If they can do it in Colombia, why can’t we do it here?
Working with the land, rather than against it, Paol Lugari was able to help the village of Gaviotas become a sustainable, self-sufficient, and financially successful model for other eco-villages, all while repairing the land and doing their part to heal the Earth. It’s an inspiring story.
From the National Post:
Colombia is a country dominated by gun violence, drug trafficking, kidnapping, illness and poverty. But in the midst of all this, there is one small village that remains healthy and prosperous.
Here, visitors will find windmills instead of machetes, fields of trees instead of cocaine and clean drinking water instead of widespread intestinal disease.
Gaviotas, situated about 240 kilometres from the capital city of Bogotá and accessible only by prop plane – or, if you’ve got a sturdy stomach and about three days to spare during the dry season, by Jeep – is a model of sustainability and peace, a functioning utopia that exists in spite of, and to some degree because of, the surrounding strife.
Perhaps utopia is the wrong word, though. As Paolo Lugari, who founded the village in the late 1960s, said: “Utopia literally means ‘no place,’ it’s just an idea; but Gaviotas is real. We’ve gone from fantasy to reality.”
That fantasy began some 40 years ago when a group of local engineers, academics and scientists traveled to Colombia’s eastern Llanos region in an attempt to transform an empty and remote plot of land with no arable soil into a self-sustainable and productive community.
The experiment was so successful that it continues to this day. Amongst the features of Gaviotas: a children’s seesaw that doubles as water pump, which can tap aquifers six-times as deep as conventional pumps using far less effort; homemade wind turbines and solar panels, which are particularly suited to the Colombian climate and crafted from cheap building materials; and locally brewed biodiesel, which fuels the handful of vehicles that aren’t bicycles.
As well, the people of Gaviotas have planted 80 sq. kms of trees to regenerate the rainforest – a feat that was, at first, considered impossible by experts at the prominent Yale University School of Forestry on account of the high acidity of the soil, which used to have a pH of 4.
The solution lay in Caribbean pine trees, which have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungus that helps to keep them alive in acidic conditions. Once these trees took hold, greater shade was produced, more rain came down, and there was a reduction in the ultraviolet rays penetrating the earth.
In the end, these factors combined to create fertile soil with a pH of around 6.8, which means a range of agricultural foods can now be grown there, such as coffee. On top of this, the trees produce resin, which can be tapped and exported for various industrial and cosmetic uses.
But perhaps one of the most impressive feats Gaviotas has accomplished is the solar-powered hospital that was in operation through the 1980s and early ’90s.