Árbol co(n)razón is a Swiss non-profit Association which is running and supporting a forest restoration project in the south of Ecuador, in collaboration with the local organisation Asociación Finca Sagrada.
Their work is focused on the “Sacred Mountain”, an area with 2,5 square kilometers located in the central mountain range of the Andes. Originally covered with tropical dry forest, the region has been extensively deforested and the steep mountain slopes are now heavily eroded and degraded. This type of tropical forest is one of the many different types of ecosystems that can be found in Ecuador, which is considered a megadiverse country. From the famous Galapagos Islands to extensive coastal mangrove systems, tropical dry and humid forests, or the Chocó rainforest in the flanks of the Andes, the wide variety of climate zones and bio-geographic conditions sustain an extraordinary level of terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
Given this background, Árbol co(n)razón uses opportunities to educate and sensitize people for the value and meaning of tropical forests for global biodiversity and climate and, ultimately, human well-being. Additionally, they aim to be involved in Rainforest Conservation and the promotion of Agro-ecology, especially tropical agroforestry.
- In the Sacred Mountain property, restore the natural tropical dry forest that originally covered the landscape of the region, for long-term preservation.
- Create a broader Nature Reserve where the threatened biodiversity of the area can recover and thrive.
- By restoring the forest, capture large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently store it within the soil and ecosystem.
- Create long-term income opportunities for local people.
Sacred Mountain is in a semi-arid area with a 6-months intensive dry season, followed by strong rainy seasons when plant growth can increase dramatically. Natural regeneration is hampered by the regular fires that are set by local farmers to renew their pastures, usually running out of control and affecting larger areas. In addition, the terrain is extremely steep, increasing water and soil runoff during the rainy season.
To handle this difficult situation, Árbol co(n)razón follows a 3-step approach that relies on several Permaculture methods to foster natural regeneration conditions:
- Rainwater Harvesting: by digging shallow trenches along the contour of the slope (known as swales in permaculture), they reduce rainwater runoff and increase slow, passive irrigation. This helps avoiding further soil erosion, re-hydrates the soil and maintains nutrients on the mountain;
- Plant Cuttings: new plants have to compete with aggressive grass species that take over deforested areas. As such, the first plantings are actually cuttings from different native species that will act as “parent trees”. 1,5 m long branches are cut and placed in the soil, where they quickly develop roots and out-compete the grasses, while also fertilizing and nurturing the soil with nitrogen (N-fixation) and organic matter (“automatic” mulching), casting shade and creating favourable conditions for young seedlings.
- Plant Seedlings: in this stage, seedlings of various native and local woody plants (trees and bushes) are planted in this improved environment, creating the basis for a new diverse, natural forest.
The work is done by a field team of four young local men and women and one coordinator, who is also local and deeply rooted in the local society and culture. The Swiss members work on a non-remunerated basis. All the work in Ecuador is done by young local men and women who earn a fair salary (including social security) that helps to sustain their families or save money for further education. Thus, the project has a positive impact on the local community of the small village of Tumianuma, securing broader local acceptance and support.
The project started with a pilot phase between 2021-23, during which close to 19’000 (mostly parent) trees were planted and 840 m of swales were established. These measures to halt soil erosion and improve water retention, led to an 80% survival rates of the new plants in the first year.
The project is now entering Phase II. Adding to the core forest restoration work, the team is working with local communities and authorities to have a broader conservation area declared, with urgent measures to conserve the critically threatened Viscacha species living on the mountain. In addition, an environmental education program is being established in collaboration with the local school, while the sustainable development of the community is being supported through community gardens, an eco-tourism program, and other sustainable businesses.