Bioremediation and Regeneration in Oil-Damaged Ecuador

Lexie Groper
Tuesday, 26th November 2019

Lexie Groper shares the work of Amisacho Restauración, one of the finalists in the 2019 Permaculture Magazine Prize. The project works with Ecuadorian communities affected by Chevron/Texaco oil spills, teaching land regeneration, bioremediation using mycelium, how to grow natural medicines and create diverse income streams.

Throughout our lives we are exposed to countless stories and tales that shape the ways in which we view the world. What follows is a true story of those impacted by the fossil fuel economy that rules so many aspects of our lives.

In the most biodiverse region in the world, toxic petroleum seeps through the waters and soils, contaminating everything in its path. The politicians prefer to eat green money over the fruits from the lush forests they cut down. Underneath the fallen trees, seeds of hope are germinating and growing resilient roots below the forest floor, transferring nutrients and energy, communicating to all. Through the mycelial network, these seeds of hope share the secrets to restoring a lush forest and protecting all its biodiversity, including the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged, the squigglers, and the rooted. As they grow, they show the path forward to repair the earth for the collective health of all. These resilient seeds are the women and men, young and old, indigenous and mestizos of the Ecuadorian Amazon. They are creating their own environmental and social justice future after five decades of petroleum extraction, resulting in the worst land based oil spills known to date.

The history

To understand our tale of resistance, you must first understand the complex history of what we are overcoming.

In the early 1960s, oil was discovered in the old growth rainforest of Ecuador, and rapidly, everything changed. Ecosystems became assets, biodiversity gave way to bottom lines. The results of this lawless resource extraction were unprecedented levels of toxins and a culture in shreds. Finally, in 1993, decades into the perpetuation of these deep injustices, over 30,000 farmers and indigenous people of the Northeastern Amazon Basin of Ecuador formed a movement known as the Union of Affected People Against Chevron/Texaco (UDAPT www.texacotoxico.net). They pioneered a class-action lawsuit against the giant transnational petrol company. In 2011, Ecuador’s highest court declared Chevron liable for $9.5 billion in damages. To this day, Chevron corporation has refused to pay this fine or take any responsibility for the ecocide and toxic consequences they left behind.

After 27 years of ongoing legal battle, the lawsuit has transformed into a movement of people ready to write a new story, to create a new vision of health and sovereignty in the Upper Amazon. Now, indigenous leaders and local farmers are attempting to take this issue into their own hands by exploring ways to implement sustained social and environmental justice into their affected communities.

We have formed a regional alliance of support (composed of UDAPT, La Clinica Ambiental, and Amisacho Restauración) to bring equitable and ecological knowledge into areas where environmental education and resources are scarce. The purpose of our work is to prepare local people to restore the environment, health, and culture through community-scale restoration projects.

UDAPT-Environmental-Reparations-Coordina
UDAPT Environmental Reparations Coordinator showing evidence of Chevron/Texaco’s toxic legacy left behind.

La Clinica Ambiental (www.clinicambiental.org) is a local NGO that offers free permaculture courses to affected farmers and communities, insisting that we end the application of agro-toxins on our food and medicines. From these courses rises the first network of Amazonian permaculture farmers in Ecuador, protecting seeds and harvesting from the diversity of their farms. These farms of hope led the way for two magnificent projects this year. The first being the inauguration of the Amazonian Route of Permaculture Farms, where tourism takes a conscious spin while learning and exchanging with these families doing the real groundwork.

These permaculture farmers have also given life to The Traveling Hope Fair, which is an interactive and educational fair that visits regional villages as the only source of organic produce in the province to raise awareness of food sovereignty, offer hands-on workshops, and inspire diverse income streams from agro-ecological products.

Passport-for-the-Ruta-Amazonica-de-la-Es
Passport for the Ruta Amazonica de la Esperanza, The Amazonian Route of Permaculture farms.

Regeneration, bioremediation and education

Amisacho Restauración (www.amisacho.com) is our reforestation project and educational farm located in the heart of Chevron/Texaco’s historic oil fields. Restoring degraded and contaminated soils using permaculture practices has revived this space into a refuge for native flora and fauna. Within this island of jungle, we created a research laboratory dedicated to experimental capacity building to facilitate bioremediation in our region. To bioremediate an area is the act of providing the adequate environmental conditions with the help of plants, fungi and bacteria, to facilitate Pachamama’s ability to decompose toxic compounds and redistribute these elements back into their compatible nutrient cycles. Another area of interest within our jungle lab is the production of Amazonian medicines. We built our own vapor distiller which we use for essential oil extraction of our reforested plants to produce and teach about homemade medicines and self-care products. We adapted the same vapor distiller to pasteurize agricultural waste-products which we divert for our mushroom cultivation production. As a response to the elevated cancer rates in the region, we’ve dedicated the cultivation primarily to the production of medicinal mushrooms for those who do not have access to far away treatment centers.

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La Feria de La Esperanza (The Hope Fair) in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

Amisacho collaborates with local and international activists and scientists to research and implement regenerative solutions at the level of the community. Through our investigations, failures, and successes, we work to share our findings and methods directly to the region through the networks of UDAPT and La Clinica Ambiental.

It’s one thing to raise hope, but it’s a grand challenge to sustain it. In February of 2019, UDAPT, La Clinica Ambiental and Amisacho Restauración organized a historic Environmental Reparations Assembly uniting regional community leaders with bioremediation experts to discuss international case studies of ecosystem restoration and grassroots movements. A collective decision was made to first focus on education as a means to build the knowledge needed for these communities to determine their own futures. The result is the upcoming course “Guardians of the Soil: An Introduction to Permaculture Based Bioremediation.” This program will enable the people to become better equipped with both modern and ancestral tools to bring future regional action plans to fruition. 

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Discussing ecosystem restoration at the first Environmental Reparations Assembly

Graduates of the course will become Guardians of the Soil, a name inspired by case studies from community-led soil centers in toxic urban environments in partnership with our international collaborator Social Ecologies (www.socialecologies.net). By creating spaces where communities can celebrate their work together through their short and long-term accomplishments, we can sustain hope. We aspire to build a social model that feeds back into all of the direct action pieces of restoring ecosystem, health, and community (education, remediation, diverse ecological products, community powered).

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Bringing the soil to life. A soil regeneration workshop with Amisacho Restauración.

Repairing the past and planting our future with native seeds of hope. Rooted in cultural sensitivity and conscious to all aspects of health, this course is designed for those who have been affected by decades of injustice and are committed to begin the long journey of restoration. With this in mind, we envision the final curriculum to be licensed in the Creative Commons to aid in the abundant spread of permaculture inspired bioremediation as a tool for communities, just as the Permaculture Design Course continues to inoculate the globe.

Amisacho Restauración was one of the 20 finalists for the 2019 Permaculture Magazine Prize.

Useful links

Permaculture Magazine Prize 2019

Watch: How mushrooms can save the world and us

How mushrooms can clean up radioactive contamination

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