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.
Dec 17, 2015

One Farmer's Story

Juan Rafaele at his farm, Tambopata, Peru
Juan Rafaele at his farm, Tambopata, Peru

Dear Friends,

I hope this finds you well. In this season of family union and reflection on what we have to be grateful for, I’m reminded of the many people I’m thankful to know.  For this Missive, rather than shooting you with bullet points or dry descriptions of our progress, I want to share with you the story of one friend for whom I’m grateful. 

Neighbor, farmer, colleague, teacher, his story is also the story of Camino Verde.  It’s my honor to share it with you, and to wish you a peaceful, joyful end to the year.

Thank you for your support!

One farmer’s story 

Like millions of other Peruvians, my friend Juan Rafaele left his homeland in the Andes to escape the violence that erupted there like wildfires in the 1980’s and 90’s.  The militants of Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path took guidance from Mao Zedong in their pursuit of power by the barrel of a gun.  The wave of killings and skirmishes that lit up the Andes of southern Peru were of unprecedented brutality. As a direct result, the population of the capital city of Lima swelled with highland emigrants to become the over-10 million strong metropolis of today.  

And in an isolated backwater of the Peruvian Amazon, a young Juan Rafaele and many of his peers sought a more peaceful future in an unfamiliar landscape.  Rafaele arrived to the provincial capital of Puerto Maldonado, at the time little more than a muddy crossroads scratched out of the tangled rainforest, and quickly was able to find work in the informal artisanal gold mining operations that dotted the Madre de Dios, the Inambari, the Colorado, and the Malinowski rivers.  

The mining work consisted of hard labor, running wheelbarrows full of river sand through crude filters to separate out the denser gold dust.  Pay was good, but Rafaele remembered a youth spent tending fields and livestock and longed to return to the farming that he found intuitive and familiar.  

Creating a new home

Before long his opportunity came. The Japanese-Peruvian president Fujimori’s policy of colonization of the sparsely populated Amazon region (representing over half of the national territory) meant squatters could easily obtain legal title to comfortably expansive tracts of virgin rainforest.  A single land claim usually amounted to 30 hectares (around 75 acres)– an area that felt downright luxurious compared to the small patchwork farm plots of most Andean villages. The only demand on the squatter was to “improve” the land by clearing forest, planting crops, and erecting a modest camp. Many a jungle homestead was born.

Juan fell in with the settlers of an area along the Tambopata River called Baltimori where previously the only inhabitants had been rubber tappers and occasional nomadic timber extractors cutting out massive mahoganies and tropical cedars, widely scattered in a forest containing thousands of species of trees.  Now, in the early 90’s, around fifty families of “colonists” moved in, partitioned off their 30-hectare parcels, and inaugurated a school and a health post.  Their pursuit of prosperity involved small slash-and-burn agriculture (at this scale, nowhere near as noxious as industrialized agriculture and cattle ranching), as well as subsistence hunting and fishing.

For over 10 years, community life was idyllic in Baltimori.  Despite the kinds of petty rivalries and neighborly feuds that characterize small villages all over the world, Juan and the other settlers of Baltimori enjoyed excellent and diverse crops thanks to Tambopata’s fertile soils.  Pick up soccer games ended each work week, and community anniversaries were celebrated every 1st of May.

During this time, Juan married and had four children (a fifth would come several years later, and one daughter’s life would be tragically cut short).  Together with wife Rosalia, the farmstead blossomed with vegetables and corn, chickens and pigs, and the family embraced tropical crops that were unknown in their motherland 10,000 feet above sea level.

The fruits of Santa Rosa

Around the same time, the non-governmental organization Pro-Naturaleza came to Baltimori and helped Juan transform the farm into a highly diversified agro-forestry orchard.  He grew mangoes, cacao, oranges, lemons, and a dozen fruits that have no name in English.  With a little guidance from the NGO extension officers he planted nitrogen-fixing cover crops and punctuated the fruit trees with reforestation of increasingly rare, high value timber trees like mahogany, amburana, and brazil nut.  Following the principles of successional agro-forestry, papayas, bananas, and corn provided income while the fruit trees were getting established.

When I first met Juan Rafaele and visited his farm in 2006, the orchards were overflowing with fruit— Juan’s recurring problem, he explained in his humble way, was finding extra labor to help with the bumper harvests.  I had seen agro-forestry systems before, but never so fully realized.  Santa Rosa Farm (as Juan and Rosalia named it) was and continues to be an inspiration for Camino Verde’s work.  As luck would have it, we became neighbors.

A new chapter 

Fast forwarding through 8 years of sharing seeds and calling greetings to one another across the waters of the Tambopata, of seeding fields together and blueprinting dreams, Juan joined the Camino Verde team in a more official way in August of 2014.  In the meantime, much had changed around us. From 50 families, Baltimori was reduced to no more than 10 active farmers. Urbanization is a global trend, and here it was largely caused by a lack of access to education. Families wanting a better future for sons and daughters turned increasingly to Puerto Maldonado, which had become a bustling little city six hours’ boat ride away.  The jungle reclaimed fields and quickly deteriorated the houses that were left empty.

