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Dec 26, 2013

Copal - the ecology of an aromatic Amazon resin and novel essential oil. CACE Report #5

Copal resin montage. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE
Copal resin montage. Photos by C. Plowden/CACE

Dear GlobalGiving donor,

Thank you very much for your support for our project on GlobalGiving.  The main goal of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology is to help people in Amazon native and campesino communities to improve their livelihoods, conserve their forests and enrich their cultural traditions.  We help native artisans develop and sell innovative handicrafts and planted 900 rosewood seedlings to produce fragrant oil from this endangered species in a few years.  CACE’s longest standing effort, however, has been to develop a novel oil from the aromatic resin of copal trees.    

Copal is the common name for more than 40 species of trees in the family Burseraceae in the Amazon and other parts of Latin America.  The best known members of this family are frankincense and myrrh, but New World societies going back to the Mayans also burned copal resin for incense. 

People in Central America make cuts into copal trunks to collect the resin that drips from the wounds.  Forest peoples in the Amazon, however, collect resin lumps from trees that have been attacked by bark-boring weevils and use the sticky material to caulk their wooden boats.  CACE is one of the first groups to explore distilling the resin into fragrant essential oil as a more valuable non-timber forest product that could be a more sustainable source of income than activities like unregulated logging, hunting game animals and cash-crop agriculture that burns forests.          

We began studying the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal in 2006 at Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River by measuring how much resin could be collected from 30 species.  Since then we have been monitoring resin recovery and learning how different insects are connected to this little copal resin ecosystem.  (See our video: Use and insect ecology of copal resin in the Peruvian Amazon).

Every few months project manager Angel Raygada and field assistant Italo Melendez visit several hundred study trees in the government run field station and take digital photos of every resin lump.  These observations have given us a rich glimpse into the lives of these fascinating weevils.  Their life cycle begins when a pair mates on a copal tree, and the female places her eggs into tiny holes in the bark.  When a larva hatches and chews into the inner bark to feed, it also cuts through canals carrying resin up and down the trunk.  This resin usually repels attackers, these highly-specialized beetles manipulate the exuding resin into a lump with a chamber that protects them as they mature.

Italo has made and refined a series of traps with wire mesh, old soda bottles and inner tubes to catch adult weevils emerging from their lumps so we can better understand the animals responsible for stimulating resin flow.  Checking these traps three times a week during successive rainy and dry seasons has shown us that it takes two to three years for a resin weevil to fully develop.  As Angel has analyzed thousands of photos, we have learned that different weevils make distinct forms of resin lumps including irregular moonscape blobs, grapefruit size hemispheres, and golf-ball size lumps containing a resin honeycomb.  This work is also letting us know how many years the trees (and weevils) need to rest before resin lumps could be harvested again.

Our study has also shown us that many other insects use copal resin.  Italo spends one day a month observing bees on copal trees to learn how important copal is to these major rainforest pollinators.  He has seen black and striped stingless bees collecting resin to build nests for their colonies in hollow trees, iridescent green and gold orchid bees harvesting copal to make their solitary nests, and bumble-bee sized male “ronsapas” courting females perched on resin lumps.  Syrphid fly larvae sometimes burrow through gooey resin lumps where they feed on microbial spores.  We have also found diverse ants, spiders, millipedes, and scorpions roaming through dry resin lump chambers in search of food or a place to raise their young.  Italo came to us with a savvy knowledge of the forest; working with us has taught him how to record detailed measurements in ways he never learned in his schooling that ended after 8th grade.  

We extended our copal surveys to the village of Brillo Nuevo in 2009.  Since we’ve learned from our studies at Jenaro Herrera that it takes at least five years for resin lumps to recover after all of them are removed, we limited our experimental harvest in the Ampiyacu region to half of the lumps on any tree.  We have now begun our second year of monitoring copal study tree and are pleased to see a good number of new and growing resin lumps on them.  With support for this project through GlobalGiving, many young Bora native men are learning to study their own forest resources with techniques and tools including climbing trees with a harness, collecting leaves with a pole pruner, orienteering with a compass, mapping with a GPS, measuring trees with a diameter tape, and weighing resin lumps with a digital balance.  (See our video: Sustainable harvest and marketing of copal resin in the Peruvian Amazon).

We have distilled samples of resin from both Jenaro Herrera and the Ampiaycu to try and transform copal from a local resource that’s good for caulking boats into an aromatic oil that native communities can sell as a value-added product.  Essential oil buyers have told us that samples from some species have promise in fine fragrances while others may be more attractive in aromatherapy.  This year we plan to analyze resin composition and resin weevil DNA to learn which species of copal and weevils produce the most and best resin and develop a management plan with the community to harvest it commercially.

Our five gallon copper alembique pot has been good for our experimental distillations of small batches of copal resin and rosewood leaves.  We now need to buy a larger stainless steel distiller to process more plant material and increase oil yield with our community level project. We also need to purchase a grinder to chip branches into little pieces that can be efficiently distilled.  Thanks again for supporting this project through GlobalGiving.  Every donation will help us develop a novel and viable new sustainable enterprise for our partners.

