The first visit paid by a university, in this case Universidad de los Andes through the CEO, to this reservation began on Saturday April 1st with the support of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), a US NGO dedicated to the conservation of Tropical Rainforests in South America.
The journey began with a flight from Bogotá to Florencia. The plane made a technical stop of 20 minutes and then continued towards Puerto Leguízamo, a municipality of Putumayo. Upon reaching the municipality (of which the slogan is “progress, nature and peace”), we travelled through a dirt track “in a 4x4 for 30 minutes towards the locality of La Tagua. Two days later, we travelled six or seven hours on a motorboat to reach the indigenous reservations of Puerto Zábalo and Los Monos (two of the 10 native communities in this region), located in the municipality of Solano, in the south east of the Caquetá department”. There is another way to reach this reservation, which is through the so called ‘Peque peque’, a type of canoe with a simple engine on which the journey takes two days.
During the long boat ride in the middle of typical Amazon rainforest ecosystems, we were witness to the barges belonging to the illegal mining entities that circulate uncontrolled through the Putumayo River, constituting an environmental and economic problem. However, this is not the point on which we want to focus. So let’s continue with our story about the value of the biodiversity. In this remote spot unknown by many, the landscape is conserved and is not subject to the grave consequences of deforestation thanks to the care provided by the indigenous community and its cosmogonies.
Around 4:00 p.m. on the Monday, the sound of the motorboat arriving alerted the Múrui, better known as the Huitoto ethnic group, made up of 1024 Indians. We travelled on the boat with three ACT leaders; an official of the National Planning Department (DNP); a delegate of Sinergias, an NGO which supports the integrated development of Colombian society in health; and two members of the Kogui community (an indigenous community from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta). This was our target: to socialize the economic model which would be taught by Professor and Dean of the Uniandes School of Economics, Juan C. Cárdenas, in June within the framework of the agreement signed between ACT and the CEO supported by Universidad de los Andes.
Upon our arrival to Solano, and after a friendly reception, we began our journey to the houses and chagras or subsistence crops based on cassava, plantain, fruit, and a great diversity of Amazonian products grown on the edges of the forests. The community is characterized, among other things, for it organization of the cultivation processes, which allows it to be self-sufficient. Despite it being obvious that the community has been forgotten by the state, its members do not suffer from malnutrition, but the lack of health and education is a problem.
For the reader to have an idea, the Múrui culture pivots around tobacco and coca leaves, many of them have a notion of the God of the Catholic Church, and the dress as typical rural farmers. There are few indigenous communities that still dress according to their traditional attire, as is the case with the Kogui on the Northern side of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is only during ancestral dance rituals to enter into communion with nature that they used their attire. Traditionally, they dedicate themselves to hunting, fishing and gathering resources from the forest. But what do they drink? In its accompaniment, ACT implemented an artisanal aqueduct from a spring a kilometer away in the forest.
At night, in the humidity and temperatures of 25°C, we took out our hammocks, mosquito nets, blanket, flashlight, and of course, insect repellent. Mosquitoes tend to have a feast on first-time visitors to these lands.
The organization will also work on an objective during the trip, to deliver printed material and socialize the environmental management plans with the community, in which Universidad de los Andes will participate not only with its module in economics but also with the pilot community biodiversity monitoring program under the leadership of Professor Pablo Stevenson from the University’s School of Biology.
On the last day of the trip, we took part in a meeting between the ACT and the Community Action Board of the Peñas Rojas Village, municipality of Solano in the Caquetá department. The purpose of the meeting which took place in a cordial manner and reflected the community’s approval of being included in the Uniandes supported programs, was to find out about the work that is being carried out in the region.
As mentioned at the beginning of this story, this was the first time that an educational institution visited the reservation. It was a trip that took Universidad de los Andes through the CEO to the region and enabled it to plan and develop an academic capacity through its teachers in the most remote areas of the National territory. It also opened up the possibility to formulate and structure, with the support of the Caquetá Local Government, projects that include topics related to food safety, agricultural production, renewable energy, and value chains for Amazonian Products with commercial potential.