Costa Rica: Héctor Alvarado Cantillo, arbitrator

Héctor Alvarado Cantillo, arbitrator in Costa Rica

The cesspit at the pig breeding farm Porcina Americana in Costa Rica polluted the air in the surrounding communities and contaminated the nearby river water. The farm was threatened with closure and over 100 employees faced the prospect of losing their jobs. But Héctor Alvarado Cantillo negotiated a solution: on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ supported the construction of a modern biogas plant that now uses farm waste to produce regenerative electric power for local communities.

Your local community talks about life ‘before and after’ the biogas plant. What does that mean?

Just imagine a massive cesspit. With our sub-tropical temperatures and heavy rainfall, all the waste that accumulates in it just festers and rots away. Do you know how badly that smells? It had a devastating impact on people’s lives in villages for miles around. The water in our river was contaminated and strange diseases were rife. At my daughter’s school, the pupils had to keep all the windows and doors closed in spite of the oppressive heat because they would not have been able to stand the smell otherwise. Now this is all contained in the biogas plant – which uses it to generate power for our lamps and fridges. It’s like a miracle.

What does your work mean to you and others?

I like working with pigs. They’ve got five senses too you know. But of course my work earns me the money I need to support myself and my family. If we had been forced to close the farm because of the pollution, the entire village would have been without work. The biogas plant has secured all our livelihoods.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I don’t think much of pubs or alcohol. I like to explore the hills for undiscovered water sources using my self-made divining rod. My neighbours are totally grateful to me.

What is the most important thing in your life?

My nearest and dearest of course, by which I mean my wife and children. But how are they supposed to live healthily and happily if the air they breathe and the water they drink are contaminated? That’s how, in recent years, I’ve come to realise how important environmental protection is in our times. I’d like this to be made clearer to the generations that follow ours.

If you were to be put in charge of pig breeding one day, what would you do?

I would continue to do what we’ve started and make it possible for the local inhabitants and company to co-exist peaceably.


        
    
A good start to the day consists of a cup of strong highland coffee and a chat with a colleague in the guardhouse at the pig breeding farm.
A good start to the day consists of a cup of strong highland coffee and a chat with a colleague in the guardhouse at the pig breeding farm.

        
    
Héctor Alvarado Cantillo likes pigs: ‘They’ve got their five senses too – we treat them well. Furthermore, they are an important source of food for us.’
Héctor Alvarado Cantillo likes pigs: ‘They’ve got their five senses too – we treat them well. Furthermore, they are an important source of food for us.’

        
    
Bone of contention: the cesspit – overloaded with waste from the pig fattening farm – polluted the surrounding areas. Photos: Ana Carlota Valles
Bone of contention: the cesspit – overloaded with waste from the pig fattening farm – polluted the surrounding areas. Photos: Ana Carlota Valles

        
    
Cantillo regularly takes water samples that are analysed in a laboratory. The nitrate concentrations are sinking steadily.
Cantillo regularly takes water samples that are analysed in a laboratory. The nitrate concentrations are sinking steadily.

        
    
Cantillo is responsible for repairs and maintenance at the biogas plant which will substitute for some 38,000 litres of diesel fuel and 6,000 litres gas annually.
Cantillo is responsible for repairs and maintenance at the biogas plant which will substitute for some 38,000 litres of diesel fuel and 6,000 litres gas annually.

        
    
Cantillo flicks the switch: the Costa-Rican is happy that things have quietened down at the village thanks to the biogas plant.
Cantillo flicks the switch: the Costa-Rican is happy that things have quietened down at the village thanks to the biogas plant.

        
    
‘No one in our village has ever seen anything like this!” says Cantillo proudly. The plant cost USD 1.5 million – money well invested.
‘No one in our village has ever seen anything like this!” says Cantillo proudly. The plant cost USD 1.5 million – money well invested.

        
    
Cantillo is the kind of guy who likes to look ahead. He would like future generations to learn again how to use the natural environment gently and sustainably.
Cantillo is the kind of guy who likes to look ahead. He would like future generations to learn again how to use the natural environment gently and sustainably.

        
    
Cantillo’s reputation as an arbitrator and caring, helpful neighbour is wide spread – and people in Coris and the surrounding areas are always pleased to see him.
Cantillo’s reputation as an arbitrator and caring, helpful neighbour is wide spread – and people in Coris and the surrounding areas are always pleased to see him.