food / travel

No Gold Mine? No Problem For Colombia's Cajamarca Region

After voting to ban metals mining, residents in the mountainous area west of Bogota are staking their future on farming and tourism.

in Cajamarca
in Cajamarca
Juan Miguel Hernández Bonilla

CAJAMARCA — Reaching the Vargas family home, on the Bellavista estate in the pine-covered mountains of Cajamarca, is no easy task. After driving for a good half-hour along a dusty, unpaved road, visitors then have to leave their car with the neighbors and walk a few more kilometers up a track leading from the road to the mountain-top homes of hundreds of peasants.

But it's well worth the trek. Hidden in the department of Tolima, the area is like an agricultural Eden. The banks of the Anaime river are banana trees and coffee shrubs, purple-leaf acacia and orchids. A few meters further up there are vines of beans, peas and passionfruit. And in the highest parts of the mountain range, at 2,500 meters above sea level, potatoes, passion flower, blackberries and a variety of edible roots, such as arracacha. Scientists and farmers agree that over time, ash from the nearby Machín volcano enriched the local soil and made it one of the continent's most fertile areas.

For the past seven months, the Vargas family — Berlain, Martal and their three children — have been selling arracacha directly to Colombian restaurant chain Crepes and Waffles. They are one of several areas families to do so.

Normally, a 125-kilogram load is worth between 100,000 or 120,000 pesos 28 to 34 euros roughly, according to Berlain. "But Crepes pays 300,000 pesos for it and it's changing our lives," he says. "We were able to bring home a washing machine. You don't know that means. Marta saves an hour or two every day washing clothes, and spends that time doing what she likes: weeding, pruning and caring for her vegetable patch and bushes."

The alliance with Crepes came months after the district decided, in a landmark vote, to ban metals mining in the area. The vote prompted the South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti — which had been engaged in exploratory work there for nearly 15 years — to pull up stakes and leave.

With Crepes and other food providers, area farmers are showing that there is an economic alternative to open-air gold minng. The head of sustainability at Crepes, Felipe Macía Fernández, says the determination of people in Cajamarca to safeguard local food production and their landscape has become a "source of inspiration for innovations in cuisine, art exhibitions and the exploration of new markets that promote conservation."

For Berlain and other member families of the Association of Andean Seed Producers, or ASPROSAN — with whom Crepes signed a deal last year — the experience so far has been extremely positive. "Things here aren't like how the mayor, Pedro Pablo Marín, made it seem in the media. The town isn't in crisis and we don't regret saying no to mining in our territory. On the contrary, we are more and more convinced that Cajamarca's future is in tourism and farming."

The comments referred to a recent article in the business and finance newspaper Portafolio, in which the municipal government depicts the anti-mining vote as economically disastrous. The mayor, his planning secretary, and certain employees or beneficiaries of AngloGold Ashanti say the company's departure caused a cash crisis that is impacting local health, education and housing programs.
But residents in Cajamarca paint a different picture. AngloGold's departure showed that the local economy depends not on mining, but on its farmers. Alfonso Arias, a co-founder of the Association of Anaime River Basin Ecological Farmers (APACRA), says that farmers — who represent about 70% of the district population — have found new and profitable opportunities in recent months.
"Since the vote we've seen the arrival of big marketing and exporting firms investing in passionfruit, poro poro and Hass avocados," Arias says.
This business model is taking off across the country, and maybe a key to improving living standards among local farmers. Figures from the export promotion agency Procolombia show that Hass avocados were the country's second-most exported fruit in 2017 after bananas, and that poro poro exports reached nearly $26 million that year. If the government decides to back the Cajamarca vote, the district could become an important fruit export hub.
In the meantime, people in the district have taken it upon themselves to seek help elsewhere — from European NGOs such as Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and Catapa, which applaud the community's determination to protecting its water resources against one of the world's big mining firms.
Nature is what we have to show
Another agency, the Norwegian-Swedish Cooperation Fund with Colombian Civil Society (FOSCOL), is offering grants for organic farming projects involving women. Róbinson Mejía, a local environmentalist and promoter of the no vote, says FOSCOL wants to empower female farmers and strengthen the defense of this territory.
"There is a consensus in Cajamarca on the right to life and the importance of water," he says Mejía. "People don't want AngloGold to return for any reason whatsoever and are ready to ensure the decision they took is respected. If there is another referendum, we'll win again and with more votes."
Locals are also keen to tap into the area's tourism potential. Luz Ángela Jiménez, the founder of the tourism promotion and environmental agency Cajantour, says natural attractions like the Tochecito palm forest — home to 80% of the world's wax palm trees, — or the Nevados national park are already boosting the local economy.
"We want people to come, discover and enjoy the marvels of Cajamarca," she says. "We live in a very privileged ecosystem. Cajamarca is green. Nature is what we have to show. There are parrots, pumas, ocelots, sloths and armadillos.... all of this is more profitable in the long term than gold."
The locals are optimistic, she adds, and with good reason. "Above all, we want to be clear in telling the country that we, the farmers of Cajamarca, do not regret our decision," Jiménez says.
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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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