Written by: Jeffrey Haas, Board Chair, EcoViva
For four days, from February 17 to the 21st, EcoViva Board members Jeff Haas, Hal Baron, Mary LaPorte and Jim Baker, together with EcoViva staff, Yael Falicov, ED, Nathan Weller, Program & Policy Director, and Tricia Johnson, Amigos Fellow, met with the leaders of our main partner organization, the Mangrove Association, in El Salvador. As always we were impressed with their commitment to promote the interests of their constituents, as well as their continued growth and sophistication.
What’s new is the increasingly strong and respected role our local partners are playing on a national level to advance the programs and policies they learned from their experience, and which they are seeking to make national policy. This is particularly relevant today as the US is proposing to invest $277 million dollars in development aid to the coastal areas of El Salvador. It is critical to assure that the programs and projects, which must be approved by the Salvadoran Legislature, not only benefit the communities affected but are developed with their input, knowledge and experience, and are environmentally sustainable.
On our visit to Ciudad Romero we were treated to a presentation by the revitalized Youth Program outlining their goals. These include educating youth to their history and the history of the Coordinadora (the social movement that founded the Mangrove Association), providing scholarships to young leaders to attend local technical schools to gain skills needed in the local rural communities, expanding the hours and subject matter (including local and national news) for Mangrove Community Radio, and dance and theater. We saw two excellent youth dance performances, one traditional and one hip hop, by two new troupes. Juan Luna, leader of the diversified agriculture program, led us on a tour of the flourishing demonstration farm, with its newly rebuilt solar-powered drip irrigation system.
In our meetings with the local leadership we learned about their campaign to have farmers plant native seeds that reproduce rather than hybrids or GMO seeds which cannot be replanted. The government has agreed to include native seeds in a program that provides corn seed to over 325,000 family farms throughout the country. Over 50% of corn seed purchased by the government is now sourced from the Bajo Lempa region, a major victory for local farmers. This is part of food security and sustainable development to increase independence from foreign seed manufacturers and reliance on their own production.
We also discussed local efforts to translate some of the gains they have made locally in restoring the mangroves and maritime bounty of of the Bay of Jiquilisco, by passing national laws that provide protection for mangrove trees, beaches, and natural resources throughout the country. To this end, EcoViva’s Program & Polciy Director Nathan Weller has moved to San Salvador to assist national legislator Estela Hernandez, a key leader of the Mangrove Association, in writing legislation to protect and preserve the natural resources on which local rural communities depend.
While every step forward is a challenge, the environment within the current FMLN-led government in El Salvador allows our partners more opportunities for coalition-building and passing laws that benefit rural communities and the environment. As here in the US, the issue is “What kind of development?,” i.e., that which destroys natural resources for maximum profit, or that which benefits the local people and the natural habitat in the long run and which will ameliorate – rather than exacerbate – the effects of climate change? EcoViva is working every day with local people to support their vision for a thriving, sustainable future.