Each July 26, we celebrate the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2015; a day dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of mangroves as “a unique, special, and vulnerable ecosystem” and promote solutions for their management, conservation, and sustainable uses.
Mangroves are rare and prolific ecosystems born at the interface of land and sea in tropical regions. They contribute to the well-being, food security, and protection of coastal communities, maintaining rich biodiversity, providing valuable breeding habitats for fish and crustaceans, and sustaining complex communities, where thousands of other species interact.
This is why mangroves help ensure the food security of the population living in their surroundings. They also act as a natural defense against storm surges, tsunamis, sea level rise, and erosion and can retain large amounts of carbon.
This unique ecosystem also encloses exuberant natural heritages that constitute the cultural wealth of people. Landscapes, music, gastronomy, knowledge, legends, and stories of people gain meaning in the life that thrives in mangroves wonderfully yet threatened by a vision of development of coastal areas that favors deforestation, pollution, and the alteration of the life cycles of nature, factors that contribute to climate change.
In reality, this is beginning to have its most devastating effects on the coastal areas of the planet. The mangrove coverage has shrunk dramatically over the past 40 years, disappearing faster than earth forests.
Therefore, it is urgent to tell the story of how life takes place in mangrove ecosystems to preserve that biocultural heritage that the original people have been accumulating and transmitting from generation to generation.
A scenario in which women collectors and fisherwomen from the mangroves of Latin America and the Greater Caribbean have undertaken the challenge of writing and photographing chapters of their lives, gaining self-recognition, and recognizing themselves in others. The idea is to transform their strengths into a rhizome of life.
Thanks to a collaboration between C-CONDEM, Slow Food, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and the Lighthouse Foundation, seven women shared their writings and photographs.
These women connect in the same way as the roots of the mangrove do, the water that gathers the memory of existence, and the affection that flows to meet the eyes.
They walk intertwined in their dreams and hopes, joy and pain, in the daily life built with the fruit of the fatigue of work and care for others.
To celebrate the International Day of Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem from Slow Food we want to share one of these seven stories. For you, the words of one of the greatest defenders of life in the mangrove on this planet: Hilda Fany León Aguayo, whom you will find in Terra Madre from September 22 to 26 at Parco Dora in Turin.
It’s me, Hilda Fany León Aguayo
I am a fisherwoman, shellfish collector “conchera”, farmer, saleswoman, housewife, and mangrove woman “manglera”.
It’s me, from grandparents, mother, and uncles who lived on the Mangrove Island of Camponés. They took care of the mangrove, I continue.
I am the one who takes care of the mangrove, its roots, trunks, leaves, and water since we take advantage of the mangrove, and it is becoming scarce.
It’s me, from the country called Peru. I live in the coastal district border of the eternal summer Aguas Verdes, province of Zarumilla, region of Tumbes.
It is me, a rhizome woman who likes to take care of nature, the family, and as many as she can, humbly.
It is me, the one who worries about abusive fishing. Suddenly the species are finished. I take care of the sizes of the black shells, the size of the crabs, and that the females are not extracted, and fish the recommended sizes. I take care that the bans are complied with.
It is me, the one who lives between the river and the mangrove, the one who sows for five months in the year bean, corn, cassava, sweet potato, and passion fruit. I have mango trees, plums, and tamarind. The one that faces droughts and looks at the danger that threatens crops.
It is me, who fights for these people. The one who lives between fresh and saltwater with good and hardworking but abandoned people. The one who lives in an important and beautiful but neglected nature.
It is me, who cares about life, and with God’s permission, I try to save it.