La Guajira Restoration Project (LGRP) is a live demonstration site that embodies—in a concentrated space—the combined knowledge of the local indigenous Wayuu people, as well as the application of Permaculture principles of interconnectedness, in a holistic management approach, for the transformation of the desertified landscape, into a thriving food forest in the desert.
The La Guajira peninsula is the northernmost point in South America, and it is also where the largest open pit coal mine in the continent has been operating for a little over three decades. Though this region’s ecosystem has always been catalogued as a desert, historically, it has been a healthy, fruitful one, capable of providing for the semi-nomadic Wayuu—the largest indigenous group in Colombia, whose population extends to neighboring Venezuela—for hundreds of years.
In today’s globalized world of uneven economies, the demise of ancestral ethnic groups is accepted as a natural outcome of progress, in an established order that systematically perpetuates the Global South, not only as the source of raw materials that enable the comfort and luxuries expected in the Global north, but also as a recipient of the unwanted waste and problems it produces. It is in this way that indigenous people throughout the world are perceived as simply incapable of keeping up with modernity, leading to the generally accepted idea that –as if by natural law—these societies are destined to disappear from the face of the earth.
LGRP transforms this notion by identifying the forces that lead to this way of thinking, while emphasizing the gravely ignored ancestral knowledge that is often disregarded in academia and in mainstream culture. The regeneration of the landscape happens as an expression of the integral sum of all aspects coexisting within the space: the people, the cosmology and beliefs constituting their culture and spirituality, and the biodiversity, which slowly rejoins the system once the conditions become more hospitable. Eventually, the cycles and natural patterns of the elements are reintroduced in the space, creating a harmonious interconnected web whose main host is life.
The site juxtaposes the coal mine which, at the opposite end of the peninsula, and occupying more than four times the surface area of the food forest (which becomes the tangible statement of LGRP), is a monochromatic sighting that acts in a disjointed manner in the area it occupies. The vibrant food forest is an alternative providing a perceivable kind of progress for the native dwellers and, within the process of its evolution, invites us to ask: what does it mean to believe that the earth is actually alive, that it is resonant and responsive, and –as indigenous people have been advocating for ever—that humans have a reciprocal obligation toward it?
In this way, the fundamental belief system of inevitable connectivity that illuminates the LGRP, considering it a primordial truth of existence, informs a completely different ideology from the one that predominates in conventionally fractured modern thought. In a radical deviation from the established consequences of progress (as we generally understand it today), the LGRP leaves virtually no carbon footprint in its application; On the contrary, it becomes a highly effective system for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into the ground, which is precisely the call to action in humanity’s struggle to deter climate change. All this while celebrating and exalting the practices of the Wayuu people.
Of the multiple reasons why LGRP is of immense relevance as we face an undeniable climate crisis and sickness abounds, perhaps the starting point is the fact that we are at risk of losing yet another expression of the human spirit: an ancestral culture, with its own language and view of the world. This is a devastating prospect in a world that increasingly becomes more homogeneous. Our world today tends to be a generic one, with narrow room for diverse thought and expression, constraining the vast possibilities of the human imagination and eviscerating all perceptions of magic, myth, and metaphor that are fundamental for understanding our place in the world.
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La Guajira Restoration Project was born from a need to devise an alternative to address the health and environmental crisis affecting the Wayuu nation and their ancestral territory, and to exalt their culture, which has been misconstrued in their current struggle for survival. As an artist, environmentalist, and permaculture designer, Anaisabel Mercado envisioned the transformation of the landscape utilizing a combination of Wayuu ancestral knowledge and permaculture techniques, in order to create a demonstration site of the harmony, beauty, and well being that is manifested when working with nature. Amplifying the neglected indigenous notions of the natural order, the spiritual life, and communion with the earth, LGRP becomes a living art piece, not merely beautifying the space, but regenerating the land while providing a sanctuary for the native flora and fauna of the ecosystem to return and thrive, and a haven for the traditional dwellers of the land, vastly affected in their more recent history by the extractive industries that are wreaking havoc in their sacred home.
Acting as a food forest, LGRP approaches the land in terms of its utilization by humans for practical and ideological purposes, acknowledging the mutual coexistence and interdependence of humans and the land.