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h.e.r.e (Holistic Empowering Regenerative Economies): a community-based financial model to inspire behavioral change in land stewardship.

A financial platform for localization initiatives to reduce dependence on public spending in favor of self-reliance in a globalized economy.

Photo of Tomas Reyes
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

h.e.r.e community SAS

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

South Pole (www.southpole.com) and Measurement Matters (www.measurementmatters.co)

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Bogotá

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Colombia

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Cocora Valley, a borough of Salento, covers an area of 598km2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Colombia

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our team is leading an environmental governance initiative in Salento and the Cocora Valley. One of our team members’ (Sebastian) family has owned 1,000 ha of land for 3 generations. They had to flee the land in the late 90’s because of the armed conflict. Today, thanks to the peace agreement with the FARC the conflict is no longer there. However, the Cocora Valley and its community face many challenges: interests of the mining industry, monocrop agriculture and livestock, urban development, lack of cohesion among landowners, an influx of  mass tourism, food dependency on Bogotá, and pressure from the public opinion that the locals do not care for the health of the land. We see these as an opportunity to put into practice what we dream of. We have committed to regaining our sovereignty as responsible stewards of this land that supplies water to the region.

In 2019, Sebastian (a development expert) met Tomas (a chef specializing in regenerative cuisine) who runs Masters of Regeneration, a podcast that launched in 2018, and Ricardo, who is a Cocora local, and specializes in digital media. We invited South Pole (www.southpole.com) in 2019 to visit the land and explore the potential of a conservation corridor and payments for ecosystem services related to water security and food sovereignty, and later on connected with Measurement Matters (www.measurementmatters.co) as well as Rizoma Foodscaping (https://www.rizomapaisajismo.com) for the integration of our vision. We hope to validate our hypothesis, and create a replicable, place-specific framework that can be scaled to other communities around the world facing similar challenges.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqJzBC_f_nY (Cocora Valley video)

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Cocora valley (Valle de Cocora) is a valley in the department of Quindío in Colombia and a borough of the municipality of Salento (population 7,000) which makes part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that belongs to the coffee region cultural landscape.  "Cocora" was the name of a Quimbayan princess, daughter of the local chief Acaime, and means "star of water" (Estrella de agua in Spanish).

In 1801 Alexander Von Humboldt, as a result of his passing through the Cocora Valley during his Botanical Expedition, described the landscape as among the most moving in all of his travels by stating that it seemed like “a forest above a forest where the tall and slender palms pierce the leafy veil around them.”

The valley is part of Los Nevados National Natural Park and hosts the largest concentration of the Colombian national tree, the Quindío wax palm, as well as a wide variety of other flora and fauna, all of which are protected under the park's national status.

People eat a diet composed of mainly trout, fried plantain (patacon), rice, coffee, beans, pork, beef, corn (arepas), arequipe (Colombian dulce de leche), yuca, and fruit. Nowadays they also consume a lot of avocado due to the growing popularity of the Hass avocado.

The Cocora valley is located on the upper reaches of the Quindío River, the main river of the namesake department, located at an altitude between 1800 and 2400 meters. The prevailing westerly winds from the Pacific Ocean are stopped by the Andean mountains, creating a humid environment favorable to the growth of cloud forest at higher altitudes: rain falls almost daily. 

They speak Spanish and indigenous communities have long been mostly displaced. Coffee grower culture and aesthetics (think Juan Valdez). 

People hope to be seen as responsible stewards of this unique landscape that is Cocora. They are aware of the massive influence they have since this territory supplies water to the neighbouring towns such as Salento, Armenia and others. They hope to be recognized as role models for the creation of food security for themselves and the community, and for fostering a regenerative use of the land which includes food production, water and ecosystem regeneration, through the conservation corridor initiative. Since zoning laws have been restrictive due to the extractive use that has dominated the landscape in the past two decades, this coalition of landowners is aware of the immense responsibility and are therefore willing to commit to their role as conscious stewards of the Cocora Valley and the community that belongs there.

