes, laboratories and factories, which still lie 16 hours by jeep from Bogotá, the capital.
“We try to lead a quiet life, depending on nothing but our own labour and ingenuity,” said Teresa Valencia, 48, a teacher who moved here three decades ago.
She said residents had to deal with guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, and gunmen loyal to a paramilitary warlord, Pedro Oliverio Guerrero, who reigns over the llanos with the nom de guerre Cuchillo (Knife).
Visitors who arrive at dawn on a Cessna plane leave before dusk for fear of kidnappings. They see inventions like a water pump powered by a children’s seesaw, a solar kitchen and the forest of tropical pine trees that stands in contrast to the otherwise barren plains.
More than two decades after the pines were planted, with the help of a mycorrhiza fungus introduced to help digest the poor soils, jacaranda, ferns and laurels have flourished under their cover in what some agronomists call one of the developing world’s most astonishing reforestation projects.
“A place like Gaviotas bears witness to our ability to get it right, even under seemingly insurmountable circumstances,” the American journalist Alan Weisman wrote in a 1998 book about Gaviotas.
One Gaviotera, as those born in this village are known, explained her theory. “We have survived,” said the resident, Andrea Beltrán, 25. “Maybe, at this time and place in Colombia,” she continued, “that is enough.” NYT NEWS SERVICE Aunique gree

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