Luis Rivas, the Reforestation project coordinator, and I are sorting through all the information we have for each client in the project, checking for inconsistencies and gaps before we send it all to the CEPRODEL headquarters in Managua.  Among other uses, the information we collected is going to be used to analyze the long term effects of this project on the farm diversity, diets and incomes of the participating families.  The diagnosis, an eight page questionnaire, was the first project that our student interns worked on with us back in May.

Luis showing Oscar, Bering, Orlando and I the diagnosis the first day of the students internship with us.

Luis showing Oscar, Bering, Orlando and I the diagnosis the first day of the students internship with us.

Luis looks through the paper copies, recalculating annual incomes from milk and firewood sales, and passes them on to me to enter in the computer.  We agonize over illegible handwriting and inconsistencies in numbers of cattle.  We make a best guess or circle the query in red with a note to our technical assistant to sort it out on his next visit.

Questions about the long term sustainability of pastureland mingle with whether a family eats more plantains or tortillas and how much they spend on agricultural chemicals annually. Honestly, what we are doing is an impossible task.  How do you evaluate the quality of a family’s life in a statistically accurate way?  Are we really going to be able to show how five hundred trees are going to change the lives of these families with our invented numbers?

One of the aims of this project and SosteNica’s work with CEPRODEL is to

Harvesting Lumber in El Guayabal, Nagarote

Harvesting Lumber in El Guayabal, Nagarote

emphasize to our rural clients the alternative value of the natural resources they have.  To value the shade that Genizero trees provide, the nitrogen fixing qualities of the Leucaena, the added nutrition in the family’s diet from a grove of orange trees, and the retention powers of the roots of the Guanacaste trees planted along the river banks.  Not everything has to translate into cash to have a benefit and improve your quality of life.  And yet after lecturing on the ecological, ideological, and invaluable qualities of the natural resources they all have and are entrusted to take care of, we spend hours trying to show that they are benefiting from them using the same empty numbers we are trying to get them to think outside of.

Several years ago I went to a lecture by Joshua Farley, a professor from the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, who talked about the importance of adding economic values to natural services.  We won’t be able to get the developers and governments of our world to take conservation seriously unless we speak in their language, he said.  If we subtract the value of fifty years of carbon sequestration by fully grown trees from the value of the house intended to be built on the forested property, how much is left?

His argument is not to think outside of our system of value = income, but to incorporate natural services into our system of values by translating them into virtual income.  Nothing physically changes if you put a value on the cooling effect of solid shade over a tin roof, or the money and labor saved by having a year-round river to water cattle.  But some people – and companies or banks – might look at these farmers differently, might put them in a different social class, might give them more opportunities, and might give them more reason to be proud of what they have.  I don’t know if that makes me feel hopeful or sad.

What is the best stretegy for changing the mentality of "poor" and "rich" to add value to natural resources and rural life?

What is the best stretegy for changing the mentality of "poor" and "rich" to add value to natural resources and rural life?

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