Geography and climate
Río Muchacho is 80m above sea level and sits in a transition zone where the dry tropical forest and the wet tropical forest converge. It is heavily influenced by both the Humboldt and El Niño currents. Due to its location at the convergence of two ecosystems, it has a great variety of trees, plants, birds, animals, and insects from both the dry tropical forest and the wet tropical forest.
The cold water Humboldt Current comes from the south parallel to the coast and, just opposite Río Muchacho, at the Cabo Pasado, it changes course towards the Galápagos. Its major influence occurs between June and October and directly affects the vegetation of the coastline. This forms the dry tropical forest ecosystem characterized by lower temperatures, cloud cover, mist and humid breezes, while the June showers allow for the ripening of coffee beans for harvest.
The warm water current of El Niño, on the other hand, flows from the north, moving close to shore during the month of December. The current produces massive evaporation of ocean water, which results in clouds, heavy rains and temperatures of over 40°. The winter (rainy season) and the wet tropical forest ecosystem result from this current.
History of Deforestation
The history of the Río Muchacho community is no different to that of the rest of Manabí in terms of the conventional system of using the earth for agricultural and cattle farming activities. It is a history of resource abuse, and its consequent degradation and repercussions in terms of the social and economic deterioration of the local population. One could say that if Ecuador holds first place in the world for deforestation, Manabí, as a province, is in the lead – the world champions in the disappearance of native forests.
This abusive relationship with the environment began with the introduction of new competition to the world coffee market in the 1930s. Where Ecuador had previously enjoyed a relatively secure position as one of the world´s largest coffee exporters, producing the native Café Arabica (a shade-loving species which grows naturally on the forested hillsides), the introduction of the African Café Robusto, which requires a lot of sun, immediately began to result in deforestation. Following this, the global price of coffee crashed, which prompted the failure of coffee farms, poverty, and mass migration out of the countryside.
In an effort to diversify the farmer’s earnings, the government began to import cows from India in order to establish a meat production industry. Unfortunately, this came at an environmental cost – to sustain a great number of cows requires a great deal of pasture grass, and so deforestation began advancing ever more rapidly, transforming the diverse forest into a grass monoculture. This was the beginning of the serious impact of malpractice in soil maintenance, especially when farmers became accustomed to the practice of burning the pasture areas at the end of the year to eliminate weeds and insects. Grass ticks appeared as a product of monoculture farming, along with the indiscriminate application of chemicals.
The climatic situation began to degrade as less rain fell, reducing productivity until the occurrence of seven years of total drought, reaching crisis point in the summer of 1963. The area again suffered massive migrations, poverty, the death of livestock and an overall loss of identity. This degradation of the social and economic structure was directly proportional to the destruction of natural resources.
The beginning of the recovery in the area owes much to global climatic deterioration, commencing most notably with the first El Niño phenomenon in 1982-83, at which time the regenerative changes in the area began. This phenomenon brought 10 months of torrential rain and floods, causing much damage in coastal cities, but proving extremely beneficial for the countryside. The ground became so wet that for the next 3 or 4 years farmers could not burn their fields, allowing the development of many trees and the regeneration of a vegetation layer. This was repeated 15 years later in the El Niño of 1997-98, allowing for notable recuperation of the forest.
The human residents have also made a significant contribution, especially through the Environmental School. Parents of the school created a bamboo bank to distribute approximately 3,000 bamboo plants in the Rio Muchacho Valley and two adjoining communities. Also, each child was responsible for the care of a certain quantity of trees during the school year, which they took home at the end of the year. What was before a zone of desertification, is now well forested in spite of the continuing extensive livestock farming.