A couple of months ago I was on a working assignment for The Nature Fund for Costa Rica, along with the Fund’s board of directors. We were visiting on-site projects and programs developed by one of our partners, Corcovado Foundation. While visiting many of their sites we were left in awe by the scope of their conservation programs, especially by reforestation efforts they were undertaking. However, I was still more surprised by the level of commitment they displayed toward local communities in the Osa peninsula.
Francisco Delgado, the Foundation’s Project Director and a very dedicated and energetic person with a strong passion for conservation, was telling us about the struggles faced by the most socially vulnerable sectors of Osa’s communities. Francisco explained to us that the area is so remote, that many of the basic services provided by Osa’s municipality do not reach these communities. This, along with the fact that the mainly tourism-based economy was heavily impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic, has put lots of pressure on these rural communities. Despite these difficulties, Costa Rica’s economy has rapidly recovered, surpassing most people’s expectations. This recovery however, has affected these small communities at a slower rate than in more developed areas of the country.
In the face of all this, the Corcovado Foundation has dedicated itself to supporting the local communities. The way they see it, without the involvement of healthy communities, you can’t develop successful conservation or preservation initiatives. And we agree! Because time and time again, when talking to members of rural communities, we have seen a clear pattern. In most cases, it’s desperation and lack of access to environmental education that leads people to abuse the available biological resources in their proximity. This is why illegal logging and poaching are still a threat to conservation efforts throughout the world, and a solution can’t be feasible unless it addresses the basic needs of rural communities.
Most of the old-school mountain guides I know from Costa Rica, used to be poachers. I like to ask them about the reasons behind their past activities, and they answer honestly, without trying to conceal the fact that they did something they no longer agree with. To my surprise, I’ve found that many of them poached mainly because they love nature and enjoy spending time outdoors. That, and the fact that they benefited greatly from the poached animals’ meat. But when presented with access to environmental education and an opportunity to make responsible use of the same resources, most of them eventually opted for abandoning their poaching practices. That is the role conservation plays in rural communities, it presents an alternative way to make sustainable use of natural resources and a way to cultivate people’s love for nature. In the case of these guides, it allowed them to find steady employment through tourism, while still enjoying the beauty of their natural surroundings.
While doing some reading about the role and involvement of communities in environmental projects, I came across an environmental NGO that focuses primarily on community driven conservation initiatives. The story of Community Conservation Inc illustrates just how impactful community engagement and involvement can be in terms of conservation. Dr. Rob Horwich started out as a scientist studying howler monkeys in the jungles of Belize. While conducting his research, he realized that without the active involvement of the neighboring communities it would be very difficult to protect the howlers’ habitat and ensure their survival. After some engagement efforts, the 7 neighboring communities agreed to change their approach to land management and together they created what today is known as the Community Baboon Sanctuary (howler monkeys are referred to as baboons in this area).
This type of community engagement focuses on finding common ground between conservation initiatives and rural communities’ needs for land management and economic development. In the case of the Community Baboon Sanctuary, the rural communities benefited from the activation of ecotourism in their area, while the private lands the howler monkeys live in are now protected for the foreseeable future. According to their website, the Community Conservation model has then been replicated throughout more than 200 villages in 14 different countries, protecting over 1.24 million acres. All this impact has been powered by local communities!
When visiting Osa’s rural communities with Corcovado Foundation’s team members, it was clear to us that their consideration of community involvement was sound and responsible. They explained that merely focusing on animals and trees does not guarantee their protection. They paid close attention to the people of the area, and that focus seems to be paying off. While conducting a reforestation campaign with them, we noticed that most of the volunteer participants were young members from local communities. We also visited local farms whose managers are trying to implement more sustainable practices and share their knowledge with others. But there is a long road ahead and many obstacles to overcome.
With this in mind, we decided to undertake a Community Holiday Fundraising Campaign for Osa’s small villages. During this time of the year we want to focus our fundraising efforts on community initiatives that support the most vulnerable members of Osa’s communities. Senior adults are integral to a community’s identity and to the inheritance of knowledge of the land, its flora and fauna, and the way change has affected their environment throughout the years. Yet it is this population group which is most at risk when crises, like the Covid-19 global pandemic, affect these remote communities. We and our partners want to ensure that Osa’s senior adults receive the necessary support from their community, so we are developing a fundraising campaign to provide senior citizens in need with food and medical supplies for a month.
Under this same Community Holiday Sponsorship we hope to support Osa’s youth through providing financial aid to families in need whose children are attending Osa’s public schools. Many of these children are receiving environmental education workshops with Corcovado Foundation and are making progress towards becoming the future’s environmental leaders. However, many of their families currently live under socially vulnerable conditions and have difficulty acquiring the financial resources to purchase books, uniforms and other classroom supplies. Without access to education, there is little hope for sustainable and environmentally friendly development in these communities.
Another area in which we are collaborating with our partners and local communities, is in setting up regenerative agriculture training workshops with local farm owners and managers. Anyone who has visited Osa knows that most of the landscape is either covered in jungle or gives way to green pasture for cattle ranching. In cases where environmentally conscious farmers apply knowledge derived from regenerative agricultural practices, both the farmers and the natural environment benefit. This mutual understanding between farmers and their surrounding environment is crucial to successful conservation initiatives. Another area we are campaigning for these holidays is training and providing supplies to as many local farms as possible, so that they can learn more about regenerative agriculture and apply their knowledge in practice.
Finally, we can’t think of the holiday spirit without taking inspiration and hope into account. Many times when thinking about our projects and their impact, we forget about the power of hope and inspiration. Most of Osa’s youth have little opportunity to come together and celebrate in this holiday spirit. The holidays are times when financial pressures affect socially and economically vulnerable communities the hardest. We want to remind these young children that there is hope in unity and togetherness, and that a community with such proximity to nature has many reasons to celebrate. That is why we chose to sponsor community holiday celebrations through our fundraising efforts. Corcovado Foundation has been supporting these celebrations throughout Osa’s most economically challenged communities as a way of keeping morale up, while other development projects take place.
If you feel a special connection with any of these initiatives, please feel welcome to support them through our Community Holiday Sponsorship platform. We will be happy to ensure that your support is a means of inspiration for these beautiful communities.