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Dec 16, 2014

Amazon Alchemy for the Holidays

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

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,

Fruits of sinamillo, Oenocarpus mapora
Fruits of sinamillo, Oenocarpus mapora
Essential oil from the Amazon
Essential oil from the Amazon
Vanilla in flower
Vanilla in flower
Oct 15, 2014

That tree on your chest? We planted it together

Our team in Tambopata, Peru
Our team in Tambopata, Peru

Dear friends,

I'm often reminded of the many reasons I have to be grateful for the support Camino Verde receives from you, our donors.  Just today I was reflecting on the fact that our team planting trees in the Peruvian Amazon is the strongest it's ever been-- the folks in that first photo you see there are a crack squad of reforesters.  The working relationships we build are more than just a checklist for basic ethics-- yes, we provide wages and benefits that are far beyond the average in our region of Peru, hire women as well as men, and are one of the few operations in our area providing jobs in rainforest regeneration, rather than rainforest destruction.  But even more meaningfully, we are a team, a family, a group that shares a common vision.  And-- I say with tongue in cheek-- we finally have a uniform.  

For the first time ever, donate $30 or more and receive a Peruvian made Camino Verde t-shirt of 100% pima cotton-- an ancient Peruvian heirloom variety.  (And yes, heeding the advice of a team that's half female means that the women's shirts are cut differently than the men's!)  

As the title of this report suggests, the tree you wear on your chest is a tree we've planted together.  That's right: for every t-shirt we give out to a donor, we'll be planting a tree in the Peruvian Amazon.  

Which brings me to our most exciting bit of news: planting season is on its way!  Here's a quickshot series of bullet points to let you know some of the other exciting things we've got going on:

  • This year, we'll be installing agroforestry systems (read as "planting trees") including an Amazonian oil polyculture as a response to big ag plans for oil palm monocultures where once the world's most diverse ecosystem stood.  
  • We're also doing the groundwork for a study on analogue forestry systems for our region. Analog forestry is a scientifically rigurous agroforestry strategy we're pursuing with our partners at ArBio Peru. 
  • Thesis students at our nearest university, UNAMAD, in Puerto Maldonado, will begin research on the carbon sequestration rates for various species we've planted at our site.
  • Our essential oil-producing hardwood trees are growing better than ever.  Rosewood, moena alcanforada, Amazonian cinnamon and others are hitting their growth stride.  One species is already providing meaningful quantities of essential oil.  This year, we'll be planting another couple of aromatic species, hundreds of trees per species.
  • And more planting of endangered Amazonian trees! 280 species, 17,000 individual trees and counting.

Though there is no end in sight for our planting of trees, t-shirt supplies are limited.  Donate today!  We're so very glad to have you on our team.

Warm greetings from Tambopata,

Friends of Camino Verde
Friends of Camino Verde
CV volunteer
CV volunteer
Camino Verde staffer don Juan and son
Camino Verde staffer don Juan and son
Springtime in Tambopata
Springtime in Tambopata
Jul 7, 2014

Rosewood Revisited

Dear friends of Camino Verde,

For the June solstice of 2014, our winter solstice, I had the pleasure of finding myself in Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon and the largest city in the world not connected elsewhere by road.  In place of a road – the Amazon River, the earth's greatest river system and one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of the World" according to a 2012 global vote.  You may remember from previous missives that what brought Camino Verde to this part of the world – not too terribly far from our Tambopata home base – was a tree whose history is both fascinating and tragic.

I'm speaking of Brazilian rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), a beautiful, enormous Amazonian hardwood whose rich, floral scent fueled an unlikely persecution: rosewood trees were sought out and exploited to the point of near extinction to supply the demand of Chanel and many a perfumer throughout the 20th century.  Think teams of haphazard lumberjacks ripping rainforest giants from the soil roots and all to distill an essential oil whose dollar value in the perfumers' trade blinded natives and industrialists alike to the inherent worth of a species, its inherent right to exist.

Fast forward to the 21st century.  Once plentiful rosewood trees became extinct over entire regions of Amazonia.  Despite ongoing demand for its aromatic oil, efforts at reforestation of the species were lackluster and few.

You may recall that in the first months of 2013 Camino Verde was able to acquire and give a home to over a thousand rosewood trees, the fulfillment of a five year search for seeds that finally, so to speak, bore fruit.  Over half of those rare seedlings were planted in partnership with Brillo Nuevo, a native community of the Bora tribe found on the remote waters of the Yabasyacu River, an area formerly thick with rosewood trees.

Last week I had the honor of revisiting those rare infant seedlings, now a year and a half on, and to share stories with the farmer-stewards elected by their community to be the caretakers of those trees.  To my delight, in the sixteen intervening months many of these precocious green youngsters had surpassed the height of their human keepers – a testament to the dedication of our native partners and to the resilience of the rainforest itself. 

