Monkey Forest Tale: What can you do to help improve the environment? Things anyone can do everywhere – Part 2: Compost

SM Junio 2011 019

Following the topic of my last post of what else can you do to help the planet apart from donating to organizations working to solve the Amazon burning, I’m going to talk about two simple things you can do at your home. These things can seem small but if a lot of people are doing it around the world, that really sums up for the better. As Jane Goodall, one of my role models said: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

No matter if you cook every day or just a few times, every time you cook you are generating garbage, by disposing of vegetables skins and residuals. If you cook every day this can make a big part of your waste and you really don’t know where it goes. But there is another way to use that waste to help the planet… making compost

Compost is the use of vegetable residues from cooking to produce soil. This is a process that most people think it requires big amounts of land/ space, however, it can be done in a small space such as a small plant pot, depending on the amount of cooking you do. I will explain the process in more detail and how you can do it even if you live in a small apartment without a balcony.

I will show you how I do it and give you the steps necessary for doing it in a small space below.

  1. Found a big enough plant pot, can be of plastic or ceramic, I have used both and both works very well.


2. Get some black soil, same as the one you use for your plants

3. Collect all the vegetable skins and vegetable residues you dispose at your kitchen. You can include eggshells but not chicken bones, chicken skin, pieces of meat or any cooked meal.


4. Put a 2 cm layer of black soil in the pot you are using to make your compost. This will help to reduce the liquid product of the decomposition of all the vegetable waste


5. Add the vegetable waste cut in small pieces, the smaller the pieces the faster the decomposition


6. Add another layer of black soil (around 1 cm) to cover all the vegetable waste you are trying to compost. This will help to reduce odors and flies around your pot


7. Locate your compost pot near to an open window, in a balcony or your backyard. The place needs to be vented.

8. Repeat the process every time you have vegetable waste.

9. From time to time, put some water to keep good humidity in the soil, this will help the microbial fauna. They are the ones that make the decomposition.

The process to have new soil will last around 1 – 2 months depending on the amount of vegetable waste you produce. This soil can be used on the plants you have at your home.

One of the reasons why large forests like the Amazon or the gallery forest in my study area persist in very poor soils is because of the compost and nutrient recycling occurring during the decomposition process. Most people when seeing a big forest, think the soil under that forest is very rich and good for agriculture, however, that is not always true. In the Amazon as well as in the gallery forest of the Orinoquia, fertile soils remain near to watercourses and rivers. The rest of the areas only have a thin layer of black soil from which plants can get their nutrients. Those nutrients came from the decomposition of fruits, flowers and leaves fallen on the ground where microorganisms and fungi break the components and make them available for plants. So when you make compost at your home you are replicating that process on a small scale.

Although having houseplants at your home not necessarily will increase the amount of oxygen in your home. One plant cannot produce enough oxygen to overweight the amount of carbon dioxide that humans produce, their presence can give you wellbeing just by being there. It is true that all plants produce oxygen as part of their photosynthesis process and consume carbon dioxide in the same process. But they also produce carbon dioxide when they breathe. So, the balance of the amount of oxygen houseplant produce is not enough, but its presence can give you happiness.

I hope this post and the last post had taught you something new and motivate you to do some small changes and activities that can improve your wellbeing as well as the planet even if you are living in a city.

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Monkey Forest Tales: What can you do to help improve the environment? Things anyone can do everywhere – Part 1: 3 R’s

Unamas Agosto 2011 045As I mentioned in the last post, one of the main news over the past months (August 2019) was the burning of Amazon. If you were worried about it and where trying to think what else you can do apart from donating to organizations working to solve this problem in the Amazon when you are in a country far from the Amazon, I have some suggestions for you, most of which I practice myself, even when I’m living in an Amazon country.

The problems are not only the burning of the Amazon, but it’s also the degradation of our air quality, water sources, plastics, and climate change. Although a lot of these things look like big problems that mostly the government needs to tackle, the reality is that most of us can help a little bit by changing some of our daily life habits, even if you live in a big city surrounded by cement.

