Working with local people and governments to create 'Eco-cities'        

The Rainforest Information Centre is in a very positive initiative in Ecuador that encourages and assists in the creation of 'Eco-cities'.  This is linked to a growing global movement of environmental responsibility on a local level and is where some very effective actions can be taken. There is no definition as such of an 'eco-city', nor a set of standards that must be adhered to, but there are many ideas and plans being implemented in Cotacachi and Bahia de Caraquez that clearly point towards a more environmentally sensitive future.

In this report you will find some basic background and some ecological activities in these two areas. Following this there is a brief outline of an alternative expo to be held in Cotacachi in mid-April 2000 that we hope will increase ecological awareness and expand ecological activities in the area. We welcome your participation or any other kind of help you can offer!

Cotacachi - 'Canton Ecologica'

Cotacachi is a town and region (Canton) of around 35,000 people in the Andes of Ecuador, about 2 hours north-east of Quito. It contains some of the world's finest biological treasures and movements to protect them.

The Rainforest Information Centre has become steadily involved in the activities of the Cotacachi Municipal government particularly in relation to our 6000 ha biological cloud forest reserve in the region, the Los Cedros Biological Reserve. This government, thanks to it's progressive Mayor, Auki Tituana Males, is providing a model of participatory democracy to Latin America and the world.

In addition to its biological magnificence  (an area described by world-renowned biologist E.O. Wilson as one of the 10 hotspots of  biodiversity on the planet) it is an historic centre of fierce resistance to exploitation by outside invaders.  The tribal people of the area fought the Incas for generations, who only succeeded in taking the area by intermarriage and huge massacres.  The women of Cotacachi led the first strong movements against the Spanish conquistadors.

Recently the people of Intag, Cotacachi displayed their self-determination to follow their own course of development by rejecting the invasion of a huge Japanese supported mining development. When the local communities burnt down the Mitsubishi Materials mining camp in 1997 after the mining operators refused to meet with them, they carefully deposited all the valuable mining equipment with the Mayor to return to the company in Japan.

Auki Tituana Males is the first indigenous Mayor of Cotacachi since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors 500 years ago. He believes and practices participatory democracy along with a commitment to restoring and preserving the cultural traditions and ecological integrity of the area. As a trained economist he speaks eloquently and acts definitively in response to threats to the region - including the desire of multinationals to exploit the area for natural resources.

When he was elected 4 years ago, one of the first things he did was institute a process where the voices of all the people of the region could be heard and form the policy of the local government - the People's Assembly. Through a number of committees, including Health, Tourism, Education and Children and Youth, decisions are made and resolutions are passed. They form the basis of the running of the Canton.

One of the strongest resolutions and a central theme of this year's Assembly was the formal declaration of the whole region as a 'Canton Ecologica'. What seems most important to the people of Cotacachi and the Mayor is that the 'Canton Ecologica' is not simply a declaration - but a practice. An environmental committee is being formed to develop and propose legislation to control destructive activities and promote restoration of forests. Any ideas for what kind of legislation and ordinances should form the basis of an Eco-Canton are very welcome!

Another vital aspect to the 'Canton Ecologica' is environmental education and alternative development initiatives. We played a minor role in presenting some of these initiatives - displaying a book on alternative energy, talking about the permaculture which is part of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve project and exciting people with a poster showing the wonders of 'pedal power' (generating electricity by bicycles).  It is primarily with this intention that we are helping organise an alternative development expo. in mid April 2000 (See below.).

Bahia de Caraquez - Eco-city

Bahia de Caraquez is a small city located on the coast of Ecuador, in the state of Manabi. What was famous as a resort city became a disaster area after El Nino mudslides and a severe earthquake in 1998. The city decided to rebuild itself as an 'Eco-city' and passed a by-law to that effect in February 1999. The Rainforest Information Centre worked with local and international NGOs, including Planet Drum Foundation (USA) and Action for Mangrove Restoration (Japan) to organise a series of events to celebrate a day dedicated to Mangrove protection and the declaration of the Eco-city on February 28th 1999.

Actually, through the activities of local groups, there were already a number of excellent ecological projects including; massive reforestation efforts (deforestation was one of the causes of the severity of the landslides), eco-tourism, recycled paper production, ecological houses for disaster victims (bamboo being the main building material), recycling organic waste in the market place and environmental school (Rio Muchacho), and permaculture projects.

The declaration and involvement of international groups, in particular Planet Drum Foundation, have meant these initiatives and more are continuing. The two local governments of Cotacachi and Bahia de Caraquez are sharing ideas and experience to strengthen the eco-cities of the future.

Alternative Development Expo. in Cotacachi
Mid-April 2000

Groups responsible:
Centro de Investigaciones de los Bosques Tropicales (CIBT)/Rainforest
Information Centre and Defensa y Conservacion Ecologica de Intag (DECOIN).

Project Aims:

* To solidify community resistance to destructive development threats in Cotacachi, in particular mining (whose development has been funded by both Japanese Overseas Aid and the World Bank) by providing examples of a wide spectrum of alternative development initiatives.

* To strengthen understanding of ecological concepts and increase community participation in the initiatives of the 'Canton Ecologica'.

* To deliver practical alternative development options to communities in Cotacachi and Ecuador.


Cotacachi is a region and town located in the Andean north of Ecuador whose communities (indigenous, mestizo and negro) have been actively involved in a participatory democratic process initiated by their indigenous Mayor,  Auki Tituana Males.

Cotacachi contains extremely threatened ecosystems - according to E.O. Wilson, one of the 10 threatened hot spots on the planet. The threats are not only from the effects of colonisation, but an increasing threat is mining activities - a process that has been backed by Japanese ODA and the World Bank - typically without the participation or support of the communities involved nor the local government. In the past few months, the World Bank has funded an Ecuadorian intrusion for mining prospecting in a Protected area, the Cotacachi/Cayapas Biological Reserve.

Communities in Cotacachi have furiously resisted this destructive development and have succeeded in keeping mining at bay to date - their efforts being supported by the Mayor.

In addition they have researched and initiated alternatives to mining in order to meet their legitimate development aspirations. One success so far has been organic, shade grown coffee. Auki accompanied two community representatives to Japan to expand the possibilities for international markets for the coffee and this year the first load is being sent to Japan for sale.

Through the participatory political process, the people of Cotacachi unanimously voted for the whole area to be declared a 'Canton Ecologica' and are currently in the process of discussing legislation and projects  that would promote this idea on both a local and international level.

The area of Cotacachi, due to its advanced social and ecological awareness, is an ideal model area for development systems that are ecologically and socially benign. We are proposing to showcase cutting edge initiatives from around the world to inspire and empower not only local communities, but guests from other parts of Ecuador and the world, about alternative development options.

Proposed participating organisations and individuals (partial list):


RIC/CIBT Australia/Ecuador, DECOIN, UNOCARC, Cotacachi Municipality Environment Commission), Foundation Stuarium (Eco-city Bahia de Caraquez), Cotacachi Institute Of Leather Production, local Peace Corps volunteers.


Organic Coffee Japan, Japan Brazil Foundation, Global Village/The Fair Trade Company Japan, Planet Drum Foundation, Rainbow Power Company (Australia), Earth Steward Institute (Japan), Permaculture Institute Japan and Australia.


International networking to collect examples of ecologically benign development initiatives, preparing displays and other materials, preliminary training workshops, preparation of seminar and presentations, follow up with groups implementing projects. Some of the initiatives to be presented include:

*  Fair and Organic Trade - featuring organic coffee and loofah initiatives which have already found Japanese markets - as well as providing an opportunity for community groups to explore and display a range of other possibilities,

*  Permaculture - including native reforestation, urban waste recycling and community seed banks,

*  Renewable energy- focus on micro-hydros which are ideal for Ecuador, pedal power and solar,

*  Eco-tourism - displaying current and potential eco-tourism sites, defining ecotourism and displays from other parts of Ecuador,

*  Eco-cities and bioregionalism.

We would like to invite anyone interested in finding out more, participating in this event or helping us in some way to contact us as soon as possible! -  Anja Light, Rainforest Information Centre,

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