A new centre

A new centre in Esmeraldes Province

Author: Tony Jansen Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinampa

The article was published in The Web Journal of Permaculture Sydney, Autumn 1995.

Before returning to Sydney to prepare for work in the Solomon Islands, Tony Jansen spent a year in Esmeraldes Province, Ecuador, a place with high unemployment, low wages and a logging industry that threatens 10 per cent of the country’s remaining Chaco rainforest.

A three-hectare parcel of land in a low-lying area adjacent to mangroves was purchased and a core group of CIBT workers set up the centre. Most of the site had been cleared five years earlier and some sections were regenerating well, so it was decided to leave these alone.

A flexible, long-tern design was developed with an intensive garden surrounded by the centre, living quarters and a house for the live-in guardian.

Around this, an orchard and aquaculture development is planned. Intensive aquaculture systems have a lot of potential in low-lying areas as fish are a large part of the local diet.

The mini-chinampa orchard

As the orchard was developed we decided to adopt a mini-chinampa design with raised orchard strips separated by meandering canals feeding into the aquaculture area. The trees in the orchard were planted according to a plan that will ensure they grow into a multi-layer canopy.

The canopy slopes to either side and runs on an east-west axis with small trees on the edge, then medium and then large fruit trees in the middle. This creates a sun-edge for fruit production and is intensive and low maintenance.


Mandala – a circular pattern – gardens with central pawpaw, plantain and coconut circles were established early in the intensive vegetable growing area. Plans were made for a chicken tractoring system to prepare the land for planting and an extensive nursery was set up as all species have to be grown from seed.

Integrated animal/ cropping systems are to be a feature of the centre as many people keep animals although they can be a nuisance and hygiene problem in communities. There is interest in how animals can be penned into a tractoring system in which they do much of the work of turning the soil and fertilising it with their wastes. Forage species for the animals are planted as part of the design. This demonstrates how, with a little planning and investment, extra produce could be a bonus to the keeping of the animals that people already have.

Interest grows

Despite numerous problems, interest in the centre was slowly increasing in the community. A school and kindergarten were becoming actively involved in the project by planting fruit trees and gardens. There were workshops for the kids.

We were working with Afro-Ecuadorians who ran co-ops in town and were in the process of diversifying into producing some of the goods the co-ops stocked.

This is where the CIBT project came into their plans as it could serve as a learning centre for sustainable land-use practices and create an alternative economy producing products for sale at the co-ops.

Many gringos come into the area preaching development but little of this actually helps the local people and it is often detrimental if there is indeed any real impact.

CIBT’s project is low-budget and modest in comparison but people are starting to understand that CIBT is there for the long slog and offers practical, understandable solutions and, most importantly, is living them.

The long term objective is to make the project an economically and ecologically viable unit within the local community.


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