Best wishes,

Campbell Plowden

Executive Director and Project Leader
Center for Amazon Community Ecology 
Copal resin lump in sustainability study.  CACE
Copal resin lump in sustainability study. CACE
Collecting copal resin lump from tall tree.  CACE
Collecting copal resin lump from tall tree. CACE
Two weevils and copal resin lumps.  Plowden/CACE
Two weevils and copal resin lumps. Plowden/CACE
Orchid bee collecting copal resin.  Plowden/CACE
Orchid bee collecting copal resin. Plowden/CACE
CACE GPS training with Bora natives. Plowden/CACE
CACE GPS training with Bora natives. Plowden/CACE
Copper alembique distiller. C. Plowden/CACE
Copper alembique distiller. C. Plowden/CACE
Distilling rosewood essential oil. C. Plowden/CACE
Distilling rosewood essential oil. C. Plowden/CACE
Stainless steel distillation unit. Heart Magic
Stainless steel distillation unit. Heart Magic

Links:

Nov 11, 2013

Energizing Native Communities in Peru - Report #4

Bora artisan carving tutuma ornament with daughter
Bora artisan carving tutuma ornament with daughter

Dear CACE Project Supporter,

Since our last report, we have advanced some of our basic project activities with our partner communities in Peru, made progress on a few new fronts, and have been reminded that working in remote communities can be hazardous.  Before saying more, I want to thank everyone who has supported our project through the GlobalGiving network since we first competed in the Open Challenge last November.  Please check out our one-minute video “Energizing Native Communities in Peru” at http://tinyurl.com/CACE-GGTY as our special way of saying thanks.

Our Ampiyacu Project Manager Yully Rojas has continued to making monthly trips to the Ampiyacu region from Iquitos – Peru’s gateway city to the Peruvian Amazon.  She brought in orders for new batches of woven belts, hot pads, and earrings. We are also hoping to get a new assortment of calabash pod ornaments etched with wildlife figures that have proved to be very popular for adorning Christmas trees in the holidays.

Many artisans like master carver Rider Velasquez from Puca Urquillo Bora plant these trees in their back yard so they have a ready supply of egg to watermelon size pods to make a container or any size bowl they want.  This summer, Rider showed me how he cleaned out the pulp from a “wingo” or “tutuma” fruit with a small rounded scoop he crafted from a metal rod and then lays it in the sun to dry.  He then sits on his porch, imagines some butterfly, snake, or fanciful gremlin from the forest, and etches the figure free-hand on the dark brown pod with a small awl.  If he’s happy with the design, he pours a few dozen shiny black achira seeds into the hole on top and then seals the opening with a plug of balsa wood. After attaching a small chord made of natural chambira fiber, the ornament is ready to hang from a tree or use as a rattle that fits in the palm of your hand.  CACE has now bought several hundred ornaments from Rider and other artisans from his village and Brillo Nuevo.  This income allows him to avoid cutting down trees for his livelihood.  These ornaments featuring diverse Amazon mammals, birds, bugs and frogs will be featured in the fall Gifts for Good promotion on GlobalGiving.

September and October were busy times for renewing and establishing new partnerships in our Ampiyacu Project.  For the past few years, we have been doing handicraft development work with two Bora, one Murui (formerly known as Huitoto), one Ocaina and one Yagua village.  Progress has been good in all but the latter village called San José de Piri.  We are going to bring in more help from experienced artisans to help their colleagues learn some basic weaving skills, but in the meantime, we are very happy that a neighboring Yagua village called Santa Lucia de Pro has agreed to become our newest partner.  I know from previous visits that they have some very creative artisans that I look forward to working with.   Another political accomplish was signing a 3 year extension of our cooperative agreement with the indigenous federation FECONA to continue our work in the Ampiyacu.  This took more than six months of discussion because our agreement needed to be approved by representatives of all 14 villages in the federation.  Finally, we are excited about formalizing an agreement with the Field Museum of Chicago to cooperate in our efforts to develop handicrafts, improve our partners’ research and communication skills and promote forest conservation.

Doing field work in the Amazon always has its seasonal challenges.  Traveling between Iquitos and Pebas (the gateway town to the Amipyacu communities) by ferry boat typically takes 15 to 20 hours.  This fall Yully had some even longer trips because her boat kept getting stuck on unchartered sand bars that the shifting currents of the Amazon River creates (and then removes) from one year to the next.  As the rainy season is now approaching, though, a more basic hazard is slipping on muddy ground.  This past trip, Yully lost her footing near the edge of an embankment and fell about 15 feet.  We are fortunate that this tough woman only got banged up, but she did need to be carried out and taken right away to a hospital in the city for treatment.  We appreciate your good wishes for her recovery.

Thanks again so much for your support.

