Environment
 Peru
Project #12229

Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon

by Center for Amazon Community Ecology
Vetted
blue headed parrot photo banner
blue headed parrot photo banner

One of CACE’s most successful programs working with artisans in the Ampiyacu River region has been to organize skill-sharing workshops where five or six veteran artisans show other artisans how to make a new special kind of handicraft.  While these workshops have steadily increased the number of native artisans who know how to make CACE’s best-selling models of hot pads, belts, guitar straps, and Christmas tree ornaments, we and our partners recognize that they also needed to become better organized to fully use this growing capacity to make and sell more high-quality crafts.  We did done some leadership training workshops with the Field Museum in 2014, but progress in this area has been slow.  I had told the Ampiyacu native artisans about several groups of campesino artisans along the Tahuayo River that had successfully formed associations and a community enterprise to improve their craft sales, and they seemed enthusiastic about meeting them to learn from their experiences.

While CACE has focused a lot of resources organizing workshops and other activities in the Ampiyacu, our relationship with the Tahuayo communities has been much simpler.  I have visited the village of Chino once or twice a year since 2008 to buy the beautiful chambira baskets they make primarily to sell to visitors from a nearby tourist lodge operated by Amazonia Expeditions (AE).  We have also worked with them to develop a colorful line of woven frog Christmas tree ornaments.  As CACE has sold products made by the Chino artisans, we have regularly returned part of our profits to support local development needs. Unlike the Ampiyacu where discussions about the use of this social rebate have often been contentious, Chino village meetings have openly discussed all ideas presented, and quickly and amiably reached consensus about the best way to use the funds available.  These projects have included buying new desks and building a new bathroom for the school, buying medicines for the village pharmacy, and providing food for work parties to care for chambira palms used to make woven crafts.  When I asked Estelita, the president of the Chino artisan association whether I could bring along a few guests from the Ampiyacu on my next visit, she readily agreed. 

Our two Ampiyacu artisans were Liz C., president of FECONA – the federation that represents the 15 native communities in the Ampiyacu watershed and Segundina, a savvy artisan chosen by 20 Bora artisans from Brillo Nuevo to represent them during this artisan exchange trip.  We left Iquitos early on a Saturday morning on a speed boat belonging to the Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF) – an NGO partner that has been working to improve forest and human health in the Tahuayo region for many years.  Our drivers were RCF staffers Gerardo and Exiles who coordinate RCF community programs to reforest depleted populations of aguaje palm trees and train people to climb the trees with harnesses to collect their popular fruits rather than cut them down. 

We bought some extra gas and water in the town of Tamshiyacu and passed the small lancha that takes 10 to 12 hours (instead of our four) to ferry local residents, bags of charcoal, sacks of aguaje and camu camu fruits and crates of fish from Tahuayo villages to market in Iquitos.  We briefly stopped once more at the village of Buena Vista where fellow American Matt (a student working with RCF) and I checked in with the police manning the official entry point to the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area.  We arrived in Chino in the early afternoon and were distressed to find that our host Estelita was laying sick in her hammock barely able to speak.  The other artisans assured us, however, that we were welcome. 

After getting settled in the guest house formerly operated by RCF two minutes upriver, we returned to Chino to inspect the group of baskets that the Chino artisans had made to fill the CACE order.  In the past I had bought all of my baskets there at a “feria” – a fair where every artisan in the cooperative would place all of the crafts she had available for sale on a table in front of her.  This is the way that they also sell their products to tourists visiting from the AE lodge.  I had bought over 400 baskets with unique designs this way, but I had found that the styles and quality of baskets had changed a lot from visit to visit over the past eight years.  Sometimes for better; sometimes for worse.  In order to develop a reliable supply of consistent quality baskets, I had sent photos of 32 models of baskets that we have sold asking the artisans to make one to three more of these specific designs. 

