"Bring diversity back to agriculture. That's what made it work in the first place."
David R. Brower, environmentalist, 1912-2000
Fundación Cordillera Tropical constructs bridges between the demands of society to put its land to use, and the urgency to protect remaining wild habitats, and restore those that have been intervened.
A large glacial lake, surrounded by páramo grassland, in Sangay National Park.
The smoke comes from a fire lit by shepherds to renovate the grass for their sheep.
Our story began when Sangay National Park was expanded to encompass the mountainous region called the Nudo del Azuay. The original Sangay NP, established in 1979, covered about 250,000 hectares (617,500 acres) along the Cordillera Real in the eastern Andes, anchored on Sangay and Tungurahua volcanoes. But in 1992 the Ministry of the Environment added another 250,000 hectares of paramo and montane rain forest to the south of the original Sangay NP.
Travelers traverse a high crest of the eastern Andes. The clouds behind Iván and Wilbur carry moisture from the Amazon basin.
This expansion represented a marvelous conservation achievement, but also a momentous challenge, because about 30% of the expansion area (75,000 hectares/185,000 acres) was occupied or titled to agricultural communities and individuals. These holdings were often large; typically, the lower elevations had been intervened, while the upper slopes remained as undisturbed wild habitat. In the expansion decree, the Ministry of the Environment formally recognized the legal status of private holdings that pre-dated the park expansion, but the land use was now the prerogative of Sangay National Park.
This was a perfect formula for conflict because land owners in the new park area were in possession of ancestral lands, or those first colonized two or three generations prior to the park designation. Authorities met with owners in the villages on the new Sangay NP periphery to inform them that they could no longer convert the native vegetation to pastures or crops, nor collect plants, nor hunt, nor graze cattle on their páramo above tree line. These prohibitions were logical enough for a national park. But on the wild side of the agricultural frontier, just about everything landowners had always done to subsist was now forbidden. If they persisted in their old ways, their harvest would not be potatoes, but fines and jail time. These farmers, many indigenous, had long distrusted the outside world, so it was nothing new to be drawing the short straw.
The agricultural frontier. Can it be stabilized for the benefit of all?