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April 2006
Fragmento: Preserving Biodiversity in Colombia
The Satya Interview with Saúl Ernesto Hoyos Gómez

 

fragmento
Fragmento team members at work in the rainforest.
Photo by Saúl Hoyos Gómez

In 2001, a small group of young and passionate friends in Colombia banded together to create a nonprofit organization, Fragmento, aimed at preserving their country’s environmental bounty. Fragmento was born from the hearts, minds and early childhood experiences of this group of friends who shared individual and collective preoccupations with their social and natural environment. By way of casual group gatherings at home, in schools and at university, the need to create viable and practical solutions to social and environmental problems became the building blocks of the organization. The group, from its humble beginnings, saw the urgency in promoting the conservation of cultural and environmental resources in Colombia and the world.

Fragmento is a multidisciplinary organization composed of working professionals involved in a diversity of disciplines, such as medicine, biology, agronomy, zoology, ecology, geography, design and publishing. They seek to propose and promote alternative development and environmental practices with attainable goals in mind.

Satya Consulting Editor Stephanie Miller interviewed Saúl Ernesto Hoyos Gómez, one of the group’s founding members, in between his trips into the Chocoan tropical rainforest in northwest Colombia, where he is cataloging the native plants of the region.

How was Fragmento created and what is its mission?
The main goal of Fragmento is to create a natural preserve in the Choco-Darien biogeographical region of the Colombian Pacific coast, one of the most biodiverse and vulnerable regions in the world. We are a group of young professionals with a need to react positively to ameliorate the environmental and cultural deterioration of the invaluable regions of Colombia.

Our motto is simple: to investigate and understand, to interact with the communities and the environment, and to postulate and carry out practical solutions to specific environmental and social threats in regions such as Choco-Darien.

How did you become involved with Fragmento? What specifically is your role with the group?
I’ve known all of the members of Fragmento since childhood; I got involved with them from its foundation ten years ago. My participation is in the realm of botany. I am currently working on a botanical inventory of plants in the Natural Reserve Parque Agua Viva, located in the Chocoan tropical forest in northwest Colombia.

What projects are Fragmento currently working on?
We are currently working on a botanical inventory in Parque Agua Viva Natural Reserve, an investigative project supplemented by the work of agronomist-entomologist Federico Alvarez (a founding member of Fragmento), who is currently performing identification and inventories of butterflies, as well. In the near future, we will begin to identify and inventory reptiles, amphibians and mammals of this natural reserve. In addition, we have been actively working with the communities of Sapzurro, Choco, to create a festival of cultural music and traditions.

What poses the greatest threat to Colombia’s natural environment?
As in many mega-diverse regions of the world, uncontrolled and unregulated development, and natural resource exploitation are the main sources of environmental devastation. Lax environmental regulations for miners, loggers and other enterprises that benefit from resource extraction are also a primary threat.

Primary forests are clear-cut to make way for subsistence crops and for cattle farms, with the caveat that tropical rainforest soils are acidic and relatively unsuitable for primary and secondary agriculture. In search of an immediate amelioration of socio-economic conditions for the communities within and around these regions, a vast and unexplored natural resource base is being threatened by development. There have been proposals to build the Pan-American Highway, for example, connecting Central and South America, by way of Panama and the Choco-Darien tropical forest. Fortunately, development projects such as this one have stalled. However, it is not uncommon to have Colombian senators bring up such proposals time and again.

A newer threat has been clear-cutting to make way for poppy and coca plantations. The isolation of many of Colombia’s tropical jungles makes them safe havens for coca producers and peasants, who need to make a living to secure a decent quality of life for them and their families.

Aspersion of chemicals used in the fumigation of illicit crops is a new threat to these vast ecosystems, contributing to the pollution of water sources and to the environmental decay of areas under and around sites where aerial spraying goes on. New trends show that as plots of illicit crops are fumigated, rendering them unusable, peasant families that rely on this source of income move further into the tropical forest and clear-cut more plots. These later become sources of more illicit plantations, which will then be fumigated, creating a vicious cycle of environmental destruction.

The value of these tropical forests lies within, and only by investigating and conserving their untapped potential can we devise ways to exploit them without altering the natural balance of such ecosystems while benefiting communities and the environment in the process.

What do you want people from outside of Colombia to know about the country and its natural resources?
We would like people to see another side of Colombia. It is an incredibly diverse country, both culturally and naturally. We are lucky in Colombia because the geography and geologic history of the country allows us to enjoy a diversity of environments, ranging from desert to glacial ecosystems, forests to wetlands, from lowlands to highlands over 5,000 meters above sea level, and a faunal and floral diversity unique in the entire world. Worthy of mention is our cultural diversity, with more than 60 endemic groups with their own traditions and ancestral knowledge passed on since before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.

Unfortunately, beside all this natural and cultural beauty and riches, lies the cruel reality of violence, poverty, corruption and bureaucracy that curtails the progress of organizations, such as Fragmento, trying to devise alternative development practices to improve the quality of life of its citizens. Governmental isolation, ignorance and indifference from within are also impeding the development of environmental and social projects throughout the country. With international and national support, we can counter these obstacles to produce better and more practical results.

We would like the international and national communities to realize the immense waste of potential within these ecosystems, that when we turn our backs on environmental issues that should concern us all in this “global village” we call earth, we are all on the losing end of this issue.

How can people support Fragmento and its efforts?
One way is to adopt a project we are currently working on through economic or logistical support for the project’s execution. Donations of technological support, such as computers, laboratory and field equipment are also welcome. These donations, as well as conceptual and academic ideas and collaborations are also welcome, and should be made through our website.

We would like to thank all of the people [who], without personal and economic interests, have collaborated with Fragmento by opening their doors to us, and by collaborating in one way or another. To you, thanks for believing, but above all, thanks for acting upon your beliefs. Fragmento is in movement.

To learn more, get involved or support the efforts of Fragmento, please visit www.fragmento.org.

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