So, here are some of those small things that you can do and don’t cost you more than a little bit of your time, and will improve your life, your family life, and especially the life that future generations can have.

There is a wide concept link to recycling that has been taught but rarely applied, even less in daily life. This concept is the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. I will explain each one and put examples of how we can apply them in our daily life below. All of these are related with our shopping habits, not something many wants to know or apply because many people don’t like to be told how to do their shopping, but if you are really concern about the kind of world you want to leave to your kids, then maybe you should start thinking about this.

Reduce: this basically means to purchase less…plastic, cloths, and basically anything. This can also be practiced in our daily decisions, when we choose to buy a big bottle of cooking oil versus a small one, when we decide to buy a box of cookies but not the one which came with individual packages, and so on. It also applies when you see a new t-shirt in a shop and you think about having it, but back at your home you have a closet full of t-shirts and you only used a couple of them. I know it’s difficult but sometimes we should ask ourselves if that is really worth it. Probably this one is the one that is more difficult to apply but also, it’s the one that can save us a lot of money in the long-term.

Reuse: this means use the empty packages (plastic bottles, carton, paper, etc.) to make new things, or to use it for a different purpose than the one we buy it for. Careful with this, NOT use empty pesticide packages to carry water, food or drugs for people or animals (I saw people doing this in rural areas). This kind of packages needs to be disposed of in an appropriate way and there are companies in charge of dispose these items in the right way. Please don’t leave them in the forest or close to water sources, residues from these packages pollute water and soil and can affect people and animal health. If you need ideas of how to reuse empty packages, just search the internet, there are thousands of videos and post on how to convert those materials to nice decorations and useful tools.

Recycle: this means to use the materials of those empty packages to produce new products. So, what you do when you select and put these items at the supermarket containers, you are disposing of these elements so other companies can reprocess the materials to make new packages from used ones. We are just helping distribute materials that can be recycled to produce new products. Recycling implies a series or physical/ mechanical or chemical processes that need to be done in specific sites to be recycled. You can also earn some money if you collect these materials and take them to the recycling plant to sell them.

Tip 1: Buy smart, reuse articles as much as you can and recycle what you cannot reuse.


  • Reduce your expenses by buying more for less
  • Reduce your garbage, especially plastic envelopes, bags and bottles
  • Earn money
  • Reduce your footprint on the planet


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Monkey Forest Tales: What happens on the study area in relation to deforestation?

One of the biggest news over the past month (August 2019) was the increase of fires in the Amazon forest. Although not a rare event for people living, researching and interested in this incredible ecosystem, the problem this time was the increase in the amount of fires product of an increase in deforestation for pastures (extensive cattle ranching) and agro-industry products.

Traditionally, Amazon forest, as well as most of the gallery forest common in the Orinoquia, have been deforested following the same pattern, people cut the forest they want to convert to agriculture and/ or cattle ranching, pile the wood, let it dry and then burned, it’s the called slash and burn, a practice used to open land for new land uses. It’s also common in Africa and Asia and has been the traditional way humans had clear land. However, now the dimensions and scale at which this slash and burn land clearing practice is done is higher and motivated by the market demands for commodities.

In Colombia it has been used since pre-colonial times, the scale and the reasons to do it is what has changed over time. It is a practice still used in the deforestation frontiers of the Amazon and it’s also used in the Orinoquia not only to clear land but to open natural savannas for cattle ranching or agriculture. Pastures burning increase nutrients in the soil and natural pastures in the Orinoquian savannas are adapted to a certain amount of fire to produce new buds and regrowth, however, the fire cycle and the replacement of native pastures to introduced ones had change that pattern.