Food is mostly imported from Bogota and most of it isn’t even domestic. People are eating non-local, therefore non-fresh foods, devoid of nutrient density, and the overall diet has been serving the demands of the massive influx of tourism.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/05/science/colombia-wax-palms-biodiversity.html 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

598

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

7000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: In 2015 Condé Nast had classified the Cocora Valley as one of the top 50 most beautiful places in the world. As of 2019 the Cocora Valley is not in the list anymore. The main concern in the past 15 years has been 1) the conventional agricultural use of the land by some of the landowners (i.e. with Hass avocado monocrops) and 2) the taxing increase of tourism which brings thousands of visitors to the Valley, putting a dramatic strain onto the ecosystem integrity of the land. In 2050, if the tourism influx keeps growing the demand on land for infrastructure development. 

Diets: Lack of food security and missing an opportunity to supply the tourism industry. A  few decades ago, coffee monocrops took over the region. Today, most food in Salento (the famous town adjacent to the Cocora Valley) is shipped from Bogotá (and much of this food is neither local, nor seasonal, a large percentage imported from other countries). The local community has disconnected from their local produce, and sense of belonging here, and more recently, has had to adapt to the ever-increasing demand for food, water, and waste disposal from the influx of tourism. In 2050, because diets are heavily supported by processed foods, the health of the population will likely severely decline.

Economics: The local economy of Quindio, Risaralda and Caldas used to depend on coffee and after the coffee crisis in the late 90’s locals had to reinvent themselves when Colombia stopped being the 1st coffee producer globally and tourism took the lead role. 

Foreign companies have been acquiring land especially for Hass avocado monocrops, assaulting the health of the soil, taking money out of the land, and displacing locals. The region was not prepared for the massive influx of tourism. In 2005 there were 3 hotels in Salento, in 2019 250 hotels. Hotels and restaurants have been designing their services to meet the demand without integrating the local needs of Nature. In 2050 if the region follows a similar trend, money keeps staying outside of the region and the ecosystem keeps being strained.

Culture: loss of identity, gentrification, locals selling their land and homes

Technology: there is a lack of technological tools that integrate value webs, community building, and a local economy that meets the need of Nature. Lack of info and data to support the decision making process with regards to ecosystem needs and capacity. Lack of statistics related to the impact of tourism and industrial agriculture. In 2050, an uninformed decision process and the lack of integration of technology and regenerative principles will force the region to fall behind.

Policy: Mining and urban development are looking at the Cocora Valley and are a potential threat to its integrity. Public opinion says the local environmental authorities have allowed landowners and industrial agriculture to extract as much profit from land use as possible without regenerative regulations, polluting springs and ecosystems. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Environment: Through the integration of payments for ecosystem services in partnership with South Pole, Measurement Matters, conservation corridors with neighboring landowners, and hectare adoption to funnel funds at the service of regenerative value webs, community building and a local currency. Through communications, content creation so that we can communicate and train locals on regenerative systems thinking and an understanding of both our interdependent relationship to the land as well as the power that lies in keeping resources local and regulating tourism based on ecosystem needs.

Diets: The container for this integration is the h.e.r.e community: a community-based financial model to inspire behavioral change in land stewardship. The health of these communities takes a dramatic turn for the better, people are not only exchanging their food and water, they are eating local and seasonal foods rich in nutrient density and reconnect to the fruits of their own land which is their belonging place. Communities are empowered also by the fact that they now understand they no longer need to wait for the government or public spending to act but that they can proactively make use of their assets (the land) to generate abundance to meet the needs of Nature and invite authorities to participate in the co-creation of regenerative food systems and local economies.