The artisans had readily complied with our request to make more medium and small baskets since our customers had continued to admire but had been buying fewer of the more expensive large ones.   I had also asked the artisans to make the baskets using the same colors as the models showed in the photos without using the seeds they used in the past to use to adorn the baskets since they might harbor insect pests.  The seeds of “ojo de vaca” (cow’s eye) had a large deep brown center with a black rim.  Huayruru seeds were naturally orange with a black patch in one corner of their oblong shape.  Rosario seeds were a medium-sized grey pearl, and achira seeds were small black spheres.  These seeds were readily available, cheap, and had distinct shapes, sizes and colors that provided beautiful accents to the woven chambira baskets.  As I began to inspect the new baskets, I immediately spotted a big problem.  Finding good substitutes for the seeds had proven more challenging than I thought. 

Some artisans in the Tahuayo have gotten used to using wooden and other types of beads to finish their baskets for a separate export channel, so I didn’t think it would be a problem to do the same for our order.  The Chino artisans, however, had just made due with whatever beads they had on hand to complete the CACE order in three weeks.  I learned that these beads were not cheap and were difficult or impossible to buy in Iquitos.  Some of the beads the artisans used were beautiful matches; others led to horrible clashes of colors and poor fits in open spaces. 

I was still feeling weak and sick from my second trip to the Ampiyacu so I welcomed Segundina’s help to figure out how to handle this challenge.  In this situation, some buyers simply say “this order is rejected because these products don’t meet our specifications.”  We have worked hard, however, to establish trust in our relationships with our artisan partners.  We acknowledge that while their job is to make quality crafts; CACE needs to recognize their reality which sometimes means admitting that we have asked them to do something that just wasn’t possible.  We all need to be flexible and figure out the best solution available.  In this case, I was fortunately able to offer some useful resources because I had stopped in Lima on my first day in Peru.  After an exhaustive search of a market area focused on craft-related products, I had found one shop that sold a wide variety of painted wooden beads and huassai seeds (not a kind that hosts any insects).  They were out of several colors that I had wanted, but I had at least been able to bring a good assortment of medium-sized colored beads to Chino. 

Segundina and I inspected all 70 baskets and placed them into one of three piles: acceptable, acceptable if the beads were changed, and not acceptable if the chambira weaving or color was too poor to fix.  Segundina asked Romelia, “Do you have any more of these large tagua beads?  They would nicely accent the orange ring in this basket.”  She asked Rosa, “Could you replace these pink beads with purple ones in these middle rows – they would go really well with the violet center of the basket.”  She patiently explained to Pilar, “Your weaving is good, but the intensity of the color needs to be a lot stronger.”  What amazed me and Segundina was that while she had come to Chino as an outsider to observe and learn, the Chino artisans readily recognized her as a fellow artisan with a keen eye and welcomed her suggestions for ways they could improve their work. 

The Ampiyacu artisans soon got to see and hear how the Chino artisans have persisted through many tough times, particularly the ebb and flow of visiting tourists and river levels.  The flux in tourism produces alternating seasons with good income and almost no income from craft sales.  Extreme floods in these villages have sometimes killed most of their chambira palm trees.   Some artisans have left the village so their families could seek more income or better education for their children in the city. The Chino artisans have survived simply because they have learned to trust each other, work together, and have the support of their whole community. 

Estelita rallied from her hammock to share the history of the Chino artisans with their new friends from the Ampiyacu.  “Long ago we had a few women who had learned how to weave chambira in other places, but Dolly (co-owner of the AE lodge) inspired us to learn how to make baskets the tourists would like and to get organized.  We worked with the name “Huacamayo (macaw) Association” for a long-time, but when we decided to formally register our group, this name was taken, so we are now officially called, “Manos Amazonicos” (Amazon Hands).  In the beginning, some of our husbands seemed threatened by the idea of women working together and potentially making more money than them.  Fortunately, this has now completely changed.  The men in Chino recognize that selling crafts generates a very important source of income for the whole village.  Everyone also appreciates that selling crafts to CACE has helped our school and other things in our community.” 

Later in the evening, I showed the Chino artisans pictures of the diverse crafts that the Ampiyacu artisans have been making with us.  Norma remarked, “Wow, those placemats are beautiful!  I bet making a belt so straight is not easy.”  Liz and Segundina nodded in agreement.  Madita said, “I’ve made a few bottle carriers before, but they haven’t sold so well.  Now I think I know how to make them better.  I’m sure the tourists who visit here will love them!”  After closely watching the Chino artisans make baskets all day, Segundina said, “When I go back to Brillo Nuevo, I’m going to try making a basket adapting the base of a hot pad.  I don’t need to copy the patterns here – I’ve got my own ideas.” 

