A Place for Beauty

29Mar12

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’” Genesis 1:26

In the Southeast corner of Paraguay lies the San Rafael Reserve, the largest remaining tract of Atlantic Forest ecosystem in the country. San Rafael is home to over 400 species of birds and 60 species of mammals, and provides important ecological services, like water purification and erosion control, to the surrounding region. We recently visited Pro Cosara, an organization tasked with protecting this forest, and met director Christina Hostettler, her husband Hans, and a handful of European backpackers who were enjoying Pro Cosara’s rustic accommodations.

Group picture at Pro Cosara

Making new friends at Pro Cosara

Although the Paraguayan government designated San Rafael as a reserve in 1992, banning logging and other forest-clearing activities, the government failed to designate the necessary funds to purchase the land within the reserve’s borders. Pro Cosara therefore has the challenge of preventing deforestation by landowners who own territory within the reserve, as well as stopping trespassers from harvesting timber.

Further complicating Pro Cosara’s work is the fact that, according to Christina, a couple of nights of work to cut down one big tree can return as much money as a farmer might make in a couple of weeks on his farm. People who live in rural areas often find themselves on the economic margins, and even more so in Paraguay, where approximately 1% of the population owns 77% of the land (source: pbs.org). Small subsistence farming has been replaced by monocrops, especially soy. Soy farming is largely mechanized, so it doesn’t provide many opportunities for employment, and it is almost entirely exported, making soy farmers vulnerable to the whims of the international market.

Field of soybeans

A sea of soy surrounds the San Rafael Reserve

Paraguay’s colossal inequality of land distribution, and the accompanying challenges of making a living in rural Paraguay, exacerbates ethnic and class tensions between Brasilguayos (Brazilians living in Paraguay), indigenous peoples, homogeneous communities of descendants of European and Asian settlers, people of mixed indigenous and European descent, and wealthy landowners.

ProCosara Sunset

The sun sets at Pro Cosara

How can Paraguay seek a better life for itself without violence, exploitation, or environmental harm? What must be the church’s witness at this moment of social and environmental discord?  And, how can we come to understand Genesis’ “dominion over nature” as protection rather than destruction, so that nature’s beauty is given equal standing with the imperatives of sustenance and economic growth?

Learn more about Pro Cosara: English | Spanish

Meanwhile, the New York Times recently published a video and article on the rapid deforestation of the Chaco, which lies on the other side of Paraguay from San Rafael. At play in the Chaco are many of the same issues facing Pro Cosara.

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4 Responses to “A Place for Beauty”

  1. Beautiful photos. Thank you!

  2. 2 Brin

    I’m learning so much from reading your blog, which is a wonderful witness to the issues you are addressing. Thank you for your work, and for sharing it with those of us who are not able to see it first hand, as you are. God bless you in your continuing ministry.


  1. 1 About Farms and Woods « resistanceandacceptance

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