Economics: By focusing on localization initiatives of economic decentralization that enable the community to take more control over their own affairs, shortening the distance between producers and consumers wherever possible, and striking a healthier balance between local markets and a monopoly-dominated global market. Thus reducing unnecessary transport while strengthening and diversifying economies at the community level. 

Culture: Through the creation of regenerative food systems and a renewed local gastronomy fueled by native varietals and integrating it into the tourism value webs, ensuring local food security, and reconnecting to local knowledge and traditions. 

Technology: Providing the community with essential regenerative principles for food and water management through training and the digital local currency based on natural capital that funds the projects.

Policy: By partnering with companies like South Pole, Measurement Matters and our implementing partners to provide the community with the necessary scientific information on the impact of our system. With this information we can reach a balance between economic production and maintaning the local life support systems.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Between 2020 and 2025, since the launch of herecommunity.com we started engaging people and companies from around the world to connect with purpose to a cause that is both greater than themselves and tangible, by adopting hectares in the 3500 hectares available belonging to our conservation corridor and getting redeemable miles in return for their support.

We started telling our story of responsible stewardship of the land by realizing we had all the assets we needed (the land), and the mechanisms (hectare adoption, payment for ecosystem services) to negotiate with environmental authorities and the community to create a land management model of our own.

Thanks to our first 3500-hectare community we were able to generate funds to build our local economy and regenerative projects such as food production, water usage and infrastructure projects such as composting, waste disposal, recycling, a zero waste model to serve the same objective. Instead of acting separately, we saw the landowners, local government, businesses and food growers see the potential in reclaiming the power of their land, and keeping both the ecosystem healthy, as well as the financial resources local.

We faced many challenges as mining titles and urban development kept putting pressure on neighbors to purchase their land, but we saw we had a shield that benefited the community. We had fixed water drainage to the river that flows through the Cocora Valley, started selling filtered Cocora Spring water which became an iconic product of the transformation that was taking place. Cocora landowners started producing food to source the restaurants and hotels, and rediscovering the landscape through foraging and local nourishing traditions. The money generated through these initiatives started staying in the community and being exchanged to refuel this reconnection process. Tourists started coming to Cocora not only because of her unique landscape but also for its enriched gastronomy and thriving community.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Since the implementation of h.e.r.e in the Cocora Valley in Colombia in 2020, the community has now in 2050 grown worldwide and thousands of regions from around the globe have joined this coalition. The h.e.r.e framework has been adapted to the specifics of each location and proven to serve as a model for behavioral change in land stewardship. Communities have realized the power of localization, regenerative food production including water systems, waste water treatment, reforestation, and empowerment through the realization that responsible stewardship of the land helps build community, a sense of belonging, is financially viable, and provides the means for communities to protect themselves from threats like mining, urban development, deforestation. 

The health of these communities has taken a dramatic turn for the better, people are not only exchanging their food and water, they are eating local, fresh, seasonal foods rich in nutrient density and have re-discovered the fruits of their own land, their belonging place. Communities are empowered also by the fact that they now understand they no longer need to wait for the government or public spending to act but that they can proactively make use of their assets (the land) to generate abundance to meet the needs of Nature and invite authorities to participate in the co-creation of regenerative food systems and local economies.

What happened at the operational level so this could take place?

The h.e.re platform is constituted as a financial platform based on two main components: a crowdfunding platform for hectare adoption, and a loyalty rewards program transactional system. 

From there we develop a communication strategy to engage citizens and companies from around the world to adopt hectares per year.

The resources that come in are integrated into a trust fund and in exchange for their contribution, we issue a token. Those tokens are redeemable in the different businesses (restaurants, hotels) in the area. The adopters are invited to the Cocora so they can enjoy the fruits of their contribution and promote the local economy.

Those resources are destined to finance community-based projects that must, per our regenerative principle guidelines, serve the purpose of inspiring behavioral change in land stewardship. 

It is a non-speculative digital local currency because the fund can only issue tokens based on the amount of hectares available to adopt in a given community. If there were more adopters willing to contribute than there are hectares, the fund cannot issue more money.