I had been reluctant to share images of one community’s unique crafts with artisans from another region for a long time because I had thought it was important to respect each community’s creativity.  I learned during this trip that while my desire to respect each group’s intellectual output was well-intentioned, trying to keep these groups a part was restricting their collective creative potential. 

This visit not only sparked ideas for ways that each group of artisans might improve their respective crafts but generated a proposal for a collaborative handicraft project.  In the past, a few Chino artisans have etched wildlife figures onto calabash pods that have been woven into the center of baskets.  They were great when done well, but many baskets which were beautifully woven seemed spoiled when their centers were adorned with mediocre carvings.  While committed weavers could improve their carving, they are unlikely to get as much practice refining this craft as the handful of Ampiyacu artisans who are now producing hundreds of gorgeous carved calabash pod ornaments with a range of Amazon birds, mammals, frogs and fish for CACE.  We will now ask these carvers to see if they would like to produce four to five inch wide carved pieces that Chino artisans can sew into some of their chambira baskets. 

The next day, the Chino artisans stacked up their finished baskets on a table where Estelita measured each one to make sure its size and price were correctly recorded on the tag and in her ledger.  She told one artisan, “this basket is half a centimeter less than its proper length; you can’t get full price for it.  Please pay better attention to the standard sizes.”  Liz and Segundina were stunned to see how the Chino artisans had direct responsibility for quality control and agreed to consistent pricing among their members.  Segundina said, “My fellow artisans often criticize each other, but they find it hard to ask for and accept suggestions for ways to make their crafts better.  We have to figure out how to encourage and trust each other to improve our quality and hold each other accountable; this will help all of us.” Liz added, “When tourists come to my village, they often shop from house to house because some artisans try to undercut their prices to make a sale. We have to get on the same page so everyone gets a fair price for making the best crafts.” 

One highlight of the visit was visiting the new “Escuela de artesanas” – the artisan school under construction in Chino.  After major floods destroyed the last simple building the artisans used to sell their crafts to tourists, the artisans decided they needed a larger and stronger building where they could gather to dye their chambira with roots, fruits, leaves and bark and weave their crafts under one roof.  They could then demonstrate these traditional techniques to visiting tourists – giving them a more personal experience and incentive to buy the crafts offered for sale.  The ability to work together will also help them improve the consistency of their work by using the same batch of colored chambira to make multiple baskets with the same design.  The structure built with sturdy wooden beams, cement and rebar was progressing, but costs had surpassed donated funds available from Amazonia Expeditions.  I was glad that CACE was able to contribute the most recent batch of our social rebate funds from our sale of baskets and frog ornaments to help complete this worthy effort.  I was sorry that we were going to miss helping out in the big village work party set to happen the next day to get the walls and roof up. 

As we headed back to Iquitos at dawn on Monday, Segundina told me, “I can’t wait to get home to share everything that I’ve learned on this trip with my fellow artisans.  I didn’t believe you when you kept saying that the artisans at Chino cared so much about each other and cooperated so well.  Now, I know you were telling the truth.  These women are really inspiring, and we need to learn from them.” 

Perhaps my best reward of this trip was seeing Segundina and Estelita hug and exchange phone numbers when they parted.  That instant confirmed that bringing these dynamic artisans together was the right thing to do.  CACE is now thinking about launching a region-wide school for artisan leadership to promote more of this kind of exchange.  We also just need to know when to get out of the way. 