Another significant change was in Juan’s intervertebral discs.  All those bumper crops were heavy to carry, and Rafaele’s back was no longer that of the spry young man who had arrived to the rainforest.  I often saw him wincing, and a doctor’s visit confirmed that it was unwise to continue handling serious loads.  It was this development that led him to seek a day job with Camino Verde, leaving some of the work of his own farm to a brother living in the area and his now-adult son, Isaías.

Juan embraced the new work environment, seeing in our Living Seed Bank many reflections of his own farm, and also learning some new things as well.  He was fascinated by our work extracting essential oils from trees usually felled for timber.  After some brief training which he found simple enough, this year he became our head distiller, a job which happily spares his spine.  The 500 Moena Alcanforada trees we distill from have become familiar, their value clearly demonstrated, and this year Juan approached me about installing a similar “aroma forest” on his own farm across the river.

In February of 2016, we will plant these trees together. And in 2 years’ time he will be able to begin distillation of essential oil from his own trees, which he sees as easy “seated work” and a pathway to economic solvency that will allow him to hire help for the more backbreaking chores the farm demands. 

A model for the future 

Juan’s story is one bright example of how growing and stewarding Amazonian trees can become a viable livelihood for small farmers. When his trees come online for essential oil production in 2018, Camino Verde will help Juan acquire distillation equipment and place his product in the market, both in Peru and abroad.  We see essential oils as just one economic motor available to improve livelihoods for rainforest farmers while directly encouraging practices that are regenerative for forests and bio-diversity. 

In 2016 Camino Verde will take these strategies to scale as never before. In addition to planting over 10,000 trees in the coming year, we’re deepening our work with more farmers like Juan Rafaele.  Meanwhile, we’re sharing our replicable models to communities in different parts of the world, particularly in our consultation work in Uganda (from where I’m writing this missive). 

Thank you for supporting Camino Verde.  We truly couldn’t do it without you.  This holiday season, consider giving your loved ones the gift of trees planted in their name.  (And please be sure to let us know the names of whom you are honoring!)  

Best regards,

 

 

Juan and some of his Camino Verde teammates
Juan and some of his Camino Verde teammates
Rafaele and his son, Isaias
Rafaele and his son, Isaias
Flowers of Moena Alcanforada
Flowers of Moena Alcanforada
Juan and the Camino Verde team
Juan and the Camino Verde team
Oct 20, 2015

Bamboo and Bio-Char

Yellow bamboo
Yellow bamboo

Bamboo is a grass that can grow 50 meters tall.  It's the source of fibers used to make paper and clothing, and a sturdy "timber" familiar in the tropics and increasingly throughout the world.  

And it's fast.  Many species of bamboo grow faster than trees.  And many species sequester more carbon dioxide than trees, a fact that has made bamboo attractive for possible carbon capture credit systems.

It works like this: the growing plant takes in CO2 as part of photosynthesis, incorporating much of that carbon into its body as biomass.  For as long as the plant resists decomposition, this carbon is captured, sequestered, sunk.  If the thing rots, much of the carbon offgases as CO2 and methane. So for bamboo to be effective as a carbon capture system, the bamboo must be preserved, as is the case with bamboo-as-timber in construction.     

The other way you can lock the carbon in is by making bamboo charcoal.

Counter-intuitive as it appears at first glance, charring bamboo is in fact pyrolysis instead of combustion and releases few emissions.  And the carbon captured in charcoal exists in a much more stable form -- charcoal can last for hundreds or even thousands of years without re-releasing its carbon.

Bamboo charcoal is like pulling carbon out of the atmosphere by some magic trick and placing it in stable organic canisters that can safely be buried -- and in fact provide great benefits in the soil.  

Our bamboo plantings are over a year old now but still need more time before they can start yielding sustainable harvests.  Thanks to your support, we're approaching the execution phase in which we'll demonstrate bamboo bio-char's value and begin to share it.

Thanks so much for your interest and support!

Nurseries for the future
Nurseries for the future
Oct 15, 2015

The blossoming of Amazonian spring

A newborn tree seedling from our nursery in Peru.
A newborn tree seedling from our nursery in Peru.

Dear Friends,

It’s been six months since our last missive.  This has been a period of tremendous growth and opportunity for Camino Verde, and I’m happy to finally catch my breath and share with you some of what’s been going on with us in the Peruvian Amazon and beyond.  Let’s catch up.

We’re raising the bar on tree planting. Those of you who have kept up on our Missives know that we’ve maintained a pace of planting one or two thousand trees a year at our reforestation center in Tambopata.  Not to mention many others planted with small farmers and native communities elsewhere.  We’ve learned from these experiences, and we’re ready to do more. With our new partner, solar provider Viridian Energy we’ll be planting over 3000 trees in January 2016, in addition to the couple thousand trees we already have lined up for the end of 2015.

