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Friends of CATIE and The Tropics Foundation
The annual Friends of CATIE program combines tours of beautiful tropical areas with educational visits to rural development projects. Participants have the opportunity to visit with the people involved in all facets of CATIE's work — from project directors and students to rural farmers and local officials.
Friends of CATIE met at the CATIE headquarters in Turrialba, Costa Rica, before heading to the ecologically rich Mesoamerican Corridor along the southern Caribbean coast. The group stopped at a small plant in the lowlands that produces banana vinegar, a project funded through a USAID small donations initiative, and took a look at nearby organic banana farms.
The bus then climbed into the hills of the Talamanca Indian Reserve to the site of a World Bank funded project to improve productivity on cacao plantations that belong to Bribri and Cabécar indigenous farmers. As the group walked among the cacao trees, they learned about diversification through addition of fruit and timber trees as shade for cacao trees. They also tasted organic chocolate made by Bribri women and saw how the chocolate was produced. Finally, a doctoral student shared research on biodiversity and its effects on these small farms.
Participants had a chance to see how CATIE works hand-in-hand with local organizations that will continue the work even after projects end.
The tour began with a beautiful ocean side sunset reception and a Costa Rican rodeo and barbecue at Hacienda Pinilla on the Nicoya Peninsula. The reception was followed by a visit to Hojancha, where research and development projects directed by CATIE beginning 30 years ago continue to bear fruit. What once was a depressed area with declining population, degraded landscapes, and only 12 percent forest cover. The region now boasts 42 percent forest cover, small businesses, and an uplifting air of progress. Participants visited a sawmill, a small furniture &ndash making operation, a cooperative that processes coffee and runs a coffee tour for tourists, and at the end of the day dined with members of community organizations in a biologically rich forest reserve.
The next tour stop was Esparza, where Friends witnessed how cattle farmers are planting trees as living fences and forage banks in degraded pastures through a World Bank financed project. These efforts not only improve beef and dairy production, but also help protect biodiversity and watersheds. Participants were able to witness first hand the benefits of CATIE's innovative system to quantify carbon sequestration and biodiversity protection on these farms. They followed by touring two farms and having lunch with a local farming family.
The tour terminated at CATIE headquarters in Turrialba, with a visit to the Botanical Garden and a day trip within the Reventazón Model Forest. Reventazón is one of only 40 model forests around the globe that focus on wise use and protection of natural resources and improvement in quality of life for local communities. In the village of Pejibaye, participants breakfasted with a grassroots environmental group; met a farmer who, responding to low prices for coffee and sugar cane, set up a butterfly garden to supplement his income; and later toured a sugar cane processing plant. After lunch, the group took part in a special tour of the hydroelectric facilities at Tapantí National Park. With 23 feet of annual rainfall, this area is one of the wettest places in Costa Rica.
The 2006 tour closed with a dinner on campus where faculty and students dined with participants.
2006 Friends of CATIE and The Tropics Foundation
Women of the Bribri Indigenous Women's Association of Talamanca who started a small organic chocolate business.