The Maleku planting team
There has been nothing but progress here in Costa Rica at LRFF. You’ll be very proud to be part of the synchronistic and accelerating work of this great organization. I’ll recount this story with photos and chronologically.
We left off last time after paying the landowners for the trees in their nurseries in preparation for the planting of the Rio Sol Biological Corridor project the following week. On Monday, May 30th Daniel Spreen and Omar Muñoz from LRFF and about 15 Maleku workers (above in photo with Daniel) began planting on Franklin Mojica’s four hectares of pasture in Palenque Tonjibe. Remember Franklin and his two sons Francisco and Estefan built an abundant nursery, enough to furnish all of the trees for his property.
Franklin’s farm is very steep and immediately Dan realized progress would be slow if they had to carry all of the 4000+ trees by hand to the planting site. Dan got a groove going and by the second day at Franklin’s the planting was going amazingly fast. Here’s how the “team” (this is what they called themselves) achieved planting 14,392 trees in only ten days for the first phase of the Rio Sol project.
The Mojica’s rented LRFF three horses to haul the trees from the nursery area to the planting site. This enabled Dan’s team to carry 30 trees per horse, 15/sack and two sacks. That means 90 trees at a time going up the hill. Francisco (Chico) Mojica and his brother Estefan were in charge of working with their horses. At the nursery area Dan and Melvin Mojica loaded the seedlings into feed sacks being very careful to load only one tree of each species into each bag. This way when they arrived at the planting area the same species wouldn’t be planted together.
By tying two bags together at the top the team working at the nursery loaded the horses by putting the tied part over the seat of the saddle.
Ready to go up the hill. Estefan and Chico led those horses up and down hills, through rice fields with extreme care, down to the river, home along the busy highway and into deep weed patches delivering trees for ten days.
Up on the hill the rest of the team were digging holes and planting the trees as they arrived. Above you see one of the women workers digging and her partner bringing trees to plant.
The rains hadn’t begun yet in Guatuso where the Maleku reserve lies but all day that first day in the back of everyone’s mind was the need for rain that night. When Dan left after work that day he thought it looked hopeful with thunder in the distance and big black clouds on the horizon. The next morning when he arrived at the Palenques the fields were flooded and he got a photo of a rail enjoying the first rain as the baby trees did.
The team finished planting the Mojica property on Thursday, June 3rd, only four days after starting. They planted approximately 5000 trees on the four hectares. When the terrain is a steep slope there is more area and we need to plant an average of 1200/hectare.
Dan went back on the last day of planting, June 13th, to take pictures of the Mojica’s reforested area. He expected to see the trees in shock but was surprised to see them ALL standing tall with leaves spread to receive the sun and rain. These are the best results we’ve seen so far in any of our reforestation projects.
The team, me included on this day (pay day), planted Julio and Lillian Tinoco’s 15 meter wide strip along the Rio Sol, an area totaling approximately one hectare, using the system they perfected at the Mojica farm. We planted almost 1000 trees at the Tinoco’s. On Monday, the team began planting Alex Vela’s 3½ hectare strip along the Rio Sol and finished on Tuesday after planting approximately 3500 trees. They then proceeded to Oscar Quiros’s (Chino’s) farm on Tuesday afternoon to plant his 3 ¾ hectare strip along the creek feeding into the Rio Sol.
Each of the landowner’s nurseries lacked the variety of species needed to plant each area so there was a lot of transportation between the farms moving trees from one nursery to the another to finish up with 113 species planted in this first phase of the project. On the second day of travel between La Reserva and the Maleku reserve, a hell of a road, our little car’s tires blew out. After ten days of hauling trees and people we took it to the car wash and were amazed at the amount of Guatuso soil that was left behind.
On Thursday, June 9th, the team moved to Isidro Acosta’s 1 hectare area to be reforested. Here, the weeds were dominant and there was quite a bit of land preparation needed before it could be planted. In the photo above you can see the team chopping with machetes.
Dan and Omar tried to keep up with the Maleku team the first four days but were dragging ass after that. They said they have never seen anyone work as hard as this team of planters. Isidro’s farm was the toughest yet because the other reforestation areas had little or no preparation involved. The team finished planting Isidro’s on Friday and that left only Belmer Blanco’s small area to be fenced and planted on Monday.
Monday, June 13th, was a GREAT day for everyone! With 16 regular workers they built a fence 10 meters from the Rio Sol on Belmer Blanco’s farm, to keep the cattle out of the newly planted trees, and then planted it as well. Everyone was paid and invited to work again in another month for the first maintenance of this first phase of the project.
This was an amazing experience for everyone involved directly in the project. The landowners hadn’t seen some of the species planted in their properties for many years or ever, the Maleku planting team took great care and pride in the planting work and we, at LRFF, feel a very important accomplishment was made. 14,392 trees planted in only ten days.
Dan took a few days off and then we were back out to the Palenque’s on Friday to talk to more potential landowners wanting to participate in the second phase of the project. Remember we still need to plant another 21,000 trees to live up to our promise to etnies shoes (Sole Technology), our generous sponsors.
