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„La Tigra“ in Costa Rica
Report
08/2021

Green is the colour of hope

An excursion to the area surrounding the La Tigra ­Rainforest Lodge in Costa Rica illustrates how many ­people are working together in the interests of nature conservation – the private sector is also doing its bit for the green recovery.

Text
: Sandra Weiss
Photos
: Sandra Weiss und GIZ

Although the nature trail behind José Miguel Herrera’s house is less than 50 metres long, you can easily spend several hours here in the middle of Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest. The flowers bloom in the most vivid hues and Herrera has fascinating stories to tell about the bees he keeps, while he goes from hive to hive and gives visitors a taste of his honey direct from the honeycomb. Costa Rica is home to more than 700 different bee species. Some of them are no bigger than a pinhead, while others are almost as large as one of the hummingbirds with which they share the flowers in Herrera’s garden. ‘Many of them are endangered,’ explains the 31-year-old while the bees swarm in and out constantly. But you can barely hear them. Most bees in Costa Rica are quiet and placid – and have no sting. The honey that Herrera sells tastes fruity or slightly bitter, depending on the season. For a long time his venture was overshadowed by imported honey, but now his honey is becoming more and more popular among tourists and locals, he tells us. ‘I sold a lot of honey and natural remedies like pollen and propolis during the pandemic, both at the farm itself and online.’

Until a few years ago Herrera, from Valle Azul, still worked as a waiter. Now he has his own small business called Euglossin – named after a bee species – with his own logo, sales stand and Facebook page. He launched his company under a GIZ pilot project. Conservation and sustainable economic promotion go hand in hand.

Bildergalerie Accordion

Costa Rica is considered a shining light internationally when it comes to conservation and eco-tourism. So far, however, most ventures have come from state initiatives. The country aims to become carbon neutral this year. Conservation regions account for one quarter of its surface area. But this is also a financial burden for the state. And the COVID-19 pandemic was a harsh setback for the country since tourism is its main source of foreign exchange. The budget deficit is growing; Costa Rica’s foreign debt now totals around USD 30 billion. That is one reason why the government wants to involve the private sector more in conservation.

‘We need to rethink’ is the message from Deputy Environment Minister Franklin Paniagua, whose ministry is GIZ’s partner in the proj­ect. ‘The aim used to be to leave a natural reserve largely untouched.’ Conflicts soon arose between economic activities and conservation efforts. ‘Today we are seeking alliances with the private sector and trying to put the entire economy on a sustainable footing,’ says ­Paniagua. Green recovery is the government’s plan for the post-­COVID era. But how can agriculture, tourism, transport, construction and forestry be reshaped to make them sustainable and climate neutral? ‘It’s only possible if the state, the people and the private ­sector pull together,’ says Paniagua. ‘And for that we need examples of where it has worked successfully.’

One of these examples is the development partnership ‘Reserva Bosque La Tigra: Biodiversity in Action’, which is receiving support from the German tour operator travel-to-nature and GIZ within the framework of BMZ’s develoPPP programme. The focal point is La Tigra, a former cattle farm two and a half hours’ drive north of the capital San José at an altitude of 1,300 metres. In 2003, Rainer Stoll, owner of travel-to-nature, purchased four hectares of land there together with a Costa Rican businessman. ‘It was grazing land, no forest, zero biodiversity, leached soils,’ Paul Valenciano, the Costa Rican partner, recalls. The big cats that once gave the farm its name had long since vanished. It was becoming increasingly lonely in the region as farmers sold their unproductive land to move to the capital city. The two dynamic businessmen broke this vicious circle. ‘With reforestation and eco-tourism, we demonstrated that it is possible to live with and from the natural environment, without destroying it,’ explains Valenciano. The La Tigra Rainforest Lodge created 33 jobs.

Country Wiki
Costa Rica

COUNTRY: Costa Rica

CAPITAL: San José

POPULATION: 5 millionen

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX RANKING: 62 (out of 189)

Source: Worldbank, UN

Costa Rica is the first country in the world to receive a United Nations award for its environmental policy. The government is also deeply committed to fostering multilateralism and is heavily involved in vaccination equality initiatives. The emerging economy in Central America works closely with Germany on climate projects, and in the fields of education and science.

