A good story for an Easter of hope and rebirth - part 2
Monday, April 13, 2020 9:00 AM
Torqeedo donated five Travel 1003 and Cruise 2.0 electric outboards to the project. In May, 2018, the first motors arrived in the village. Two years later, four of the new motors are being used daily, while one stays in Bogotá as a backup. The local gas station attendant sees where things are headed. He is thinking about training to become an electrician.
How did the academics overcome the initial scepticism of the locals? Wilmsmeier says the key was giving them an opportunity to experience the motors right away. “We said, ‘Here, take this with you, install it on your boat, take it out for a ride.’ We didn’t lecture them on a million things they should or shouldn’t do. They got to figure it out for themselves.” The anglers found the electric motors were easy to install and to use. The university created visual versions of the motors’ service manuals with easy-to-follow illustrations for using and servicing the motors.
The piangua harvesters, mostly women, were the first to adopt the new technology. “We noticed right away that the women were more open to innovation. They also seemed to be more careful with the motors,” says Sorge. Also, women in the region are harder hit by poverty and instability, which made them more willing to try something new.
The piangua is a key ingredient in Colombian cooking but is rarely consumed by the people of Guapi. Instead, they sell the molluscs to traders who sell them outside of the country, mostly to Ecuador. Ecuador’s piangua populations were decimated when their mangrove forests were converted into shrimp farms.
It takes around four hours of probing the slimy floor of the mangrove forest by hand to collect 100 cockles. That’s enough to earn the equivalent of €5 from the exporters. But the women had been paying four euros a day for the gasoline for their boats. Today, 25 women who harvest the shellfish for a living share the four electric motors.
The new electric motors boosted their earnings by 40 per cent, Wilmsmeier says. If the women earn more, they don’t need to harvest as many cockles, which protects the species from overharvesting. It’s a win-win situation.
The piangua harvesters and the researchers are also trying to find new buyers, so more of the profits can stay in the community. Top Colombian chefs may be the ideal target audience. Leonor Espinosa, or “Leo” as she is affectionately called, is lending a hand. She is the country’s most famous chef and recently organized an event for cooks where she presented her own cockle creations and discussed seafood quality. Now, Bogotá’s best cooks want live piangua, and they want big ones. Wilmsmeier and Sorge are already in contact with a startup that specializes in sustainable logistics to have the shellfish transported from the swamplands to the capital around 1,000 km away.
This may establish a transport route for crabs, catfish, and bass as well. Seeing the women’s success, the men in the villages around Guapi are interested as well. They asked Wilmsmeier and Sorge a critical question: Can the electric motors pull heavy, 800-metre long nets? On their most recent visit, the researchers put a Torqeedo Cruise motor on a fishing boat, set out on the wide Iscuande River and proved to the fisherman that it’s no problem at all.
“It’s amazing how everything worked out,” says Wilmsmeier. Besides Leonor Espinosa, the popular Colombian bands Systema Solar and Bomba Estério are also on board, helping to raise awareness. When Wilmsmeier and Sorge went to Berlin to talk about Inno Piangua, they were greeted by the Colombian ambassador to Germany who promised to support the project. Things are progressing. Of course, four electric motors don’t make up for the thousands of gasoline engines buzzing around the mangrove swamps. But you have to start somewhere. In February, solar panel implementation began in the region. Torqeedo developed a custom charging prototype for the application and donated the solar panels for the Cruise and Travel motors. Currently, the motors are in daily use and powered with clean, unlimited renewable energy. And the use of green energy naturally also increases the fisherwomen's profits.
Wilmsmeier and Sorge are thinking even bigger: they dream of fossil fuel-free national parks and new ways to fish sustainably and without generating CO2 emissions. Iscuande showed them it’s possible, and the Colombian fisheries association has opened a department for marine electric mobility. As Wilmsmeier points out, “We want to show how open and modern people can be in regions that are often forgotten. One day, the so-called developing world may very well surpass industrial nations in the adoption of electric transportation.”