Proyecto Titi | Conserving Colombia's Wildlife
Proyecto Tití:
Conserving the
Cotton-top Tamarin
in Colombia
Cotton-top Tamarin
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Bindes - Alternatives to Forest Destruction

Given the dramatic rate of forest destruction for human and agricultural consumption, it is critical that programs are developed to reduce the dependency on non-sustainable forest products. The communities of Colosó and Santa Catalina are located in economically depressed departments of Colombia (Sucre and Bolivar, respectively). Although there is electricity in the village, the majority of the population cooks over an open fire. This is due to the high cost of electricity in addition to the simple cultural norm of cooking food over a fire. An average family of five individuals consumes 15 logs of wood (1-1.5m in length) daily. Given this high rate of consumption with no efforts made to replenish the trees that are harvested, the forested regions face a substantial yearly loss.

To decrease forest consumption, we examined the feasibility of using solar box cookers. This was promoted by Solar Box Cookers International as a viable alternative since food was cooked by solar energy. We conducted a study in which five families were instructed in the use of the solar ovens and asked to evaluate their effectiveness. There was an overwhelming negative response to the solar oven for several reasons: 1) Coffee could not be made in the oven 2) food cooked in the oven did not have an appealing taste. Even when we introduced artificial barbecue and other flavors, it was still rejected.
3) Because of the lengthy cooking time, it was only useful for preparing dinner, and 4) It was difficult to reheat food quickly.

Taking the criticisms of solar box cookers into consideration, we examined another traditional method of cooking. Some inhabitants of these communities, have used "bindes" to cook their food. Villagers will collect large termite mounds from the forest, bring them back to their homes, and reinforce them with mud. These "bindes" have a hole cut at the top, yet still are strong enough to support the weight of a large kettle, and a hole cut on the side so that wood can be fed directly into a fire. Smaller holes are cut on the top and side for sufficient air to support a fire. Villagers have told us that bindes are much more efficient in burning wood and they produce less smoke, which has been implicated in several women's health issues in the community. The problem with the termite mound method is that the bindes do not withstand constant use. It is quite labor intensive to search the forest for the termite mound and prepare them for use. On average, a traditional binde may last as long as one month with constant use.

Given that bindes were already culturally acceptable, we were interested in modifying the materials of a binde that would allow for greater long-term use. A prototype clay binde was designed and tested. The community of Colosó was invited to participate in a demonstration of the effectiveness and versatility of the newly designed binde. Several salient features emerged from this new prototype: 1) refuse such as corn cobs, corn husks, coconut shells, etc. could be burned just as efficiently as wood, and 2) significantly less smoke was produced which is likely to result in less of a health hazard for women. Twenty families participated in a comparative study examining the effectiveness and efficiency of using the traditional method of cooking over three stones or a binde. Our study concluded that bindes were significantly more efficiently burning 2/3 less wood per day than cooking over three stones. The food retained it's flavor when it was cooked using a binde and women reported less eye and lung irritation from the smoke.  Find out how to build a binde for yourself.

While the use of bindes has been successful in reducing deforestation, economic alternatives are still necessary. The option to find income elsewhere will help the people of Santa Catalina to decrease their reliance on the forest. We feel that continued development and support of this program will not only insure the survival of the cotton-top tamarin, but will make conservation a priority for the future generations of Colombians in this region.

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