Tuesday – February 23, 2016 – ALP Forest Adventure


February 23, 2016

The focus of our adventures on Tuesday was the impact of corporate responsibility in Colombia.

We started our day by travelling to the City of Yumbo to visit CDI EI Caracoli—an early childhood development center. Caracoli is the result of a successful public-private partnership between the government of Colombia, the Smurfit Kappa Foundation, and the First Big Step Foundation. The government of Colombia contributes 70% percent of the capital at these facilities and each foundation jointly contributes the remaining funds.

Early development is a persistent issue afflicting impoverished and rural areas in Colombia. The purpose of Caracoli is to bridge the development gap between infancy and elementary school. Teachers at Caracoli are trained in-house and teach basic values and responsibilities to the children that may not otherwise be introduced at home.

Smiling students at the Early Education Center in Yumbo, Colombia.

At its inception in 2011, Caracoli served approximately 20 children ranging from 6 months to 6 years in age. Today, Caracoli educates over 400 students and has reached its full capacity due to site spacing limitations. Additionally, three other early development satellite centers have been established to serve other rural areas.

We were accompanied on the Caracoli tour by Maria Fernanda and Nicolas Pombo. Maria is the Assistant Director at Caracoli. She was able to answer specific questions from the group about the students, challenges at the facility, and the impacts of the center on the surrounding community. Nicolas (Krannert, 2000) is the Director of the Forestry Division at Smurfit Kappa and serves on the governance board of Caracoli on behalf of the company. It was quite apparent that Nicolas is every bit as passionate about his service at the childhood development centers as he is about his role at Smurfit Kappa.


After our visit at Caracoli, we toured the Smurfit Kappa Forestry Project in Valle del Cauca. The company operates a fully integrated forest plantation that grows eucalyptus and pine trees on approximately 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of highland property.


Nicolas presented on the social responsibility focus central to Smurfit Kappa’s presence in Colombia. Outside of the child development aspect, Smurfit Kappa also has key focuses on repairing land degredated by third party deforestation, embracing the existence of endangered species, and fortifying local infrastructure, and top-flight safety training for its employees. For example, each lumberjack must go through approximately 80 hours of safety training prior to entering the workforce.

We were also joined by Byron Urrego and Carlos Alberto Rodas Pelaez, Ph. D. Byron is the Forestry Research Director at Smurfit. Byron received his education from the Universidade de Medellin and was a wealth of knowledge for any production-related questions. Byron led the group through the tree nursery and vivarium. Central to his discussion was an emphasis on creating continually stronger region-specific hybrids through cloning and seed therapy. Also interesting to note, due to Colombia’s proximity to the equator, the heat is too harsh for pine trees to flourish. To combat this problem, Smurfit offsets the heat with altitude—allowing for the successful production of a variety of eucalyptus and pine species.


Carlos is the Director of Forest Health Protection at Smurfit, serving as head entomologist and head of disease pathogen research in Colombia. Carlos is impressively credentialed, researching with several of the industry’s most respected leaders. Perhaps the most unique aspect of Carlos’ education is that he began as a technician in forestry prior to being spotted by a professor at the University of Pretoria for his work ethic and intelligence. The professor eventually urged Carlos  to research at that university as a graduate student (despite no formal undergraduate education). The core message that Carlos conveyed to us is that, unlike crops grown in the Midwest, Smurfit focuses on biological solutions rather than chemical treatment for nuisance pests and diseases. To illustrate, when Smurfit faced a “walking stick” insect invasion, they were able to introduce the biologic predator that specific insect to remove the threat to Smurfit’s plantation. When a classmate questioned about the applicability to our crops in the Midwest, Carlos just smiled and joked that they have a bit more time to deal with problems like this than with our grains. The typical time to maturity for a mature eucalyptus plant is 7 years and their pines are 28 years.

We returned to a quintessential “finca”—Spanish for farm—for a delicious lunch of a traditional potato soup, baked plantains, and a dessert of cheese with cane sugar reduction. The filling lunch was accompanied by remarkable vistas that iPhone pictures cannot do justice.


The tour of Smurfit Kappa “capped” off our time at Cali. We departed Smurfit by bus for the Cali Airport and arrived safely in Medellin a short time later.

Until next time.

Hasta luego,

Class 16