Camino Verde

Camino Verde is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization dedicated to: * Protecting and understanding biodiversity in the Peruvian Amazon. * Protecting indigenous rights, autonomy, and wisdom. * Spreading sustainable ways of life and encouraging fair, sustainable development. Our mission is to plant trees and encourage others to do the same.
Apr 8, 2015

Global reforestation outreach from Peru to Africa

Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healers
Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healers' co-op

Dear Friends,

I recently had the great fortune to visit and work in Uganda, a place with a powerful sense of identity— and a very different landscape and climate from our project site in the Peruvian Amazon.  What brought me there was the opportunity to share some of our tools for participatory conservation in a totally different context.  An important outcome of the trip was the creation of a community reforestation project with a particularly compelling backstory.  

But first, you may be wondering what Uganda has to do with the Amazon?  Doesn’t Camino Verde plant trees in Peru?  The answer is that this trip represents the first gig for Camino Verde Consulting (CVC), a new branch of the organization that is just one of the ways that we reach out to other communities and share our strategies on a broader platform.  Successful reforestation projects are few, and CVC is one avenue to replicate the successes we’ve had in new and different contexts.

And different is right.  Though both Peru and Uganda regularly top lists of biodiverse countries, climate and landscape of Northern Uganda is a a far cry from the Amazon rainforest.  Dry is the word that comes to mind.  Remarkable native tree populations have been greatly compromised by pressure for firewood for cooking, and the overlap among ecological, cultural, and economic factors is evident.  A perfect opportunity to test Camino Verde’s toolkit.

And let’s talk more about that cultural component I just mentioned.  The recent history of Northern Uganda is like few places in the world— the region has enjoyed the past few short years of peace after almost half a century of ongoing conflict.  The last twenty years of that war-torn period were characterized as one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises— over 1 million people displaced to camps, an estimated 60,000 children abducted for enforced conscription and enslavement.

Extraordinary to me was the profoundly optimistic and nearly universal perspective that it’s time to put the conflict behind us and build a better future, starting today.  And few people were more articulate in this perspective than the Mon Ma Ryek, the “Wise Women of Uganda,” a community-based organization of women traditional healers with whom I had the honor to work.  Think shamans, medicine women.  And then turn your wow factor up by ten notches.  These women are cultural knowledge keepers who have shown astonishing resilience in the face of decades of scapegoating and persecution by violent rebel groups and government alike.  And now we’re going to be planting some trees together.  

One of the key outcomes of the trip (which was part of an ongoing initiative of US-based organization Wild Forests and Fauna, of whose team I’m a part for this project) was the development of a reforestation action plan and a native trees nursery to generate seedlings for the Wise Women to plant.  We’re starting out with 15 key conservation target tree species and researching ways to include a non-timber forest product component— African essential oils anyone?  The first round of species are multipurpose trees facing over-exploitation for use as charcoal or fuelwood but that are also important medicines.  

I’ll be sure to follow up in the future with more news from Uganda.  In the meantime, heartfelt thanks to the whole WFF family and trip team who brought so much heart and expertise to the project.  It's an honor to be a part of this work.

And back in the Peruvian Amazon…

…Amazing things are happening.  Here are the first quarter milestones:

•1200 trees planted representing over 30 species as part of our Living Seed Bank, which was recently featured in Rodale’s Organic Life.

•Camino Verde field research team Manuel Huinga and Piero Maceda spent January through March documenting and gathering seeds of important, rare Amazonian trees.  Six thousand seedlings sit in our nursery now, growing to be planted out next rainy season.

•Forestry engineer thesis candidate Olivia Revilla has begun the labor of love of documenting the trees of Camino Verde— all the trees planted here in the last 9 years.  Her ongoing long-term data collection of our reforestation center will provide a unique body of information from our 280 tree species on farm: over 15,000 individual trees.  

•In parallel with our bio-regional partners in the northern and central Peruvian Amazon, Camino Verde has planted an “oil polyculture agroforestry system.”  This ecologically sound answer to the disastrous oil palm monocultures impacting tropical forests around the world focuses on native species and helps prove that ecological agriculture is ultimately more economically attractive to farmers that plantation serfdom and forest degradation.  Thanks to the New England Biolabs Foundation for their generous support of this initiative.

It’s always a pleasure to share with you about what’s going on with Camino Verde, and there’s always more going on than I can mention in these brief missives.  Please follow us on Facebook or reply to this email and request to subscribe to our Bulletin, which provides more detailed information on Camino Verde program work for our board and advisory council.  

