The community of Yunguilla is settled in the mountains an hour outside of Quito, Ecuador. Just a few years ago, their plan was to, as always, clear cut the forest for farming until the soil lost all its nutrients and forced them to move on. There are thousands of communities that live these semi-nomadic lifestyles across the globe. Historically, many were forced into migratory patterns due to socio-political upheavals while in the present day these movements are increasing due to the effects of climate change. In 1995, the Manquipucuna Foundation reached out to the community of Yunguilla to help them understand how to live in synergy with the land around them. They worked with them to impart environmental conservation principles ranging from composting to advanced forestry management. This was done with the full participation of the community as they too wished to understand how to live in balance with the cloud forest they inhabit and learn to thrive with its resources.
The innovation being articulated through this article is more abstract then a single project. The success of Yunguilla stems from a number of innovative practices that have been adopted by the community. The inclusion of environmental practices in every aspect of life has helped the community grow sustainably over the past 19 years. Through the community organization, they have been able to improve their economic standing to the point where families have comfortable, multi-level houses with all the amenities one would expect, using sustainably sourced materials. Their ever-growing number of micro-industries have provided the community with a diversity of job opportunities. Also, the sense of community that these activities forge creates bonds of dependence and support missing in many contemporary communities.
In 2000, they founded the community organization that manages the several micro-industries active in this community as residents union. They are engaged in a number of productive cottage industries ranging from cheese making to their own line of jams and marmalade. What is central to these activities is not sacrificing their environmental principles to ensure their prosperity. People in the community expressed themselves as not having too much, but enough to lead happy and fulfilled lives. Through the help of other NGOs and government programs, they launched an tourism industry. This environmental and community tourism provides visitors with an opportunity to experience life in the community, not in some artificial tourist trap but through lodging and living with community hosts. The proceeds of this activity go mainly towards the community organization that uses the income to make large purchases of equipment and organize community events. One family described a vacation they took to Ecuador’s coast together with their community. Such a thing would never have been possible on a single family’s income.
The take aways from this community are numerous and merit closer introspection. In this approach, there is a best-practice in consolidation of environmental conservation and economic development. Often the criticism environmental practices are that they will conflict with the local economic practices of vulnerable populations. As is the case around the world, stimulating economic growth in the name of poverty alleviation often comes at the cost of the local environment. But in Yunguilla, we see a community that has been successful integrating those two principles creating the long-sought after win-win scenario the environmental and business community desire.