Pilot Selected for USAID Sustainable Landscape Workshop

A pilot project facilitated between Fundacion CoMunidad (Panama) and Modest (NYC, Adjunct Lecturer Christine Facella MLA ’17) along with the community of La Yeguada and global product designers has been selected to participate in USAID’s Sustainable Landscapes co-creation workshop, aiming to troubleshoot solutions to deforestation in the Amazon.

Their project outlines alternative income opportunities to cattle ranching — the major drive of deforestation in the American tropics — through product design and plant-based material cultivation that can be employed in reforestation projects. Currently, organizations are working with ranchers to convert spent land into managed timber plantations, which often become ecologically low-performing monocultures, driven by market-demand of limited timber species. A strong constituent of the “market” are designers, unaware of their impact from their limited “demand”: if designers only employ species such as teak and mahogany, plantations will respond by cultivating teak and mahogany.

Facella along with product design students have for the past three years researched more than 150 plant-based material species native to Central America, including ecological “function” and wildlife relationships, that can potentially be intercropped in managed reforestation projects.

The team of designers, nonprofits, and community members are putting theory into practice through their pilot, specifically designing household products from La Yegudada’s pine plantation (reforested in the 1960s) using pine scraps and experimenting with plant-based stains and finishes. The idea is to connect the community to independent small-scale design projects in the United States in addition to hosting design-workshops to promote localized projects. The community currently creates wood pallets for shipping.

The USAID co-creation workshops will take place over the next few months along with global forestry, conservation and sustainable development non-profits.