For many, thinking about Colombia brings the self-inflicted notions by watching Netflix series. But the country´s reality is far from such. Think of a country where one-third of its land is filled with jungles. Rivers such as the Caqueta, the Putumayo, the Apaporis, or the world-renown Amazonas bring life to its inhabitants. But what if I told you deforestation has become up a raising concern to the well being of conservation areas?
Back in 2016, Colombia ended an armed conflict that had affected the country for more than 50 years. During that half-century, many of the protected areas were under the control of the revolutionary forces of the FARC. As a bubbly mind, I started to wonder about what happens to those protected areas when conflict stops? What happens to the dozens of butterflies, to the hundreds of birds, and the thousands of tree species when the is no more presence of forces that discourage deforestation and resource extraction?
With no rebel forces to interfere, mining and illegal logging operations found their way to these protected areas. As I was thinking about writing the first in the bilingual series The Adventures of Pili, I was already aware of this situation. I clearly identify back then the need for not only inspiring and educational books focused on young generations, but in the necessity of interconnecting the bed-time stories with real-life actions that could impact their planet, our planet.
This is how The Adventures of Pili Tree Campaign was born. It derivated from observing the deforestation of many protected and ecologically-rich areas, not only in Colombia but around the world. It has not been a simple process. From vision to implementation there was a long path. As time passed by, a saw the potential of technology as a tool to transition between vision and inspiration to action in the field.
This past weekend, we inaugurated our fieldwork. A team of four took off to the highlands of Colombia with the mission of planting 80 wax palm saplings in the Combeima Canyon. I am sure the first question that crosses your mind as a reader is regarding the location. Why did we select this area in the Department of Tolima in Colombia? As cattle ranchers and loggers fill the vacuum left by the insurgents, big extensions of forest are being destroyed. Conservation areas are quickly wiped out by an inattentive economic development. The background of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) can be pointed to this department in Colombia when in 1949 Manuel Marulanda began his guerrilla career by joining a Liberal guerrilla band. Later in 1966, he became Chief of Staff of the newly reorganized FARC.
Forest is home to a great percentage of Colombia´s biodiversity, and the world´s as a matter of fact. Animals, plants, and organisms depend on trees. By reforesting selected areas we strive for the healing of our planet. The same way parents and teachers of around the world have embraced our bilingual children’s publications to teach and inspire younger generations, we hope our tree planting campaign will be joined by families and schools in communities around the world.
It was early morning late June 2020. The team had not slept the night before from all the excitement and the long conversations that popped up constantly during the short night. But that was no impediment. Life in Colombia starts before sunrise. As soon as the alarm woke everyone up, the operation started. Our mission was clear: To plant 80 saplings in three different locations. After surpassing the logistic challenges due to the COVID pandemic, our team of four reached a Reserve located between 1950 and 2100 meters above sea level.
The area represents a low montane humid forest ecosystem, The reserve is part of the Combeima River, on the southern slope of the “Nevado del Tolima.” This river is very important because it is the water supply of the musical capital of Colombia, Ibagué. In addition, I should mention that the reserve is located in the lowlands of Los Nevados National Natural Park, helping defend the strategic ecosystems of Los páramos and foggy forests. Los Nevados National Natural Park is a 58,000-hectare volcanic complex that spans three departments. It is made up of three snow-covered volcanos, Nevado del Tolima, Nevado de Santa Isabel, Nevado del Ruiz, and some small high treeless plateaus are known locally as Paramillos (Cisne, Santa Rosa, and Quindío.)
When you carry the small wax pam saplings in your arms you cannot envision the towering height they will one day reach if they become fully developed. These palms grow as tall as 200 feet.
The Palma de Cera, as it is locally known, Ceroxylon quindiuense is Colombia’s national tree. It is the largest flowering plant with an embryo that bears a single seed leaf. It’s a slow-growing species and needs more than 150 years to reach its maximum height. The palm is endangered due to deforestation and the expansion of the agricultural frontier. In the past, the wax palm leaves intensively used in Catholic Palm Sunday celebrations.
The country´s populations of these species are concentrated in two small relics: one in Toche, Department of Tolima, and the other in Salento, Department of Quindío. As the team planted the 78 wax palm saplings in three different areas, distributed in 50, 20, and 3 + 3 + 1 + 1, they could not spot talking about how this plant constitutes the habitat for many forms of life including insects, mammals, and birds. And I would add, the endangered Yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis), a near-endemic bird from Colombia uses this plant to feed and nest.
With the support of my Safina Center Fellowship and the help of private supporters, now parents and teachers can take action. The project will keep a georeferenced logbook of all planting efforts, including information on the areas being intervened and the plant species selected. Not only can they inspire children by reading our dual-language adventures beautifully illustrated in the pages of The Adventures of Pili, but hand-in-hand with Pili, the young readers can join forces with their loved ones and help reforest the world. We are proud to see that our tackled concepts of cultural diversity and empowerment; global readiness and peace; entrepreneurship, and climate change have materialized in real-life action. And now you can be part of it. What are you waiting for?