The Chocó bio-region, from hereon the Chocó, is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth. It extends from northwestern Ecuador to the Darien in Panama and is part of the Chocó-Tumbes biodiversity hotspot. As defined by Conservation International a biodiversity hotspot is a bioregion characterized by exceptional biodiversity that is under excessive human pressure. As such they are global priority areas for conservation.
In the coastal areas of northwestern Ecuador, where the Chocó forest meets the Pacific, human pressure has been felt for millenia. The area is riddled with archaeological sites - many of them ransacked - purportedly from the Jama-Coaque or/and La Tolita cultures of 1500 to 500 years ago. More recently, in the post-Columbus era the region has been home to a number of different ethnic groups - Chachis, Afro-Ecuadorians and settlers from a number of places and ethnicities. Until the 1970s, the limited road and market access maintained human pressure in balance with the rest of nature, but things have changed.
Roads, a regional port, and refinery built in the late 1970s in Esmeraldas brought with them, logging companies, people who hunt and fish, and cattle. In the early 90's the shrimp industry devastated mangroves and more recently oil palm plantations are destroying and poisoning coastal and riverine wetlands. These trends have produced de-facto poverty and its sidekick; delinquency both in coastal villages and metropolitan areas. This destruction is taking place before the sciences - both social and natural - have had an opportunity to even assess what it is that we are destroying. No doubt that we are losing invaluable resources; natural, cultural and economic. But we at Fundación Aullador see many opportunities to reverse this situation in at least some critical areas.
Goal and Objectives
Therefore, while our goal is to conserve the biodiversity of the Chocó ecosystem, our vision is a productive landscape where quality livelihoods co-exist in symbiosis with biodiversity. Within biodiversity we include agricultural and naturally occurring diversity.
We have decided to focus in the region encompassing the Chachi territories within and around the Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve and the buffer zone between the reserve and Pacific ocean. The bulk of the area falls within the municipality of Muisne.
The focus landscape encompasses a variety of land-uses intermingled with forest patches. Where properties are large the dominant land-use tend to be the grazing of livestock or oil palm plantations. Small properties tend to harbor considerable diversity of mostly perennial crops, among which cacao "criollo" and "nacional" are prevalent. Cacao is often mixed with fruit trees such as plantain, bananas, mangoes, various ingá species, oranges, mandarin, lemon, papaya and less common fruits such as zapote and borojó, the last one an endemic medicinal fruit. These are complemented by a few head of cattle or pigs, chickens and ducks and annual crops such as maize, rice, yuca, melons, pumpkins, peppers and passion fruit among others. Along the coast, families combine fishing and collecting in mangroves with agricultural activities. Given the heavy human presence in the area, conservation and livelihoods must go hand-in-hand.