2014 update....

Many people ask me to write blogs, updates and newsletters and as I am always so busy working on the ground I have very little time to use the Internet

After finding out I am a finalist in the Guardian Observer Ethical Awards I thought I best write up a little of what I have been up to this year.

I was asked by Maddy Harland from Permaculture Magazine if I would be able to visit a fishing village in Livingston, Guatemala who were asking for help. The message was that the children were malnourished, they were not growing any food and there was a huge problem with rubbish.

As it was on my way to Ecuador I stopped off for one month to help set up some basic systems.

First I visited IMAP (The Mesoamerican Permaculture Centre) who are combining Permaculture with ancient Mayan ancestral knowledge. They have a fantastic seed bank so I was able to collect native vegetable seeds and green manures to take with me.

On arrival in Livinstone I spoke with some community leaders and teachers and we decided to put on an Eco-sports day. The games had an environmental twist and the entrance fee for the children was 5 Eco-bricks (plastic bottles filled with rubbish).

It is always so great to see a village being cleaned up with the children eagerly filling Eco-bricks.

We decided the best use of the Eco-bricks would be to build a large bench in the high street. This attracted a lot of attention. To see rubbish turned into something useful was met with much enthusiasm. Locals have gone on to build other benches, walls, chicken sheds and are in discussion regarding building a new classroom.

I also gave talks and built a compost system to teach about the separation of rubbish and kitchen/agricultural waste. They are not growing food as they do not have good soil. The first step is to make compost and to build fertile soil. This simple information on how to make compost was also met with much interest. Without compost the people must buy expensive and toxic chemical fertilizers.

One of the main issues with food security is that no one is growing any food and it is all bought in by boat as there is no road access. Encouraging people to create compost and grow their own food is one of the most important solutions I can offer to bring about independence and true sustainability.

After a month we had set up the compost system, a seed nursery, an area ready for growing with steps built for easy access. I had also taught about how to build from the villages rubbish leaving a great bench in the high street. Mission successful.

The next 3 months were spent in Ecuador. My base in Lago Agrio is like the last island of life surrounded by the oil industry, cattle farming and African palm oil. I have been working with the land owner to create an educational centre where locals can come to learn about sustainable agriculture.

Behind the farm is one of the last standing areas of forest. In total there are 40 hectares and it is home to 4 species of monkeys, sloths, armadillos and numerous other mammals, birds, plants and fungi. This last island of life is now under threat as the surrounding farmers want to sell off 11 hectares. This would be deforested for more cattle or palm oil. I have been spreading the word with locals and starting a campaign to buy the forest to create a reserve. Anyone who is interested in helping financially to save this forest please contact me.

I had been asked last year to return and build another ecological restaurant by the Mayor of Cuyabeno. Unfortunatly Coca Cola has now started a program of buying back the empty plastic bottles. On one side this is great as this has meant a significant drop in the amount of plastic bottles thrown out, on the other hand we no longer have access to the empty bottles to make eco-bricks, so there is just lots of landfill rubbish and now no way of dealing with it.

I also invited the Amazon Mycorenewal Project (AMP) to use this as their base. Last year I spoke to the National Oil Company, PetroEcuador regarding the continual contamination of the streams and rivers. After heavy rain many of the toxic pits overflow into the waterways without any kind of filtration. This is the same water that people down stream are drinking, cooking and bathing with.

PetroEcuador asked if I could bring some scientists to teach them about bioremediation. I invited AMP to come and help design and build a demonstration model using the combination of native fungi, bacteria and plants.

A team of students, volunteers and scientists from universities in the United States and Turkey came down to help implement a design. A laboratory was built to cultivate and grow out the mycellium from native mushrooms, a solar oven to pasteurize the substrate, a hot compost pile to collect bacterias and a rocket stove which doubled to make biochar for use in sterilization of substrate and part of the remediation process.

I coordinated meetings with The Ministery of the Environment, Universities, Oil companies, the local Mayor and El Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia who represent the 30,000 people in the case against Chevron Texaco.

