#GNW2016: Working Across National, Local, and Environmental Borders
Only about an hour and a half north of Quito lies one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, known as Choco Andino. But residents of the area fear that its natural resources may be threatened by proposed mining there.
Global Network students visited the region on Wednesday, touring a self-sustaining community called Yunguilla that may provide a possible economic model for n the area, and meeting with local government officials. The people of Yunguilla have created an ecotourism business, allowing tourists and residents to visit the site in high cloud forest to observe wildlife, while also purchasing locally made goods like jams and cheeses.
The Choco Andino project lies at the intersection of national interests, city planning, and local conservation efforts. To some in the national government, it is an opportunity to begin mining for copper and mineral resources, bringing in tax revenue to fund other programs. Locals vehemently oppose any mining, saying that other mining projects in Ecuador and other countries have promised better pay, services, and infrastructure, but then fallen short. Residents also argue that mining would irreparably harm the area’s biodiversity; Choco Andino is considered one of the most sensitive places in the world.
Interest from outside Ecuador is crucial, said a local representative who worked with students.
“What I find is that, when working with students from abroad, they’re more interested in what we are trying to do,” said Santiago Molina, a wildlife ecologist who served as guide during the trip. “It’s good for us to have people from abroad to share their perspective. They’ll give us guidance, but they’ll also tell others what we are doing, and that will help us build visibility.”
Choco Andino residents propose an alternative economic model based around sustainability and promoting the use of an existing highway through the region. Today, the highway is primarily a way for Quito residents to get the coastline. In the future, travelers could stop at new ecotourism sites while en route to the coast.
Andrea Duke, an MBA student at the Sauder School of Business, said the challenge is one of communication, between local parishes, municipal officials in the south, and the national government. Part of the students’ plan will be to design a communications structure so that all parties are able to communicate their ideas efficiently to all stakeholders, and that ultimately the communities can decide what options are best for them.
“What’s really interesting is where they all stand: some believe the mining will come, but others believe that if they have a stronger resistance, they’ll have some footing to make the case for their needs,” Duke said. “When we are looking at an area with so much biodiversity, and knowing that ‘sustainable mining technology’ is 15 to 20 years away, the residents’ ideas are completely understandable.”