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Reforesting the Sierra: A Chance to Help Preserve the “Heart of the World”

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, considered to be the Heart of the World. From the tallest coastal mountains to the numerous species of birds and other animals, it is a bastion of biodiversity guarded by the knowledge and vigilance of its indigenous communities. It is a place where all the elements of nature are interconnected and is always an exciting place to talk about.

Santiago Roa Duque

Jaguar Siembra, one of the projects on the Trillion Tree Campaign, works on restoration in the Sierra using its Community Regenerative Agriculture through the indigenous peoples in Colombia. We spoke to Santiago Roa Duque, Founder & CEO of Jaguar Siembra, who shared a lot of their community-based work, progress, and the challenges of reforestation projects in places like Colombia.

To give everybody a better understanding of their work, we share some excerpts from our conversation.

Inspired by Arts to do Reforestation

I’m a creative director working in various types of art like film, photography, and music. I have always been involved in finding a way that arts could help have more environmental impacts on the regeneration that we need as humans and our natural environments.

This led me to a search of my roots with the ancient cultures that were disrupted by the European conquest in Latin America. It got me deeper into the indigenous knowledge that the communities that are still alive and well-preserved want to share with us to recover the balance that we have lost with our natural environment.

After living some time in the Guatemalan Jungle, I felt the need to return to Colombia and look for connections with the native communities in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, declared as the Heart of the World. I was fortunate to make great connections with some leaders of the communities and share with them the idea to preserve and transmit their messages to the outside world about what is happening and what we could do with the imbalance that we are living in our ecosystems.

As a result, we started to shoot our first short film with a message of the spiritual leader of Teyuna (The Lost City), an ancient pyramid site older than Machu Pichu. At the same time, I was involved in permaculture. Thus, the idea starts to take shape to create a transmedia project focused on natural and cultural projects with the mission to educate and inspire impactful actions while working in different projects with the communities, such as regenerative traditional agriculture, community-supported agriculture between Colombia and Europe, and cultural preservation to transmit the indigenous knowledge that communities want to share with the outside world to teach us how we can establish a peaceful and harmonious relationship with nature without destroying it.

Planting in the Sierra – Heart of the World

Our approach weaves in natural and cultural projects directly with the native communities, where they are the ones that teach us how to plant and their Law of Origin to find balance in the planet. The project has a high-quality holistic approach, following the traditions from the communities -making spiritual payments for every process that we are making- and with a different approach for reforestation through traditional food forests, focusing our efforts on quality instead of quantity.

These trees generate a lot of benefits in so many aspects: recovering the soils, achieving food security and sovereignty, removing and capturing carbon, creating jobs and economic compensations for the communities. At the same time, they create benefits not only for the community but for biodiversity and wildlife. It is called the “Heart of the World” because the health of the Sierra and its complex ecosystems balance the health of the entire world. It is a natural pyramid of snow, a special mountain by the sea, over 5.600 meters high and millions of years old, the largest coastal mountain in the world.

The Sierra has all the thermal floors represented, from tropical heat to perpetual snow. A reserve of the biosphere and World Heritage Site. It is a network of ecosystems that balance the natural ecosystem of the world. The home of countless forms of life. It is a sacred site that protects four indigenous communities, which are responsible for preserving the spiritual balance of Mother Earth. Their sacred task is to teach the divine laws to maintain harmony with nature. They are the guardians of the earth, our older siblings, the ones preserving the ancestral knowledge that is invaluable for humanity.

Food Forests, Community-supported Agriculture

In the Sierra, 80% of the native forests were cleared 30 years ago to grow coca and weed monocultures, which led to an incredible disharmony in the territory. The communities have been doing natural regeneration with remarkable achievements, but traditional food forests have been disappearing. At the same time, the communities are recovering territory where the soils and deforested areas need extra help to thrive. Some people in the community rear cattle as their only means of livelihood up in the mountain but they are now working on this project with us. We started working with a family that was involved in cattle rearing and now they are focusing their efforts on regeneration with the benefits that the trees and the project generate for them.

