For nearly 30 years, Maria Eliza Manteca Oñate has worked tirelessly to reverse environmental damage in the Ecuadorian Andes, persuading farmers it is possible to live off the land without damaging the soil.
Maria Eliza Manteca Oñate has reason to be happy. Her one-woman crusade to reverse decades of agricultural mismanagement is making its mark on her beloved Ecuador. Methods developed by her Golondrinas Foundation now have government support under a policy known as granjas integradas, or integrated farms.
I set myself the target of finding a way to earn money so that I could return to my village to work with the local people and find ways of improving their economic condition.
Destructive farming practices and the over-exploitation of timber have destroyed more than 90 per cent of Ecuador’s native forest, with catastrophic effects on the environment and people. Determined to protect the remaining forest, and improve living standards, in 1991 the former nurse established a nature reserve near her home village, which became the Golondrinas Foundation. In 1998 using income from her hostel in Quito, she set up a model farm, Peña Negra, where adults and children learn to protect and live off the land, conservation efforts that earned Manteca a Rolex award.
These efforts have paid dividends. Completely reforested, the farm, core of the project, is now home to 55 plant species and farmers are applying permaculture and other techniques introduced by the foundation. A second farm is being developed at nearby Santa Rosa, focusing on coffee plants. Students are always welcome, with Manteca encouraging research into medicinal plants in the cloud forest. There are also plans for another hostel to generate further income.
Size in hectares of the Golondrinas Reserve, now a protected forest, which Manteca plans to expand to 25,000 hectares
Altitude of the second model farm, Santa Rosa