Lidér Gorgora came to Terra Madre 2012 from Ecuador to present the project on the reconstruction of the mangroves in the country's north (in the province of Esmeraldas). He belongs to that category of people who believe in justice and fight for it. Coordinator of the National Environmental Assembly of Ecuador and member of the administrative council of the Collective of the social movement of the country, his most striking feature is the huge smile with which he greets his interviewers. He tells us hear of his battle, which in the end is also ours.
"I come from Muisne Island, which is surrounded by the mangroves. I was born there, went away to study and then finally returned home to the island. Three million people have emigrated from Ecuador in the past few years to find work. And still my country is rich in resources, we have everything and there are so few of us. But where is the money? In Miami, in Switzerland, everywhere but in Ecuador. The politicians take it away. Years ago I decided that I had to do something, spread our culture because it is not the people's fault : consumers don't know what is happening. We must educate people so that it will be the consumer who chooses because this is a fight for everybody.
I work on the coasts of Ecuador with the fishermen and women who collect molluscs and crabs. Unfortunately, for a while now a problem has been coming to the fore: a large shrimp industry has caused the destruction of 70% of the country's mangroves. It's a disaster : not only have they uprooted the trees but they have destroyed an entire ecosystem that is fundamental for the local populations. In the beginning the situation scared us because it is difficult to deal with somebody who has political and economic power. Nonetheless we created an organization that has now become active on a national level ‘the National Coordination for the defense of the mangroves'. Each village has a small association but united together we are strong and very well organized.
In this organization we do a bit of everything : we come together to talk and understand what we want done and how to do it. For example, we often discuss the ways to combat deforestation and recover the local flora and fauna (crabs and fish). We try to come up with concrete proposals instead of merely talking about the problems. Simply saying "no" doesn't help anything if there aren't alternative proposals. We write legislative proposals, proposals on ministerial agreements and on regulations. Recently we have been able to intervene to add an article to the Constitution of Ecuador that talks about the importance of the mangroves.
The shrimp industry arrived in Ecuador around 1967 before then going on to the other countries in Latin America. Since then they have only brought about destruction. Before the arrival of the shrimp farms, our territory was covered with 360,000 hectares of mangroves all along the coast of Ecuador...now there are only 108,000 hectares left. We have lost a full 70%! These industries don't only hurt the ecosystem : the local people have been forced to relocate, leaving their property and houses behind.
The locals do not work for the shrimp industries because the owners don't trust them, thinking that they could steal the shrimp and thus they bring in people from other cities. The problem is that these workers earn a wage that is less than the national minimum. They have no insurance or security. They are not given anything to eat and have to get it for themselves and, since they come from far away, they have to rent a place to live. Thus most of their salary goes towards rent and food. To understand the situation, a hecatare of these pools of shrimp costs roughly $1000 to work; the first harvest takes place after four or five monts and produces 25 quintals of shrimp that are 16 grams a piece, which are then sold at $15/16 per kilo. This industry is therefore more profitable than coca, being both faster to produce and legal! For this reason all of our politicians and those with economic power here are all shrimp farmers. It is hard to fight them but the people have realized that we must face them, even if it entails the loss of life. Many of our companions have already lost their lives.
The mangroves protect the populations that live along the coast. If these dissapear then the people will be forced to leave because storms and huricanes will destroy entire villages. Furthermore the mangroves are important for the immigration of the birds who come from North America to spend a considerable amount of their lives in the mangroves of the South. If they arrive and don't find the mangroves they die, since they won't be able to find the necessary food. The fishing industry also depends on this ecosystem: the mangroves offer shelter from predators to the smaller fish and crabs. It is a protected environment where eggs are laid. The mangroves constitute one percent of the world's forests and, according to the latest data out of the FAO, 50% of this one percent has been lost. We are witnessing a true disaster on our planet.
It is nice to come to Slow Fish and talk about these problems. I hope that through this opportunity people will understand the damage that we are doing. We must at least stop this destruction a little bit. The industries don't take care of anything, they continually cut away hectares of forest. We ask the politicians to leave us our territory because our history and culture are there. The people, both in Ecuador and throughout the world, must know this."