Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The deterioration of the Costa Rican watersheds is being accelerated by unsustainable agricultural practices. The damaging effects of deforestation, excessive cattle grazing, and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers are in danger of contaminating the water supply for hundreds of communities. Land erosion and sediment buildup are consequences of hydroelectric dams, unmonitored highway construction, careless building of infrastructure and the introduction of new crops. Legislation has not been favorable for protecting watersheds from development projects and educational institutions tend to teach young people that precious resources like water "are renewable." For many years cattle farming has increased rapidly in the rural communities of the La Balsa Watershed, which has required massive deforestation in order to convert the cloud forests into suitable, although in many cases unsustainable, grazing and farming lands. New technology is not yet available for many farmers for proper irrigation methods, and manure is not removed from the rivers. Agro-chemicals are carelessly dispersed on hillsides that drain into fresh water creeks and fragmented forests. The biggest problem is the lack of understanding of the connection between clean water and healthy forests. There has been little to no technical education for farmers concerning sustainable agricultural practices and current systems are gradually altering the once pristine watershed. Since nobody is responsible for the overall health of the watershed system, individual farmers continue to exploit their land as they wish. Temporarily sustainable on the individual level, hundreds of farms along the micro-watersheds, and banks of the rivers continue to graze excess cattle and use agro-chemicals resulting in a collective erosion and chemical contamination that will not support a viable water supply. The four municipalities located along the river do not work in unison for common environmentalism and small and large land holders alike are not trained. Property laws in Costa Rica do not include enforceable environmental clauses so there exists little that can be done if an individual is abusing his land. International conservationists have supported and donated to the buying back of lands for inclusion into the national parks system, but there are not enough resources to buy all the lands in critical watersheds. Private funds and grants have also been used to contribute to the expansion of the parks system yet a project of this caliber requires 10 to 20 times the land resources originally designated to protecting these areas. At the top of the country’s highest volcanoes, the Rio La Balsa headwaters are formed from cloud forests and seasonal rainfall. As the river flows into the basin and out to sea even the cities are at risk of losing their water supply. The most dangerous negligence comes from large cities, where water purification plants make it easy to turn on the faucet and get fresh water. People are unaware of the precarious water situation, do not involve themselves in conservation efforts, and continue to waste this precious resource. Although Costa Rica prides itself on a vast national park system and an enormous ecotourism base, officials have traditionally fallen short of promoting ecological sustainability. Without technical assistance and education in sustainable agriculture, communities will continue to use cheap but harmful practices for short-term profit. The government will not or cannot contribute to expanding the park system to avoid destructive farming, and since there is little incentive for the private sector to lend to communities, buying expensive pieces of land for regeneration is near impossible. But these communities in the Balsa Watershed have been doing it since more than a decade ago. In order for significant reversal of environmental damage to take place, communities must take it upon themselves to collectively buy the properties critical for water filtration and condensation and eventually take responsibility, to avoid polluting the rivers and springs and restore critical areas. This is the only way to ensure that polluting practices are changed and community efforts can successfully begin to regenerate the watershed. Local fundraising events are already empowering communities to take financial responsibility for purchasing land plots for environmental protection. Whole communities are coming together to assemble the monthly payments.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
The Nectandra Institute is a conservation organization conceived by Alvaro Ugalde and the other three co-founders of the Institute (Evelyne T. Lennette, David Lennette and Arturo Jarquín). After leaving from almost 30 years with the Costa Rican park system and some national consultant positions, he became acutely aware that, while the parks might be healthy, the lands outside their confines were becoming dangerously deforested and protected areas more susceptible to climate change, Alvaro and his friends realized that public and private conservation efforts were not enough and that the communities needed to be involved in protecting and restoring the rivers and watersheds. As a result, they founded The Nectandra Institute, which focuses on training and empowering community members to continue and speed up land restoration actions they started several years ago, and make significant changes in unsustainable practices. Nectandra Institute is a watershed protection organization that works side-by-side with rural communities to create and implement expert restoration projects on polluted rivers and exploited farmlands. Nectandra fosters understanding about the cycle of water and educates communities about the link between clean water and health. Utilizing Alvaro's long-standing relationships with national and international environmental organizations, Nectandra forms community partnerships and provides technical assistance in conservation, restoration and sustainable agriculture. Currently based around the San Carlos River, in the La Balsa Watershed, Alvaro is poised to spread the Nectandra concept for community-owned watershed protection to other rivers and waterways in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, the most effective tool to spread a good idea is to help the main protagonists, the communities, showcase the result of their efforts on a daily basis. After community-based education programs and technical training, local people gain an understanding of the importance of ecosystems in order to have clean water and become empowered to preserve their water supply through community-run projects. Through the Nectandra Institute, Alvaro provides communities with the tools to protect their watersheds and the surrounding ecosystems. One of the defining characteristics of Nectandra is an innovative finance strategy called ecological lending. This is a credit program that helps communities buy polluting and overused farmlands in order to restore, them with interest-free loans which have extended repayment options. A contemporary method to reversing environmental damage, the Eco-Loan program helps communities become responsible for maintaining clean and sustainable sources of water by, purchasing and restoring properties, and this motivates discussions about responsible agricultural practices.