Thank you, and kind regards from Tambopata,

Seeds of native trees of Northern Uganda
Seeds of native trees of Northern Uganda
Julian Moll-Rocek with an African mahogany
Julian Moll-Rocek with an African mahogany
WWU march
WWU march
WWU herbal workshop
WWU herbal workshop
Camino Verde seed experts Manuel and Piero
Camino Verde seed experts Manuel and Piero
Mar 17, 2015

A global perspective on Bio-char for a finite planet

Charcoal production in rural Uganda
Charcoal production in rural Uganda

Dear Friends,

I recently had the great fortune to visit Uganda, a very different landscape and climate from our home site in the Peruvian Amazon.  What brought me there was the opportunity to help develop a community reforestation project, and the trip was a great success.  Native Seeds is poised to be one of the most important native species reforestation initiatives in northern Uganda.  It was humbling and inspiring to get to join Wise Women of Uganda-- a community-based organization of women traditional healers-- in developing an ecologically and culturally vital action plan. Apwoyo matek!  

To my surprise, the visit was also a chance to see firsthand an unlikely connection to bio-char.  With essentially all Ugandans relying on firewood and charcoal for their home cooking, a bustling charcoal trade was visible everywhere I went.  Unfortunately, the pressure on trees and the resulting ecological degradation from over-harvesting of available wood was frankly scary.  I was encouraged to hear from young and old alike that there's an awareness of the need for reforestation, but it was also obvious that much action is needed to achieve energy sustainability in Uganda.

One way to help secure people's very real energy needs in the future is through improved charcoal production that makes more efficient use of wood and produces more charcoal pound for pound.  One of the best ways to do that is by using an Adam Retort charcoal oven like the one that I've described in previous reports for making bio-char as a soil ammendment.  Although Ugandan charcoal production is outside the realm of this Amazonian project, don't be surprised if you see a new page up on GlobalGiving in the near future.  Besides, all the residue and debris leftover from fuel charcoal production can be used as bio-char!

Meanwhile, it's great to be back home in the Peruvian Amazon.  I'm grateful for your support and interest in our work.  Thanks for helping create a greener future.

Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healers
Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healers' co-op
Julian Moll-Rocek with an African mahogany
Julian Moll-Rocek with an African mahogany
A shea tree, threatened by charcoal production
A shea tree, threatened by charcoal production
Low quality charcoal is the norm
Low quality charcoal is the norm
Seeds of native trees of Mpango, Uganda
Seeds of native trees of Mpango, Uganda
Dec 16, 2014

Amazonian holiday cheer

Distilling essential oil in Tambopata, Peru
Distilling essential oil in Tambopata, Peru

Dear friends,

Recently I read that here in the Peruvian Amazon, an illegal thousand-hectare oil palm plantation was detected in satellite images.  (You can read the article here.) Oil palm plantations mean deforestation and tremendous biodiversity loss in many areas of southeast Asia, and the news of their arrival to Peru is a scary omen.  Alarmingly, it's estimated that in Peru over 13,000 hectares of rainforest have been leveled for oil palm so far.  

Grappling with problems of this magnitude can feel hopeless, and I've seen many activist friends grow embittered through years of "tenuous, temporary victories and permanent defeats" (as one of them described the environmentalist's predicament).  Especially at a time of year when we've recently honored the power of gratitude, it feels important to focus not on what's wrong, but rather on the possibility of doing something about it.

But back to the oil palm plantation nightmare.  With the brainstorming energy of several allies, and in keeping with the permaculture maxim that the problem is the solution, we sought out an alternative vision to the oil palm monoculture; the result is what we've been calling an oil polyculture.  Think of a forest rather than a plantation-- native trees that branch out to meet ecological goals as well as diverse and reliable productivity in order to provide decent livelihood for the human caretakers of the system-- in this case, farmers rather than plantation hands.  

The oil polyculture we envision includes over 20 species of trees providing a diverse range of edible, medicinal, and aromatic oils.  Remember rosewood?  Think of those richly perfumed trees interplanted with cacao, native palms, brazil nuts, and more.  The seedlings that make up the first 2-hectare oil polyculture demonstration site are literally on the boat right now on their way to our reforestation center.  We are celebrating the holidays and the coming of our rainy season by planting over 2500 trees in the next two months.  This first model plot will pave the way to planting the oil polyculture with participating farmers in coming years.  Can you tell I'm excited?

This is a time of great productivity and growth-- and is also a time when organizations like ours receive the great majority of our funding.  It's my pleasure to share some of our many advances and to reach out to our supporters and friends to ask that you include us in your holiday giving this year.  Plant a tree (or ten) in honor of a loved one and help us keep the Peruvian Amazon diverse and resilient. 

And now, for a limited time, donate $30 or more and get a Camino Verde t-shirt, or donate $50 to receive a dram of our completely unique Amazonian essential oil of moena alcanforada, distilled on site at our reforestation center-- the only source in the world of this essential oil. 

Thank you for helping us grow!  Warm greetings from Tambopata,

Oenocarpus mapora- an "oily" palm
Oenocarpus mapora- an "oily" palm
Our essential oil
Our essential oil
Vanilla in flower
Vanilla in flower

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