Yours truly,

Campbell Plowden

Executive Director, Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Pouring achira seeds into tutuma ornament
Pouring achira seeds into tutuma ornament
CACE donating camera to FECONA native leaders
CACE donating camera to FECONA native leaders
Yully Rojas teaching Bora men how to use GPS
Yully Rojas teaching Bora men how to use GPS
Calabash tree ornaments with Amazon wildlife
Calabash tree ornaments with Amazon wildlife
Bora boy with baby monkey on his head
Bora boy with baby monkey on his head
Murui artisan with wildlife carved ornament
Murui artisan with wildlife carved ornament

Links:

Aug 29, 2013

New handicrafts and craft plant reforestation

Brillo Nuevo artisan planting guisador dye plant
Brillo Nuevo artisan planting guisador dye plant

Dear CACE Project Supporter,

Every summer, I take a break from supporting CACE work in Peru from afar to join our project team in the Amazon.  I’ve gotten used to spending a full day in a boat to reach a remote village, visiting nasty outhouses, and tolerating bites from chiggers, mosquitoes, and the occasional piraña.  What I love is getting to know families in our partner native communities along the Ampiyacu River. 

Their days may include harvesting yucca roots from a field, canoeing to a lake to fish, or climbing trees to gather pijuayo palm fruits to eat.  They have to be creative and work extra hard to buy other necessities or send their children to a better school because traditional jobs don’t exist there and markets can be far.  I’m thrilled that our project is helping over a hundred artisans to make and sell new handicrafts, and our plans to produce new essential oils are making good progress.  See a summary of recent activities below.  Our small group’s trials, errors, positive results and persistence have earned our partners’ trust that we have a long-term investment in their success. 

Please consider sharing this commitment with us by becoming a Recurring Donor.  A generous GlobalGiving supporter will provide a 100% match for the first gift made any new Recurring Donor given by this Friday, August 30.  Visit our project page and click on Monthly Recurring under the Donate button. We also invite our supporters to become a Fundraiser for our project on GlobalGiving.  Create your own page on the site and use your creativity and personal network to help us raise an additional $3000 to buy and send a commercial-scale essential oil distiller to our project in Peru. GlobalGiving is offering prizes for successful Fundraisers in September.  To get started, click the green Fundraiser button on our project page

Here are a few highlights of our project activities this summer.  See some photos of these below.

  1. One field team measured the condition of 900 rosewood tree seedlings planted in February and continued monitoring the growth of resin lumps on copal trees around Brillo Nuevo and Jenaro Herrera.  We hope to start distilling rosewood leaves and copal resin into marketable essential oils in two to three years with a higher capacity still.
  2. We worked with artisans in four villages to develop new woven handicrafts including hair barrettes, hat bands, water bottle carriers, cell phone carriers and animal figure holiday tree ornaments.  
  3. We continued our survey of chambira palms in artisan fields, supported a cooperative artisan effort to plant more chambira in one woman’s fallow field and continued promoting the use of pruning saws for low-impact harvest of chambira stems used for weaving crafts.
  4. We assisted women artisans to establish a plot of dye plants in an upland area safe from flooding and continued documenting the use of these in a manual being made for artisans.  Watch our new video about the dye plant Mishquipanga on YouTube.
  5. We finished painting the community pharmacy in Brillo Nuevo built with a social rebate from CACE handicraft sales and officially turned over the keys of the pharmacy over to community leaders. 
  6. We held four workshops to teach young Bora men and women how to use a digital camera to record their activities in the forest, field and home.

Thank you very much for your interest and support for our project.  Please contact us with any questions, comments or ideas.

Sincerely,

Campbell Plowden

CACE Executive Director and Project Leader

Captions for photos in report

Report header photo

Bora artisan Hermelinda Lopez planting guisador ginger in fallow field. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology. See more photos of artisans planting dye plants and chambira palm enrichment.

Other photos

Bora man measuring rosewood tree seedling planted at Brillo Nuevo in joint project between CACE and Camino Verde.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.  See more photos of rosewood planting.

Resin lump on copal tree at Jenaro Herrera.  Studying the growth of resin lumps will allow us to determine a sustainable harvest rate for this resin provoked by bark-boring weevils.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.  See more about copal research.

Bora artisan Ines Chichaco with new model of chambira woven hat band. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.  See more photos of hat bands and the artisans who made them.

One new model of chambira woven hair barrette made by artisans from Brillo Nuevo. Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.  See more photos of hair barrettes and the artisans who made them.

Bora artisan Casilda Vasquez dying chambira fiber with sisa leaves. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology. See video Artisans of the Ampiyacu to learn more about chambira craft making and dye plants.

Bora men practicing use of digital cameras at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Bora man painting community pharmacy in Brillo Nuevo built with social rebate funds from CACE craft sales. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology. See more photos about this community project.  

Bora man measuring rosewood seedling
Bora man measuring rosewood seedling
Copal resin lump in study at Jenaro Herrera
Copal resin lump in study at Jenaro Herrera
Bora artisan with new woven Amazon hat band
Bora artisan with new woven Amazon hat band
Amazon flower design woven hair barrette
Amazon flower design woven hair barrette
Bora artisan dying chambira fiber with sisa leaves
Bora artisan dying chambira fiber with sisa leaves
Digital camera workshop in forest for Bora men
Digital camera workshop in forest for Bora men
Painting community pharmacy at Brillo Nuevo
Painting community pharmacy at Brillo Nuevo

Links:

 
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