There is a huge amount of remediation work to be done on both the toxic pits left behind from Texaco and the ongoing contamination from the current oil companies. Our goal is to show the most effective method of remediating this contaminated soil and water.


I also built 24 families ( some of the poorest and those with disabilities) rainwater systems. I have been working with a local foundation 'The Committee of Human Rights' who are aware of those most in need. These families do not have access to clean drinking water due to their wells and streams being contaminated from the oil industry. My method of working with the families is that they must also help themselves and provide the wood for the platform. I first put up rainwater gutters on the roof connected to a filter which contains gravel, sand and charcoal which then passes into the 500 litre holding tanks.

Whilst working with these families I have also taught them how to build compost systems and ecological toilets. Many families just go to the toilet anywhere in the forest and dont realise that they could be using this valuable nutrient. The most simple method for them is to dig a deep hole with a lid where all the members of the family can use the same place, cover their deposits with leaves and when full plant a banana tree on top.

I was also invited to a 2 day workshop in another county entitled The National Meeting of Ecological Agriculture. The meeting was to unite different farming organisations and for them to share their experiences with ecological agriculture around Ecuador. They discussed how to promote organic agriculture, the threat of genetically modified seeds and how to value the small farmers.

Whilst at the meeting I met the coordinator of the Collective of Woman Mushroom Growers. I was invited to see their growing facilities and whilst there discovered the woman were unable to grow mushrooms from seed themselves. Only one person in all of Ecuador has the knowledge and refuses to teach others as he sells the mycelium to them. I invited the woman to come to our lab and learn how to cultivate mushrooms for themselves. They left extremely grateful and no longer will have to buy outside mycellium.

Another priority that came up during my visit was the huge threat to Yasuni National Park. This UN Biosphere Reserve has been deemed the most biodiverse area on Earth and still has 2 uncontacted tribes that refuse any contact with the outside world. The Ecuadorian Government had come up with a plan to ask the world to support the country financially so they could protect the park and leave the oil in the ground. Unfortunately the world did not support Ecuador and so the Government is now intending to enter the jewel of our planet to suck out some of the last of the crude oil.

Groups of environmentalists around the world joined together under the name Yasunidos and organised events to raise awareness and collect signatures to call for a public national vote. 600,000 signatures were required by the Government and incredibly almost 800,000 were collected. As I am not an Ecuadorean citizen I was not able to sign so I helped to collect signatures including the new Mayors. Unfortunately whilst it was agreed that 30 people would oversee the counting it has been discovered that the Government opened the boxes and then took them away without overseers. This has caused a huge uproar in a supposedly democratic country.

After weeks of hard work I organised a jungle trip for the scientists and volunteers working with AMP to visit Cuyabeno National Park for 4 days. We were incredibly lucky to see the pink river dolphins, an anaconda, a harpy eagle, monkeys , sloths, crocodiles, poison dart frogs and so much more, including heaps of cordyceps mushrooms much to the mycologists delight.

When the group went off for a tour of the jungle village I went to speak to the local leaders about rubbish separation and the contamination caused through throwing batteries in the river. All the village was inside the community hall for a meeting and I noticed loitering outside an oil company worker. I asked what he was doing inside the reserve and was told that he was waiting for signatures from the 3 communities inside the park so they could enter for more oil exploration. It was sad to realise not only the environmental impact that could occur but the social impact as well. Only 2 of the communities had signed and accepted the money whilst Puerto Bolivar refused to sign. This has caused fighting and separation amongst the villages and families.

It is the indigenous Siona people who are the guardians of this area of the Amazon and this is their ancestral territory. I discovered the leaders of the communites are colonists, not Siona, so of course do not have the same deep connection to the land. How can outsiders who were not born on the land have the rights to decide what will happen within the park?

I was shocked by this news and felt the responsibility to raise the alarm. I spoke to the Head of Cuyabeno Park, The Mayor, the Ministry of the Environment, on the local radio station and to other interested parties. None of them had heard of the potential threat. All I can do is to raise awareness and shine a light on the darkness, looking for solutions in whatever way possible.


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