Established in 2002, the EcoMadera Project is a long-term partnership between the Pinchot Institute, the Pinchot family, and Ecudaor's Fundación Jatun Sacha to develop, test, and spread a new model for forest conservation and rural economic development in Ecuador.
The project's goal is to address both chronic rural poverty and deforestation by promoting sustainable development in forest-dependent rural communities. These communities can create strong pressure on local forests, with impacts on biological diversity and other important natural values, yet still realize only marginal economic income — which leads to even greater harvesting pressure on local forests.
Over the past seven years, the project partners have worked with the people of Cristobal Colón, a community in northwestern Ecuador, to establish wood processing facilities and sell higher-value finished products. Currently, EcoMadera is purchasing additional hectares and receiving revenue from the sale of balsa wood for energy efficient wind turbines.
As the team moves forward in Ecuador, the future plans are to implement a conservation strategy as a business entity with the Pinchot Institute as a long-term technical assistance partner. This strategy includes replacing illegal logging with a mix of sustainable forest management and no-harvest resources in primary forest regions, implementing forest restoration in degraded and secondary forest, and establishing forest plantations and implementing reforestation in abandoned pasture and cropland while offering local families with new sources of work and income. Technical assistance actions include tree taxonomy, silviculture treatments, timber extraction, high-biodiversity forest management, landscape conservation planning, wood property development, carbon market plan development and ecological monitoring.
In 2008, EcoMadera constructed a small production facility to manufacture balsa wood blocks. These are the raw material for manufacture of balsa wood laminates, which are themselves used to produce industrial composites. The main markets for the composites are wind turbine blades, yacht hulls, floors and ceilings in buses and trains, and refrigerated containers. The market for balsa is very strong now due to the global commitment to green energy, and the rapid growth of wind farms in China, India, Europe, and North America. Also in late 2008, the Pinchot Institute established a program of balsa plantation trials, utilizing 20 hectares on land owned by EcoMadera and 10 hectares on land owned by several community members.
In 2010, EcoMadera is applying timber harvest in test plots within the parcels, which will be the basis in future years for studying the impacts of different levels of harvest intensity on the diversity of tree species and on the regeneration of each species. Already, we have learned a great deal about the abundance of different species, about their size class distribution, and the timber volume per hectare of the forest and of each species. Based on this information, EcoMadera is formulating a forest management strategy to promote sustainable timber harvest and to protect high levels of diversity.
An additional element to the work in Ecuador is the establishment of a health center for the local community. With continued generous support from the Pinchot Institute Board of Directors, the construction of the health center is moving into the third phase. Currently, work is being done to finalize the electricity, water/septic tank accessibility and outpatient room. After a thorough application process completed by the Selection Committee, a nurse has been chosen and the education/training process has begun.
Partners in this amazing effort include the Peace Corps, the USDA Forest Service Office of International Programs, the MacArthur Foundation, and USAID.