Interview with Ms. Bertha Carpio Intriago, Director of the Environment of Santa Elena (Ecuador)
nrg4SD: Gender mainstreaming is fundamental to the success of biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation. How does Santa Elena include women in its biodiversity and climate change plans and programs?
SE: To us, mainstreaming gender and women’s efforts is very important. We have 40% women participation in almost every plan and project we are currently working on. From past experiences, we can say women are very organized and responsible. In the associations we work with, where women are leaders or the group majority, the process is more transparent and the investment return faster. Associations led by women have 45% more capital return than the ones led by men. If it is led by a woman, the return is higher.
nrg4SD: This year, nrg4SD launched the report “Localizing SDGs: Regional governments paving the way” during the High-level Political Forum last July, highlighting regions’ actions for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their territories. How does the provincial government of Santa Elena contribute to the localization and achievement of the SDGs in Ecuador?
SE: We started aligning our projects with the SDGs in 2017. First, we wanted to identify to which objectives we were already contributing to. Currently, we are working on SDG 1 and 2; no poverty and zero hunger respectively, through our “bio-ventures”, family gardens and agroforestry projects.
We are also working on biodiversity objectives (SDGs 14 and 15) and gender equity (SDG 5), and on water management and conservation. We have planted approximately 12 kilometres of bamboo around the watersheds in our region. To us, bamboo is an essential plant species, as it has many functions and benefits. For example, it helps tackle erosion, and once it is ripe, it can be used to make handicrafts.
The provincial government has a factory of bamboo boards, developed under the initiative of reforesting 50 hectares of bamboo. We wanted to give another use to all that bamboo, and with the help of a Taiwanese international cooperation fund, we built the factory. The factory is not only used for manufacturing the bamboo boards but also to hold capacity building workshops together with international and local experts addressed to our artisans to teach them what can they can do with the bamboo crops. We generally do not develop this kind of projects in the provincial capitals or cantons, but rather in the small communities, since it is easier for them to transport the materials and access the benefits of the factory.
In regards to adaptation, we are developing an oyster farm lab with an investment of 3 million dollars. The plan is to work with 18 communities, but at the moment we are only working with 10 fishing associations from the coast since the others are still working on the regularization process with the Ministry of the Environment. The aim is to give the people whose income depends on fishing, an alternative to make money in low fishing seasons, which are increasing due to climate change. At the moment, we have the budget to cover the oyster farming lanterns, but we are still seeking investment to provide the communities with the complete system. Along with the lab, we are building a depuration plant, so that everything that is recollected has an established depuration system and can be commercialized in the best way possible. This is the first oyster farm lab in Ecuador. There is an experimental lab in a research centre, but it cannot provide the number of seeds needed. So, we aim at having enough stock so that everyone that wants to be a part of it can do so. We strongly believe this kind of projects and alternatives need to go together with stakeholders. We learnt from experiences from the central Government and the other Ministries, that any given alternative must respond to the interest from of people benefiting from those alternatives. Otherwise, such projects end up abandoned and that is not cost-efficient.
nrg4SD: Recently, Santa Elena has signed the agreement for the creation of the Consortium to Tackle Climate Change in the Coastal Range. Could you tell us what kind of projects are you planning to develop in the framework of the Consortium?
SE: The Consortium is composed by the governments of Santa Elena, Manabí and Guayas. We have worked for the past six years for its creation. Besides, we count with the interest of some international organizations such as CIFEN to work with us. They are now seeking to work with two different international projects, one of which is us, with a foreseen investment of 2 million dollars. The initial operation investment is being provided by the autonomous governments from the three provinces, in amounts proportional to the size of each autonomous government.
nrg4SD: Habitat degradation and loss of biodiversity is a direct result of human pressure and production activities we developed in those territories. Could you share with us some of the actions developed by Santa Elena to reduce such pressures and increase resilience within its territory?
SE: We are working on forest management and exploitation plans. We started with the exploitation of paja toquilla, which has been already approved by the Ministry of the Environment. We are currently developing the management plan of lignum vitae and an inventory of mullein to identify where we should aim our “bio-ventures”. These plans are aimed to reduce the pressure in our forests and give the communities alternatives to work with the forest avoinding its degradation.
We are also working alongside the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on a program called “Climate-smart Livestock”, which aims to address the necessities of the farming communities. The idea is to give suggestions as autonomous governments on how to tackle the community’s needs derived from climate change. For example, instead of buying more livestock, to invest in the recovery of ancestral water reservoirs that are located in certain communities. Additionally, we are working with single-crops organizations, and we have asked them to include tree lines and living fences. We are starting with 400 hectares of corn, on which as government, we will be able to establish the living fences and tree lines in the middle of the production cycle, rotating between short-cycle species to avoid the degradation of soil. Our objective is to keep producing species that benefit the honey bees. As I stated during the International Conference on Biodiversity, we are developing a project for rental of beehives in production areas of avocado, cantaloupe and watermelon. Producers are renting four hives per hectare for pollination for three months and they have achieved excellent results. For example, the production of avocado has increased in 30% during the third flowering. Therefore, we aim at continuing this practice that has a very low rental cost and supports the conservation of bees, which are fundamental for our ecosystems.
nrg4SD: On our last General Assembly, you stated the interest of becoming a part of the BreatheLife Campaign. Could you share with us what motivated this and what plans do you have regarding air quality?
SE: Our aim for this year is to develop an inventory of stationary sources of pollution in our province. We believe it would be very beneficial for us to know about the experiences of other BreatheLife regions because we are just starting to work on this matter and currently have very little experience or knowledge regarding air quality. We would also like to share our gained knowledge once we start working on this.