Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paraguay: Technology Meets Ecology

Loofah drying ----Rolex Award

Elsa Zaldívar takes leftover pieces of a vegetable sponge loofah and mixes them with other vegetable matter and recycled plastic to form strong, lightweight panels that can easily be assembled into simple structures, including houses.
Her technological, eco-friendly solution to her nation’s housing shortage will help save what remains of Paraguay’s rapidly diminishing forests.

Loofah growing--- Rolex Award
She won the Rolex Award for 2008

"In the poverty-stricken countryside of Paraguay, a landlocked country in the heart of South America, an innovative social activist has found a new use for an old vegetable. Elsa Zaldívar, whose longstanding commitment to helping the poor while protecting the environment has won her deep respect in her native land, has found a way to mix loofah – a cucumber-like vegetable that is dried to yield a scratchy sponge for use as abrasive skin scrubber – with other vegetable matter like husks from corn and caranday palm trees, along with recycled plastic, to form strong, lightweight panels. These can be used to create furniture and construct houses, insulating them from temperature and noise. About 300,000 Paraguayan families do not have adequate housing.

"The area’s economy had declined with the collapse of cotton and increasing cultivation of soya, an environmentally disastrous crop that had left soils contaminated and forced families off the land, leaving them without employment. Zaldívar took an interest in loofah, a plant that grows easily in the region, but which had fallen out of favour. She persuaded local women in Caaguazú to consider it as a means of generating income.

"The Rolex Award will finance a promotion centre near Asunción and the construction of three model houses where the panels’ versatility will be displayed for both urban and rural audiences, as well as funding the production of a video that will be used to describe the project to people interested in using similar techniques in other countries.

"Zaldívar’s initial focus for providing low-cost housing remains Paraguay’s deforested countryside. 'We want to find sustainable housing alternatives for the poor, while also discovering new markets for their agricultural products, particularly the loofah. This is a perfect combination,' she says."

You can listen to her here.

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