I hadn’t been to Colombia alone before since 2001. My first time there was in the late 90’s, and that trip was pretty much a blind leap into adventure and the unknown—this time was certainly going to be different. I now know the country and what to expect, so I did what I always do when I go there: I drank my body weight in lulo juice. Lulo is a unique fruit found only in the northern Andes. It’s green through and through. Even a tiny glass of the stuff is loaded with impact beyond anything you’d expect: a tart flavor, bubbling over with antioxidants, and smile-inducing. In fact, lulo juice reminds me a lot of EcoLogic.
It was precisely for this lulo juice, I mean, love of EcoLogic’s work that I made my pilgrimage back to Colombia. I was attending a conference on capacity building in conservation. I wanted to learn about new ways that project evaluation can be streamlined and communication improved between project teams and communities. This conference was a chance to think long-term and get ahead of the curve. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference itself (conferences can be hit or miss), but I knew I’d be able to gain inspiration from other attendees, not to mention the gorgeous colonial town of Villa de Leyva, Colombia, which lies about four hours from Bogotá.
Once I settled into my hostel (called Renacer, or “Rebirth” in English, and operated by Oscar, a biologist and birding guide), I trekked each day to and from the conference site on a dirt path. I passed smiling families, kids playing outside, and the ubiquitous Colombian military outpost blasting cheerful vallenato music from portable radios before their morning drills.
The conference presented a nice mix of leadership tips and management advice along with presentations about technical experiences in the field, and it delved into cases related to landscape-level conservation, and protected areas management. The “productive landscape” approach is very much in line with EcoLogic’s; this bolstered my confidence that we’re on the right path. It gave me plenty to chew on (like bad-boy chef and novelist Anthony Bourdain said about his recent trip to Colombia) in terms of how we might tweak our projects, better coordinate with our talented international staff and partners, and continue to elevate the role of rural communities in leading collaborative conservation and restoration efforts.
EcoLogic has an awesome opportunity to parlay its years of experience and relationships in Mesoamerica into a landscape-level approach to forest and resource conservation. Our focus on treating the whole landscape is vital for countering threats and capitalizing on the energy and grassroots leadership we have helped build at the community level over the past 20 years.
Landscape-level conservation is about protecting and restoring natural systems across various types of land use including in and around protected areas. EcoLogic’s strategy is to promote sustainable landscape management by focusing on three inter-related areas: (1) Improving rural community well-being, (2) Conserving and managing at-risk areas, and (3) Facilitating coalitions at the landscape level. These focus areas ensure we keep an eye on people and nature and make decisions based on data driven analysis and results—good and bad.
At the end of the last morning in Colombia, I felt supremely confident that EcoLogic is a model of what could be if more organizations listened closely to and valued the opinions, knowledge, and vision(s) of local people. We don’t swoop in and jump out on our own terms—our long haul approach provides stability and certainty, a kind of scaffolding for building a future that simply takes time to “set.” I see greater value than ever in EcoLogic’s work and holistic approach, recognizing that most conservation challenges are, in fact, human issues and can only be solved by committed leadership and those willing to go out on a limb, take risks, and lean into the unknown to obtain the fruits of their labor. No matter what we do—and no matter how important it is—it will always begin with people, families, and communities. Sometimes, it comes down to a white board, papier mache, and a tin roofed community center, bringing people together to take the first steps toward making sustainable change and conserving invaluable landscapes for generations to come.
Just don’t forget the lulo!
– David Kramer, Senior Program Officer for EcoLogic
David researches and authors EcoLogic’s proposals and reports to institutional funders. He also helps coordinate staff and partners in EcoLogic’s participatory project design and evaluation.