by Carolina Bello & Juan Carlos Soto
In this essay, Carolina and Juan Carlos take us to visit a sustainable community in southern Costa Rica, where a group of women leads a small utopia based on solidarity and a genuine alliance with the land.
In times when globalizing processes leave little room for communities to develop autonomously and fairly, there are still some jewels lost amid the noise of modern societies.
Biolley has an area of 208.34 square km, of which 45% borders La Amistad International Park –World Heritage and World Biosphere Reserve. From there, the district of Biolley is presented to us as a community full of particularities: from a mushroom-shaped ice cream store to an unforced "good morning"; everything is part of a place that welcomes us with solidarity. Its almost 3,500 inhabitants develop a slow way of life among dirt roads. Their daily life is characterized by early labor to make the most out of the sunlight and of the rainless hours. In their houses, separated from one another, the orchards of vegetables, plants and medicinal herbs guard each patio and garden.
A day in Biolley means leaving the common everyday behind, and detoxifying from the system. Its dynamics as a community has given rise to multiple organization initiatives, in which a grassroots solidary economy presides based in effort and collectivity. Here, to speak about self-sustained projects has become the daily tonic. A local and sustainable development has been established as their north: long gone is the coffee monoculture that once predominated in the area and today, the diversification of the economy is the way forward to ensure a more encouraging future for the new generations. In the last 30 years, crafts, organic agriculture and rural tourism have been developed as new spaces for economic development in the community; with rural tourism being the main engine of this new change that has allowed the community to place themselves at the fore of national and international tourism. However, the type of tourism developed in the area is far from the main practice in the country: here the tourist not only consumes, but also learns, shares and experiences the daily life of the community and its nature.
Due to its remoteness, Biolley is still very much an unknown place, however, it has marked the difference among the rural communities of Costa Rica. The efforts of community leaders, mostly women, keep the community in resistance against patriarchal economic colonialism and invasive tourism. Local initiatives such as ASOPROLA (Association of Organic Producers La Amistad), ASOMOAS (Association of Organized Women of Sabalo) and ASOMOBI (Association of Organized Women of Biolley) –all led by women– offer alternatives for social, environmental and economic community development. This has also resulted in a reduction of forced migration to urban areas, which is common in most other rural communities in the country.
A harmonious coexistence with nature seems to be already interiorized among the locals, their daily life shows that sustainable models are possible. Biolley’s development is projected in directions that, beyond focusing on an anthropocentric track, hold space for balance. Nature is seen as a provider and not as a resource, which has shaped the coexistence of this community with the environment.
In the middle of a nation that insists on dreaming of a first world that systematically usurps lands and ways of life, Biolley is an alternative example of a sustainable community, where women are figures of authority and inspiration.
Biolley demonstrates the importance of living as a community, and of aiming towards social welfare for all. In times where resources are scarce and the desire for individualism predominates, communities like these are common victims of the voracity of modernity. However, the genuine will to organize as a collective provides new creative tools to generate spaces of empathy, thus giving rise to a community dynamic that we, at the cities, so much long for, and yet understand so little.
Juan Carlos Soto
2017. Biolley District, Puntarenas. Costa Rica.
Published in December, 2017
Volume 1, Issue 6