…And raised it again.  A generous pledge for 2016 means we’ll be able to hit an amazing first time milestone - 10,000 trees planted in a year! For now, suffice to say that the number of trees isn’t the only awesome thing about next year’s campaign. I can’t wait to share with you more about this incredible opportunity in future missives. A teaser preview? Let’s just say it involves rising to our region’s greatest challenge: planting trees in some of the most degraded areas in all of the Amazon.

10,000 trees celebrating our 10th year of reforestation work in Tambopata!

And, we’re keeping more forest alive.  
I’m proud to announce the creation of the Sherblom Family Forest, an additional 40 acres of primary rainforest that we will protect in perpetuity.  Many thanks to the Sherblom family for helping prevent the deforestation of this virgin area’s incredible trees. We only regret not acting in time to avoid the felling of a 7 foot diameter giant kapok tree, whose destruction may somehow be redeemed as the inspiration for keeping this area wild.

It’s time – sharing our experiences to inspire more reforestation.  The proof is in the pudding. For the first time ever we’re measuring every single one of the thousands of trees planted at our reforestation center.  With over 300 Amazonian species planted, this unique body of knowledge will grow annually along with the trees themselves and provide reliable data to demonstrate the viability of planting trees that nobody is planting.  Biodiversity preservation… in action!  The research is being carried out alongside thesis students from our local university UNAMAD, with participation from respected Lima universities La Agraria and Cayetano Heredia and the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP)

More Camino Verde news at a glance (or, There will be bullet points):

•Our consultation branch continues to grow.  Many of you asked, and I’m happy to share that it’s now confirmed that we’ll be back in Uganda before the end of the year, working with our allies at Wild Forests and Fauna and Mon Ma Ryek (Wise Women of Uganda) to establish a tree nursery with capacity to provide an astonishing 100,000 native tree seedlings a year.  (Did I mention we’re raising the bar on tree planting?)  We’re currently seeking partners interested in collaborating with us to develop the carbon offset potential for this work.  Know anyone trying to “buy” a few tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere? Drop us a line.

Did somebody say rosewood? In February 2016 we’ll be back in Brillo Nuevo, the native community that’s home to 500 Brazilian rosewood trees, with the intention of doing our first ever distillation of essential oil from these trees, planted with and cared for by our native Bora allies.  Our search for more rosewood seeds continues— and this year we’ll continue experimentation with vegetative propagation, to help bring back this IUCN Red List endangered species. 

And rosewood’s cousins?  We’re currently distilling several liters a month of essential oil from one of our flagship trees – Moena alcanforada – a close relative of rosewood.  We are the only producers of this essential oil in the world!  Many thanks to our first round partners in demonstrating the oil’s value, from the fragrance alchemy of L’oeil du Vert to the aromatherapy expertise of Wisdom of the Earth and now, Floracopeia.  Securing a market for this oil means we can plant more of these trees.  We’re starting next year with an additional 1000 of them on the farms of two of our longtime farmer allies in Tambopata. A better income from planting trees than from cutting them down— that’s our goal in a nutshell.

GlobalGiving’s Sustainable Development Goals.  In celebration of the launch of the new Sustainable Development Goals at UN Week, GlobalGiving is highlighting three projects working to achieve each new goal. They’re featuring our Carbon Footprints project because we’re one of their highest-ranked partners that’s committed to learning and effectiveness.  This will mean more exposure for our organization to a broader network individual, corporate, and institutional supporters looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. Find out more here

A growing family.  You may be scratching your head as to how all this growth has come about. The answer is our amazing team.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be working with the inspired, inspiring crew that is the la familia de Camino Verde.  And we’re growing, welcoming new staff, interns and allies into our midst.  

Now, I know you’ve heard this before, but the other key member of our team is you. People are often amazed to hear that our number one source of funding is the individual donors who believe in our cause. We truly couldn’t do any of this without your support.

Thank you so much for contributing.  

It’s Amazonian springtime, and the blossoms are outrageous. Kaleidoscopic parrots feast on fiery Erythrina flowers, themselves looking like exotic birds.  The deciduous trees of the rainforest are dropping their leaves or barely budding out once again, adorned with what looks like yellow foam here or purple gauze there, made of thousands of tiny blooming trumpets.  The night is a tapestry of voices and stars.  That’s what I mean when I say, greetings from the Amazon.  Thanks for helping to keep alive this place that I love so much.

Gratefully,

Nurseryman Manuel Huinga
Nurseryman Manuel Huinga
Research maestra Olivia Revilla
Research maestra Olivia Revilla
Piher Maceda, tree whisperer.
Piher Maceda, tree whisperer.
Registering each species in the nursery
Registering each species in the nursery
 
   

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