In the extreme southeast of Costa Rica rises a mountain range still covered in green, whose seams are woven by the water. Talamanca is home to the Bribris and the Cabécares, 2 of the 8 indigenous peoples of this Central American nation.
It was there that Sibu, the creator god in Talamanco mythology, ordered the world. At first, it was darkness that ruled, and the surface was nothing more than a rock. Gods and spirit animals lay beneath her.
In the underworld lived Nãmãitãmĩ, Sibú’s sister, who had a daughter whom she called Sulára (in cabécar) or Irìria (in bribri). When Dukur Bulú, the bat that lived in Sibu’s house, sucked the blood of the earth-girl and then excreted it, so precious plants emerged.
In Mesoamerica, bats play an important role in the regeneration of forests by dispersing seeds through their excreta. For that reason, Sibu brought his niece to the surface and, through a ceremony, spread her blood on the rock: this is how the biosphere arose.
Sibú delegated the care of the girl-land to the women of Talamanque. He not only charged them with protecting the forest, but also transmitting that ancestral knowledge from generation to generation.
“Our grandmothers kept telling us that if we didn’t take care of her, Irìria would get sick. That is what is happening outside our territories”, says Edith Villanueva Reyes, one of the leaders of the Association of the Indigenous Women’s Commission of Talamanca (Acomuita).
And she adds: “The planet is polluted and climate change is already affecting us. We women live it day by day, because we are the ones in the house and we also go to the field to sow. We see it, for example, in how the pejibayes are no longer harvested as before”.
Pejibaye is the fruit of the Bactris gasipaes plant, related to palm trees. It is considered an agricultural and characteristic product in Costa Rican gastronomy.
Inequity: Another evil issue
Inequality is another of the ills that afflicts the girl-land and hinders the care work carried out by the women of Talamanque. Historically, incentives that economically recognize forest protection have ended up in the hands of men, since very few women have property titles.
“It is a bit sad to see that men have more opportunities to access credit and jobs. Within indigenous territories, there is our own struggle to empower women and give ourselves our place. Of course, it is less difficult to talk with men in our territories because, precisely, they are indigenous”, explains Villanueva.
“In our culture, men and women have work roles. There is no fight for power. Everyone knows what Sibu has delegated him to do. For this reason, women also have the right to access the opportunities that men have had”, she adds.
When the National Forest Financing Fund (Fonafifo) -State institution in charge of the Payment for Environmental Services (PSA) program- called on indigenous women to participate in consultation workshops on the National Strategy for the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), they did not miss the opportunity.
“We women like to dialogue, we do not go to those spaces to fight. That is what we have done and that has allowed us to win allies. We have been able to present our proposals to the government on how we want to work the PSA”, says Villanueva. “The land is a woman and is in the hands of women. It is a bit ironic that the payments are given to the men if we, the women, are in charge of taking care of it”, she questions.
Incentive for conservation
The idea of the PSA stems from the Forest Law 7575, promulgated in 1996, which prohibited the change of land use in Costa Rica. It is conceived as a financial recognition that the State provides to the owners of forests and forest plantations for the environmental services they provide: mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, protection of water sources, scenic beauty and protection of the biodiversity.
Through Fonafifo, an incentive is paid for conserving the forest. With this, it seeks to reduce the deforestation rate and avoid illegal logging, as well as promote the recovery of forest cover on degraded lands.
At the same time, it is intended to contribute to rural development, add to national strategies to combat poverty and meet climate goals. In fact, the PSA is one of the main components of Costa Rica’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
In recognition of 23 years of results, Fonafifo received the United Nations Award for Global Action on Climate 2020, in the category of “Financing climate-friendly investments”.
Since its entry into operation in 1997, the PSA has benefited more than 18,000 families, prioritizing small producers, rural women and indigenous territories. In total, it has mobilized more than US$ 524 million in contracts aimed at the conservation of more than 1.3 million hectares.
“The PES is a source of income for small forest owners and small forest producers who, through this program, receive resources to survive. In such a painful year for the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the PES has been an engine for the rural economy and is key to the sustainable economic recovery of Costa Rica”, declares Andrea Meza, Minister of Environment and Energy.
A Costa Rican forest, whose conservation would improve with more inclusion and participation of indigenous women. Photo: Giancarlo Pucci / UNDP Costa Rica
Michelle Soto Méndez