We have two programs. One is creating new food forests for the families and some communities that need help to restore and achieve food sovereignty. Most families plant cocoa, which is one of the main sources of income for the communities. At the same time, they plant food for themselves: avocado, corn, pumpkins, beans, yuca, and fruit trees. We support them in creating this type of forest through regenerative agriculture with trees, materials, and economic support for every tree planted.

Now we are working towards community-supported agriculture (CSA). We are building a community of changemakers; with our power of consumption, we can change the world and have a positive impact through our food: we are one for all, all for one! It is a community-based organization of growers and consumers. The consumer has a direct and deeper relationship with the farmer; we agree to provide direct, up-front support for the local growers who produce our food. The growers agree to provide quality food to meet the needs and expectations of the consumers. In this way, the farms and families form a network of mutual support—a profound bond between communities.

In this time of industrialized mono-agriculture, we need to create a change. Together we need to achieve sustainability in food cultivation: we as consumers finance the farmers’ farm and share the harvest; in exchange, the yields and crop risks are shared in solidarity. The farmer is independent of the market and its fluctuations. Together, as an initiative, movement, and subscription, we create a unique community of wonderful visionaries, organic farmers, and people who consciously enjoy themselves, our environments, and biodiversity.

Being Part of the Trillion Tree Campaign

We are happy and grateful to be part of the Plant-for-the-Planet family. Extra funding, visibility in the global north, and connection with other reforestation projects are some of the most important gains the platform has offered us. Also, we are going to start using the TreeMapper as an important tool for tracking and data collection in our reforestation sites.

It is an incredible effort to have synergy in the different reforestation projects around the world with the tree planting app and help us uplift our efforts with many good things such as funding, data collection tools, and TreeMapper options with the new app. We must unite to achieve the changes that we want to see in the world. Reforestation and regeneration is a challenging job to do, and most of the time is undervalued, underpaid, and belittled. Only with education, transparency, and supporting each other could we fight the climate crisis and climate justice problems we live through.

Planting Seasons…

The reforestation project takes place throughout the year, by collecting seeds, creating new tree nurseries, expanding tree nurseries, working on reforestation sites planting nitrogen fixers plants like yuca, and for the food forest and agroforestry systems implementation in the Sierra Nevada, we collect the growing trees from the tree nursery and plant them together with the local communities in the indigenous sowing seasons that are in March and August.

Environmental Defenders, Threatened Biodiversity and Call to the EU

One of the biggest challenges that we encounter is apathy and lack of action from the majority of governments and the population to tackle the climate crisis and climate justice.

In addition, there is a lack of resources for small projects like ours that do not have large connections to generate funding. The underpaid work, the lack of action of the European Union to stop the looting of resources, and exploitation of natural resources, the coffee, cocoa, avocado industries, among others, which ensure the destruction of ecosystems in the global south to satisfy the needs of the global north with neocolonialism knowing that the countries most affected by climate change are the countries less responsible for damages that are generated on the planet. We need climate justice policies now!

The risks in Colombia for environmental activists are high, and we are the country with the highest number of murders of community and environmental leaders. If we are alone and the world leaves us alone, we will lose the second most biodiverse country on the planet and more than 120 indigenous communities alive, preserved, and from where we can learn to work together for the well-being of the planet. Indigenous communities preserve more than 80% of biodiversity in the world for thousands of years.

A Click Away from Making a Difference

Stop talking and start planting! You are one click away from making a big difference, and it is something that must be constant. Every month we must return to the earth for the air, water, food, medicine we receive; planting trees is one of the most special ways to do it.

Never before in history has it been so easy to generate the process of planting a tree from the comfort of your home. We are going to do the hard work for you, and only together can we achieve the change we want to see on the planet, for living in the paradise we have and have the harmony we deserve.

Visit Jaguar Siembra to learn more.