In October 2011, Beatriz Toloza from the Private University of San Gil met ZERI Germany member Haiko Pieplow from Berlin on a Central American women farmers conference in Mexico, and talked to him about projects going on in the Santander district. This involves local groups and especially women cooperatives for development of an economy based on solidarity. At a ZERI workshop for the production of Terra Preta, the idea to develop joint projects was born.
For ZERI, the influences from Colombia have a crucial significance. In 1984, charismatic inventor Paolo Lugari started to implement an innovative concept of recultivation of a rainforest on 8000 hectares of desert in Las Gaviotas in Vichada, a district close to the Brazilian frontier. The ZERI Pavillion, which gained a lot of attention at the World EXPO in Hanover in 2000, would have been impossible to achieve without the knowledge from Colombia. The director of ZERI Latin America, Carlos Bernal, played an important role in that project.
At the end of February 2012, a meeting in Colombia was arranged. ZERI had been invited by the University of San Gil to discuss the Blue Economy. San Gil is located 400 kms north-east of Bogotá, a young city of 50,000 inhabitants in a coffee-growing region and with a growing tourism sector. There is a focus on sustainable development so that a better welfare system for the local population can be provided. For example, a local women’s initiative has successfully developed a privately funded reforestation project in Barichara which combines the local knowledge of trees with the assigning of godparents to children. Furthermore there are numerous forest gardens producing coffee, cocoa and other fruits using ecological techniques. The sugar cane cultivation unlocks potential that until now has remained untapped. The municipality of San Gil is very interested in a sustainable waste concept, because the conventional solutions of landfills and incineration do not offer satisfactory solutions.
ZERI made it possible for the project director for Latin America, Jackeline Martínez from the Institute of applied mass flow at the environmental campus of Birkenfeld, Germany, to be invtited to the Blue Economy discussions. She reported the German experiences of zero emissions projects as well as exchange options for students and their professional training to become innovative entrepreneurs.
Gunter Pauli supported the event by establishing contact with to Paolo Lugari, as well as Carlos Bernal and the University of San Gil. The possibility of generating local income by cultivating edible mushrooms using waste from coffee processing were received with great interest. The successful business model by Chido Govera, of cultivating shiitake mushrooms on coffee grounds and other agricultural waste, could become a new source of income for women in San Gil.
The Blue Economy has been met with a lot of interest when visiting projects by the University of San Gil in the Santander district, as well as during discussions with students, teachers, local entrepreneurs and the municipal authorities for the environment.
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