Research station to help spread knowledge

‘62 bird species, 17 amphibians and 18 reptiles live here,’ says Adolfo Quesada, Manager of the Lodge, during our evening frog tour. The undisputed stars of the tour are the red-eyed tree frog and the blue and strawberry poison dart frog. The concert they give at sunset is deafening and they can easily be found with the aid of a flashlight in the ponds and streams around the Lodge. Lodge residents and school field trips love the frog tour. Anyone who is interested can ­also buy a tree seedling for USD 30 and plant it themselves on the Lodge grounds – a certificate and GPS data are all part of the ­package. The profits from the Lodge are reinvested in the purchase of adjacent land which is then also reforested. The La Tigra reserve has now expanded to 46 hectares, roughly equivalent to 64 football fields.

At the start progress was slow, reflects Paul Valenciano. The ten rooms did not generate enough income. The quantum leap came in 2017, when GIZ came on board. The common goal is to signifi­cantly increase the forested area and create a development pool that revolves around eco-tourism in the region. And that is where our bee-keeper José Miguel Herrera comes in. He lives about 20 minutes’ drive away from the Lodge. A total of 15 budding small business owners with sustainable business concepts based in the area surrounding La Tigra have been trained so far at courses organised by GIZ. The modules covered marketing, cost accounting, corporate strategy and tax tips. ‘Bees were my hobby,’ says Herrera. ‘The course gave me the push I needed to make bee-keeping my business.’ He is saving his profits to buy adjacent land for his bees and plant indigenous flowers and shrubs.

Genuine progress benefits everyone, not just a few investors.

Adolfo Quesada
Manager of the La Tigra Rainforest Lodge

A few hundred metres away from Herrera, Maricel Vargas has transformed her house into three holiday flats. ‘I lost my job in 2017 and needed a new economic mainstay,’ she explains. She soon hit on an idea. Her lovingly tended grounds have a spring – and therefore a great number of frogs. Her children had grown up and moved out. The house was virtually empty, and its location close to the main road made it ideally suited as tourist accommodation. Vargas is a welcoming host. ‘I was only able to go to elementary school,’ the 49-year-old tells us. ‘Without the project I would never have had the confidence to start up a business.’ What she liked best was the teamwork. ‘Now we are all working together to protect the environment because our livelihoods depend on it.’ She is now replanting the forest that her parents once felled to plant bananas and provide grazing land for their animals.

‘Genuine progress benefits everyone, not just a few investors,’ says Lodge Manager Quesada. A major concern for him and GIZ is to raise awareness among young people and to forge an alliance with the academic and scientific community. That is why a biological ­research station with an affiliated training centre is being built not far from the Rainforest Lodge. La Tigra, after all, is also a scientific experiment. To what extent will reforestation succeed in helping ­restore the original flora and fauna and thus reverse the destruction humans have caused? And is it possible to create a corridor linking the lowlands with the neighbouring Bosque Eterno de los Niños conservation area?

Business and biodiversity

Although the Central American land mass accounts for only one per cent of the Earth’s surface, it is home to about eight per cent of the world’s biodiversity. To protect these valuable assets, GIZ’s Business & Biodiversity in Central America and the Dominican Republic programme is forging an alliance between government and the private sector. On behalf of BMZ, and with EU cofinancing, GIZ is working with the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD) of the Central American Integration System (SICA).

32 development partnerships have already been established in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Private companies alone have invested some EUR 5 million in the sustainable management and protection of biodiversity. To this must be added the contributions of civil society, the scientific and academic community, and public sector donors.

The pilot project Reserva Bosque La Tigra: Biodiversity in Action in Costa Rica is one example of how public-private investment can leverage environmental protection and sustainable eco-tourism. The partnership between the German tour operator travel-to-nature and GIZ receives support under the BMZ’s develoPPP programme. The costs totalled EUR 360,000, half of which was covered by the private sector financier. In this way environmental education can be promoted and tropical forests restored by an alliance for the environment, while the people in the region benefit from sustainable tourism.

Contact: Svenja Paulino, svenja.paulino@giz.de

‘Initial pictures taken by concealed cameras are very promising,’ says Adolfo Quesada. ‘Pumas, peccaries and ocelots have already been sighted again.’ All the manager now needs to make him completely happy are the monkeys and sloths. But hopes are rising with every tree donated, like the one planted by a tourist from Bad Urach. In fact, today three trees are being planted, including a Lecythis ­ampla, or monkey pot tree, which is an endangered species in Costa Rica. ‘It produces large round pot-like fruit, which monkeys love,’ explains Quesada. And the German visitor is delighted. ‘I’m so ­happy that I can do something for conservation and for the holistic development of this region.’

Sustainable Development Goals