We couldn’t find anyone home and I began to wonder how difficult it would be to find that much land along Rio Sol. Finally in the afternoon Dan and I were sitting on Bienvenido’s front stoop, talking with him and his family when a familiar face walked into his yard. Bienvenido looked at me and said, “Look, it’s Marvin Castro”, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing.
The larger project LRFF is working on with the Maleku is a recuperation of their decreed reserve of 2994 hectares (decreed by the Costa Rican government in 1976) and the restoration of 2/3 back to native tropical rainforest. Marvin Castro is a non-indigenous landowner within the Maleku reserve and is wants to sell his farm. We went to see his 38 hectares farm this past May. He took us for a tour of the 24 hectares of pristine, primary forest on his property that borders the Rio Sol, up in Viento Fresco above Tonjibe (above is Marvin in his forest). His property contains the springs that are the source of all the potable water flowing down to the Palenques. He also has 14 hectares of pasture where he keeps a few cattle and I was after him to let us plant the pasture, but he declined saying he needed to sell it.
On Friday, sitting on Bienvenido’s stoop, we imagined Marvin saw our car and wanted to lower his asking price for the farm. He came and sat down with us and I began to give him a bad time again about letting us plant that pasture. But this time he said YES, and he’s not interested in making a nursery. We almost got up and danced in celebration! This meant that the Maleku people who don’t own land would be able to create nurseries to sell to the project in December when we plant the second phase of the Rio Sol project.
With Marvin’s fourteen hectares and the other three smaller properties that want to participate we will be planting the other 21,000 trees in December when the nurseries have had a chance to develop.
The Maleku use the Suita palm for their traditional roofs on the ranchos. Now they must travel long distances to collect it because it must grow in the shade of the forest. At this early time it is impossible for us to plant the Suita in the newly reforested areas because of the direct sunlight but Marvin’s forest will be a great resource for Suita to use for planting in the new forests in years to come. We have included in the newly planted areas 10% native cacao and 5% Pejibaye (Peach Palm) so that the forests will contain immediate resources for the community.
Because of his generosity, “wanting to give something to the Maleku people”, I offered Marvin a lower price for his property. I explained that if he would accept a lower selling price I’d attempt to find a donor or grant to buy it. He accepted the offer and LRFF will work to fund this purchase, the first Maleku land recuperation project.
Last Saturday, June 25th, LRFF and the Maleku Tribal Council president, Bienvenido Cruz Castro held a meeting for all people interested in creating the nurseries that will furnish the trees for Marvin’s 14 hectares in December. The purpose of the meeting was to equally distribute the nursery opportunity amongst the people wanting to participate. Fourteen people attended wanting to raise a minimum of 14,000 trees. We distributed 1000 bags to each, gave them a list of the species planted in the first phase of the project as an idea of what species we are looking to plant and explained how to build the nursery.
Afterward, Rosa Elizondo stood in front of the group and said that many organizations and people have come to the Maleku and promised grand projects, but that LRFF has done everything they said they were going to do for the past two years. She thanked us and I hung my head with my heart shining bright inside.
Marvin’s forest may as well be on Pandora from the movie Avatar. He loves the foret like the Na’vi and has cared for it tenderly, keeping it fenced from intrusion by cattle and preserving the fresh water that flows from it.
It’s been one month since LRFF and the Maleku team finished planting the first stage of the Rio Sol Biological Corridor project. LRFF’s previous reforestation projects were cleaned at the end of May. With all of the rain this time of year we must do the maintenance cleanings only one month to six weeks apart, especially for the newly planted area because the trees are small.
Brian Nicewander, a great volunteer from Virginia, has been helping us here for the past six weeks. This is his final two days and we are going to miss him terribly. He has been a welcome face every morning and a huge help with the planting, nursery replenishment and maintenance. He may return in December when he has more time off to help plant the second phase of the Rio Sol project, another 21,000 trees. He has promised to write a short report about his time here at La Reserva and I will publish it for you all.
Last week the six man Maleku team, Daniel, Omar, Brian and Kera Tucker, a recent volunteer who will be with us for two months, did the maintenance cleaning of the 14,000+ trees that were planted last month along the Rio Sol. You can see in the photos that they form a line, working with machetes to clean a circle approximately one meter wide around each tree, leaving all of the other growth. At the same time when the team finds an empty space where a tree didn’t survive they tell the planting team who replant a new tree as a replacement.
The Mojica farm was the first planted last month and the last to be cleaned last week. The team planted 5000 trees here. I reported in my last blog how well the trees are doing on all of the project areas but this one takes the cake. Out of 5000 trees planted the planting team only needed to replace 5.
Follow LRFF and the Maleku teams example and…….
Hauling trees to planting site
Trees ready for loading on the horses
Loading trees on the horses
Esefan and Çhico, the horse wranglers
Horses carrying trees to planting destination
Men and women planting
Planting at Franklin Mojica’s farm
Rail after the first rain
Planting at Franklin Mojica’s farm
The car, “Joya”, hauling trees back and forth
Marvin Castro in his beautiful forest
Marvin's 14 hectares of pasture to be planted
Suita palm in Marvin Castro's forest
Huge old growth tree in Marvin's forest
Brian Nicewander, an amazing volunteer
Maleku team cleaning Franklin Mojica's site
Replacing trees that haven't survived
The maintenance front line