In the study area where this project is based, deforestation hasn’t been too high in the last decade, the last big area (around 25 ha of gallery forest) was cut at the end of 2003 for a new palm oil plantation. Most of the deforestation occurring in this specific area is the reduction of forest areas around the streams (gallery forest), mostly to expand pastures or for small crops of watermelon, pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin. This deforestation mainly affects watercourse that are used for the same landowners that cut the forest, which during the dry season needs to increase their expenses to bring water to those pastures that before used the stream water they reduce by reducing the forest area. This is an illegal practice that is poorly reinforced. According to our laws, the forest around watercourses of any caudal should be of at least 50 meters each side, however, this depends on landowners’ practices.

Additional deforestation had occurred near to secondary or tertiary roads as well as near the town, mostly as a consequence of “improving” infrastructure, causing a reduction of living fences important in the area for wildlife movement between different land uses. Around the town, approximately 10 ha, has been deforested due to road constructions and new house developments. This same situation on a bigger scale occurs in the nearby towns and the bigger city in the area, Villavicencio, where most of the swamp and gallery forest around watercourses are deforested to make new constructions of houses and roads. Most of these constructions had increased the risk of hunting, road kills, and predation of local wildlife that still persist in and around towns and the city in the region. A disorganize development pattern is causing higher pressures on the native wildlife living in forest relicts in and around towns and cities in the region. Although a lot should be done by the local governments, people’s awareness and understanding of the effect that this reduction of forest cover around watercourses can cause in their daily life as well as on water quality is one of the future goals of this project.

Santa Rosa Sept 2011 073

Forest affected by tertiary road improvements causing disruption of wildlife crossing in 2011 in the study area.

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Monkey Forest Tales: About people in the area: how this project has impacted people perceptions over time – Part 2

Figura 1 Xyomara Carretero-Pinzón. Decision Point

This post is about the second family and how this project had changed their perceptions of monkeys and fauna in general. This story is about a family that I met when I first arrive at the main farm in which this project has been developed. They were the people in charge of the farm (names had changed to protect people in this story).

Pablo was good at handling cattle and horses, very considered with the people working with them, but he loves to take small parrots to sell and hunt from time to time and armadillo or something else, not because they didn’t get access to a protein source just because it’s part of the tradition in this area of Colombia. Marta his wife, was and still is an amazing cooker and a great person, but she also thought that forest animals were only for food and to get some profits. When I arrived, they have two girls, a teenager Diana and a baby girl Rosa, later a boy join the family. Diana started to visit the forest with me and learn about monkeys and other animals, but she never was too much into animals. Rosa grow up with me close to her, as I was living in the farm at that time. During those years I was collecting information about Colombian squirrel monkeys and spent my days following monkeys and my nights playing with Rosa.

In 2005, we started a small project with the landowners to plant fruit trees in the area next to the stream in front of the farmhouse. During that process and through some visits to the forest to see monkeys and birds Pablo start changing his behavior towards all animals. When Rosa was 3 years old, she also started to want to go with me anytime that I went to the forest. She was too small, but she loves animals, especially horses and started to ride at that time with her dad. Sometimes when I went to the forest for just a couple of hours, I take Rosa to the forest with me, I take notes about plants and insects and see monkeys while Rosa was with me.

Rosa went with her dad and me to plant trees and she grows up seeing the monkeys as some of her backyard neighbors who eat fruits and drops things from the trees from time to time when we were looking at them. They live on that farm for four more years in which we learn from each other’s and they became great support from this project. After they move to different farms over the years, Pablo introduces me to other farm owners and whenever was possible I visit those farms and talk about the importance of monkeys for the forest and farmers.

Rosa is now finishing her high school and one of her career options is related to the environment. Pablo is still managing a farm and on that farm, by his suggestion, the farm owner doesn’t allow hunting and try to preserve the forest and animals that inhabit those forest.

Although this project didn’t have a big component on education or has been focused on changing people’s behavior, it’s though the personal relationships that I and some students had built over the years that these families had changed their perceptions and behavior towards nature. Therefore, if you have a project near people sometimes just talking with them about life can lead to a change in people’s behavior towards nature and the effect our actions have on it.

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