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Venezuela jumps on eco-tourism bandwagon

Rural inns in the Andes are trying to marry organic coffee production and tourism.

In Calderas and Niquitao, Andes Tropicales has also begun an initiative to promote the cultivation of shade-grown coffee. For some years now coffee growers in the region have been moving toward the more commercially profitable sun-grown coffee.

Shade-grown coffee requires more trees, which stimulates water levels and boosts birdlife, said Anselmo Berrios, a coffee farmer from Calderas who recently converted his plantation to organic methods with help from Andes Tropicales.

Since joining the Cafe del Bosque program Berrios has learned how to make his own fertilizer from local plants and has taken out a small loan with the NGO to buy a machine for drying his coffee beans.

He hopes to earn extra income by charging for guided tours of his coffee farm. The project now has its own brand of coffee that is sold at the mucuposadas.

Battone Pujol signed up to the mucuposadas program two years ago. His home in Niquitao dates back to at least 1880, though he thinks it could be older still.

As this Andean village’s historian, preserving local culture is important for him. That’s why he was particularly pleased when Andes Tropicales loaned him an architect to advise how to convert his home into an inn while preserving its original details.

“We have not lost the customs and traditions that we have,” he said. “The constant fight is to make sure that is not lost and is maintained because we understand that Niquitao has a great tourism potential — it has a special charm.”

Martin said that the benefits from the programs are already visible: families have been able to add an extra bathroom in their home or build a septic tank.

But some of the gains have been less tangible. Martin believes one of the most significant changes is that local families have learned a new appreciation for the natural and cultural treasures they are sitting on.

“Today those families we have been working with have gained empowerment from all of this and they are more aware of the value of everything they have — and they feel proud to have it,” she said.