The growth of the trees is worth celebrating in and of itself, but our plans for their future are equally exciting.  With our allies at the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, longtime friends of the Bora of Brillo Nuevo, we are forging a sustainable future for a once-abused species that will also provide meaningful income for a proud but marginalized people.  By the end of 2015 we plan to be harvesting the first branches and leaves in a new paradigm for rosewood essential oil production – one that promotes and enhances the species' survival rather than threatening it with oblivion.

Just days after returning from the pink dolphin-rich waters of the Yabasyacu, we visited another community remarkable for its role in the rosewood story.  Just an hour by fast boat from Iquitos up the Amazon River, the town of Tamshiyacu is home to Juan Silvano Yumbato and a small group of visionary farmers who with support from the Peruvian government planted hundreds of rosewood trees in the last decade.  Juan told me how the community had learned to value and protect this highly valued tree, and after a fruitful day of visiting with farmers and applauding this village's remarkable efforts, we sat down to forge an unprecedented plan for the survival of rosewood.  

Juan and his neighbors have agreed to collect seeds from their carefully stewarded adult trees, seeds that we and our partners at the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute will propagate to seedlings and distribute to native communities and Camino Verde's reforestation center for prosperous growth and safeguarding in perpetuity.  In exchange for their efforts, in the months to come we will deliver distillation equipment to Juan and his fellow rosewood stewards, allowing them to earn an ethical income from sustainable harvest of rosewood leaves and branches that rather than harm, will in fact encourage the trees' growth.

Thanks are in order to David Crow of the aromatherapy company Floracopeia, whose commitment to plant-based medicines and sustainable practices led him to offer to distribute the entire essential oil output of Juan and the folks in Tamshiyacu.  Thanks too to the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, whose ongoing relationship with the people of Brillo Nuevo and other native communities made a successful reforestation of rosewood possible there.

And thanks also to you – without your donor support the survival of rosewood and the many other species we plant and protect would be little more than a dream.  By the way, at last count the number of rare and endangered Amazonian tree species we care for passed 300!  Back on the home front at our Tambopata reforestation center we've planted another half dozen species closely related to rosewood, trees that in 2-3 years will provide entirely new, never-before-distilled essential oils.  Now more than ever, your contribution means a viable future for so many of the organisms that provide the air we breathe and make the Earth livable.  

Please continue to support our unique biodiversity preservation programs at whatever level you're able.  The trees thank you.  I thank you.

Wishing you a wonderful solstice season and excited for the future we're creating together,

Apr 15, 2014

Times of change in the Peruvian Amazon

There are few spectacles as visibly transformative as the rainy season in the Amazon. In our home in Tambopata, Peru, intense rains can change the course of rivers and alter landscapes literally overnight. These last few months have brought the most potent rainy season in the last half a century to our area, and the feeling of transformation is still palpable. The highest river rise in 50 years has changed the face of Tambopata, part of the extraordinary cycle of life and death that is ongoing in the rainforest.

But currently there are other winds of transformation in our area as well. Illegal gold miners in our Madre de Dios region have taken to the streets of the department's capital of Puerto Maldonado, demanding the government make laws more lenient and permissive to their mercury-heavy and ecologically heavy-handed gold mining. The current laws are poorly enforced, and are somewhat cursory in their ecological protections. As I write, our city is paralyzed by a miners' strike that has closed schools and access routes and shut down all commerce. In the uncertain scales of environmental justice balance the needs of thousands of working men and women in the mining zones, and the ecological integrity of one of the most bio-diverse regions on Earth.

For us at Camino Verde, there is a remarkable feeling of calm through these storms. Our business is planting trees and conserving forests, and happily things are business as usual at our center. One of the most effective and efficient teams of reforestation and agroforestry workers in our region is actively restoring degraded ecosystems and helping keep the green lung of our planet green.

Even so, the river rise meant that several hundred of our trees were killed by these rare water levels. A lesson well learned-- to replant the affected areas with water-loving trees, but we need your help to do that. We are seeking support from our donors now in order to bounce back from our losses, small in comparison to so many of the farmers in our region who lost whole fields of crops to the river. Please help us in this work alongside our region´s farmers, to plant trees resilient to the wildly varying conditions of our region.

Despite the intensity of this time of year for reasons ecological and social, as ever I'm filled with a sense of gratitude for the life of the forests of the Amazon. Recently I had a chance to greet a unique visitor to our reforestation center, a scarlet macaw who came to land outside our kitchen and was even willing to grab onto my hand. The astonishing gifts of life are with us always.

Warm greetings from Tambopata,

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Organization

Camino Verde

Concord, MA, United States
http://www.caminoverde.org

Project Leader

Robin Van Loon

Concord, MA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of 1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever