Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods Through Artistry in Northcentral Colombia

Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods Through Artistry in Northcentral Colombia

In the tropical rainforests of the Serranía de las Quinchas of northcentral Colombia, near the El Paujil Reserve, critically endangered species like the Magdalena Spider Monkey (left) and the Blue-billed Curassow (below) are threatened by hunting and habitat loss due to timber extraction.

Beginning in 2009, Women for Conservation led workshops to empower local women to explore sustainable economic practices that would avoid incurring more damage to the precious remaining remnants of habitat upon which these rare species depend. Because people in this area traditionally relied on wildlife poaching and timber harvesting to support their families, Women for Conservation’s efforts to provide educational opportunities and sustainable alternatives was especially beneficial in bolstering conservation efforts in the region.

Women for Conservation trained more than 40 women to produce beautiful artisan jewelry and handmade goods, partnering with Fundación ProAves to market the crafts both locally and internationally. ProAves leveraged its El Paujil Reserve as a venue to sell the handicrafts and also provided an international sales platform by marketing the goods at events and exhibitions around the world, including the 6th Annual British Bird Fair in 2011 (left). The proceeds from these local handmade crafts directly benefited the women who made them and reduced their reliance on ecologically harmful and unsustainable practices.

Thanks to Women for Conservation’s efforts, local women gained more secure livelihoods by learning to craft colorful and intricate beaded bracelets and necklaces, bookmarks, hand-painted crafts, and tagua nut jewelry carved from the seed of the Phytelephas macrocarpa palm. They worked together in every step of the crafting process, from gathering tagua nuts in the forest, to processing, painting, and mounting the seeds during collaborative workshops.

Though most of the workshops were concentrated near El Paujil, Women for Conservation also hosted workshops to improve the economic wellbeing of women in other Colombian communities neighboring the ProAves El Dorado and Las Tángaras Reserves. Women for Conservation’s work to promote sustainable alternatives to poaching and timber extraction not only helped alleviate poverty and reliance on heavily extractive practices, but also engendered local goodwill toward the reserves. Thanks to increased local support near the El Paujil Reserve, ProAves could more effectively protect valuable biodiversity hotspots and the habitats of charismatic species like the Vulnerable Spectacled Bear and the Near Threatened Jaguar.

For the women in these communities, learning new skills, like crafting jewelry from tagua nuts, meant a more stable future for their families and the ability to enjoy and preserve their native wildlife for future generations. 

Photo at left: A hand-crafted tagua seed necklace.

Species photos by ProAves.

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