Landscape Hero nomination

Maricela Fernandez Nationality: Costa Rican
Country of residence: Costa Rica

Project location

Talamanca, Costa Rica

Indigenous Women sorting out the collected products during the Indigenous “Estanco” of Virtual Product Exchange - Photo by: Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests

The Indigenous ‘Store’ for Virtual Product Exchange

Maricela Fernandez, an Indigenous Cabécar leader in the Talamanca rainforest of Costa Rica, founded the Women’s Association of Indigenous Cabécar Kábata Könana (Defenders of the Forest) in 2016. It’s a group of 247 women who are devoted to women’s and Indigenous rights, and to the protection and revival of their ancestral knowledge. As part of this work, Maricela leads an initiative called ‘Indigenous ‘Store’ for Virtual Product Exchange’. It’s a solution that uses new technologies and ancestral farming practices to guarantee food security for the Bribri and Cabécar Indigenous communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Since June 2020, a large number of products and seeds have been exchanged, with the participation of 110 families from the Talamanca Cabécar territory. Products exchanged so far include yucca, yams, American taro, beans, rice, plantain, avocados, corn, chocolate, star fruit, and mango.

Maricela Fernandez

So, how does it work? A “weaver of knowledge” collects information about what people in her community have to trade and what they want to receive, and sends this via WhatsApp to the central team of the Kábata Könana Women's Association, who establish a route for the exchange of products. The result: families in the indigenous territory have all the food they need, harvested according to ancient methods, on their own land. The initiative operates under the indigenous cultural principles and values of solidarity (Ñakimá), exchange (Julákimá), collectivity (Klabé) and dialogue (Käpakö).

Maricela and this group of Indigenous women offer an inspiring example of how to use ancestral traditions to offset the shortages of food and the decrease of product commercialization in their territories due the pandemic. The initiative is being replicated in other Indigenous territories, who understand this to be a genuine, sustainable, and effective nature-based solution that aligns with their own cultures and traditions.

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