Our aim is to expand the conservation areas and encourage communities to expand their conservation areas in order to be able to get more resources.

The money coming in through the conservation efforts is destined to fund regenerative food and water systems that provide the tourism industry with locally sourced produce thus supporing the local economy and health.

How are these conservation corridors created?

That is where the governance work comes in. All of the landowners of the Cocora Valley have adopted conservation agreements and destined part of their land with natural forest to integrate the corridor. All the money coming in from hectare adoption serves to fund projects that have been agreed upon by the community and meet the guidelines proposed by h.e.re.

Our aim is to inspire consensus dialogue and community agreements around the common interest, since the scope of these projects aims to benefit the collective and not the individual.

For this to happen we created an organization of neighboring landowners as a container for the conservation corridor, in which the initiatives and decision-making process takes place. Since we are aware that not all landowners have the same amount of land and therefore the contributions among the corridor are unequal, the projects must benefit them all, meet the guidelines, and serve the urgency and impact of what the territory needs.

Once we know how much money is available and the community has agreed on what projects to develop, they choose an implementing partner that will accompany the implementation of the project. The implementing partner is accountable vis-a-vis the adopters and the fund to generate the necessary trust in the execution of the purpose and ensure that what has been agreed upon will actually be delivered.

As we mentioned, the adopters will receive tokens for their contribution through a digital wallet. The idea is to inspire them to come redeem their tokens in the community. For this purpose we will have in place a network of local businesses and allies where the tourists can use their tokens to purchase goods and services.

h.e.r.e supports the development of regenerative food systems to provide hotels, restaurants, and people with a unified, holistic, fresh, local and seasonal gastronomy co-created with the inhabitants of Cocora. In doing so, this system reduces dependency on food imports, replaces fish farms, pig feedlots, monocrops, the money that is generated stays local, and the locals have access to nutrient dense local nourishment. The Cocora gastronomy becomes a highlight of the region, complementing its unique natural beauty.

The food systems in place will be regulated to ensure diversity of produce and parts of the landowners territories, in alliance with hotels and restaurants, produce what they need.

All the transactions are supported by a digital platform that keeps track of the transactions and the exchange rates between the digital currency (h.e.r.o coins) and the national peso.

h.e.r.e will charge a small fee for every transaction to finance the management and maintenance of the platform, the communications and marketing campaigns and its partners. All the remaining proceeds from the transactions are reinvested in the fund to keep fueling the system since we are a not-for-profit fund.

Why partner with South Pole and Measurement Matters?

Since we are accountable and rely on hectare adopters we want to be clear on the impact their money is generating to keep them engaged and actively involved because they feel part of the community and its transformation.

This will require communication that is informed by concrete hard data in terms of the environmental and social impact. 

South Pole will not only provide scientific data on impact, but will also structure payment for ecosystem services initiatives that can be implemented in the initial conservation corridor to supplement the resources generated by the hectare adoption.

Measurement Matters will be in charge of all the social metrics in order to inform our adopters on the changes generated by their contributions.

What are the food challenges the Cocora Food System faces?

The design of the local food production systems in relation to their integration with the tourism value web and not only to be sold as commodities outside of the region so that the added value derived from the processing of the food stays here.

How do the locals see the value in doing this? Thanks to the contributions coming from hectare adoption, the h.e.r.e platform will support the financing of the necessary activities to implement the envisioned food systems, there is a high incentive for local landowners to adapt their land to regenerative principles. Since the money that is being generated by the forests that would otherwise only demand expenditure, thanks to the integration of payment for ecosystem services and hectare adoption, we will generate the necessary funds to maintain the economic structure.

Depending on the amount of funds coming in to h.e.r.e, the fund can also look into lending money to individual owners who wish to pursue their own initiatives as long as they are aligned with the regenerative principles.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Measurement Matters

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