Segundina giving tips to Pilar about basket color
Segundina giving tips to Pilar about basket color
Campbell inspecting baskets at Chino
Campbell inspecting baskets at Chino
Romelia putting beads on basket
Romelia putting beads on basket
Estelita measuring baskets
Estelita measuring baskets
Sarita with chambira basket
Sarita with chambira basket
Yermeth with frog ornaments
Yermeth with frog ornaments
Artisans with Campbell at artisan school in Chino
Artisans with Campbell at artisan school in Chino
blue headed parrot at Chino
blue headed parrot at Chino

Links:

Heliconia flower in the Peruvian Amazon
Heliconia flower in the Peruvian Amazon

Three years ago we began an exciting joint project with our partner Camino Verde by planting almost 1000 seedlings of rosewood trees in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo (see GlobalGiving Report #8). Our aim was to help families create a long-term sustainable source of income by carefully harvesting leaves and branches of these aromatic trees and distilling them into a valuable essential oil.  Our other goal was to promote the recovery of this endangered species brought to the verge of extinction by unlimited harvesting of whole trees for the perfume industry. 

Our project reached an important milestone this month when our friend Robin van Loon from Camino Verde joined us again to lead the first harvest of material from healthy young rosewood trees planted in the forest fields of five families.  We began by recording the size and condition of every tree. While the seedlings had been planted in the same way, they had fared differently according to the characteristics of the site and management style of the owner.  A few men had regularly cleared weedy vegetation that could compete with the juvenile rosewoods; one fellow pretty much allowed nature to take its course.  While half of the trees had died since 2013, Robin complimented the owners that their overall efforts to care for these trees had produced a much higher survival rate than other attempts to reforest rosewood in Peru and Brazil.  One of the plot owners Brito said, “I’m very content that most of my trees are still alive.  It’s important to realize that these trees grow more slowly than many others and don’t mind some shade. 

We did our first round of monitoring on a cloudless day under an intense tropical sun.  As we shifted to collecting rosewood material on the second day, we surrendered ourselves to working in the rain.  Robin showed the team how to cut small branches with pruning shears and how to use a pruning saw to harvest larger branches with a series of three cuts.  Plot owner and talented carver David observed, “It was amazing to see how much better my rosewood trees looked after removing some dead wood and a few lower branches with leaves we can distill.  I suppose this is science, but it feels more like a kind of art I can practice to shape and care for my trees for a long time.  Some of them will eventually produce seeds we use to plant more of these beautiful trees all around our community.” 

Our prime adventure of the day was wading up to our armpits to cross an engorged stream en route to Dolores’ field.  I was deeply relieved when she steadied our videographer Tulio’s arm just as he slipped off a submerged log and was about to plunge his camera in the water.  Navigating around wasp nests on the underside of leaves on the trail and rosewood trees was a challenge that usually succeeded but sometimes resulted in painful stings.  This site was the most distinct since it was on a slope, and most of the rosewood seedlings had been lost to unchecked regrowth of forest tree pioneers.  After Dolores took on the task of caring for this field, however, the survivors had become the most robust and tallest rosewood trees we found.  While we collected five to eight kilograms of leaves and branches from other fields with many small trees, the few four to five meter tall trees in this distant plot easily yielded 12 kilograms of material.  Dolores said, “It was great to receive my first payment from these trees.  As they keep growing, it’s easy to see how we’ll be able to collect more material each time we prune them and provide some more money for my family.” 

We invited two members of the rosewood team to go to Iquitos with us this time to distill the rosewood material.  It was fortunate that Oscar and David drew the lucky numbers since they and Robin figured out how to clean out the stalled motor of the grinder that had not been used for a while.  Oscar immediately appreciated the efficiency of this machine since the last time we distilled material in Brillo Nuevo, he and two other men had spent hours chopping branches into bits with their machetes.  Once the shredder got working, we quickly fed leaves into the top hopper and straight branches through a cone to the larger knives.   We poured five gallons of water into the outer tank of the distiller and then packed the inner tank with about 20 kg of finely chopped green aromatic material.  An hour after setting the tank to boil, the first drops of golden oil began to flow into the collecting glass along with fragrant hydrosol – the water used in distilling plants that absorbs some its aroma.  While the oil is the most valuable product of the process, we also hope to market the hydrosol as an ingredient in natural cosmetics. 

Our yield from distilling the rosewood material from Brillo Nuevo was modest, but it was a good start.  Leaves tend to have less oil than branches, and this first batch collected from young trees had a relatively high proportion of leaves.  The amount of oil we will be to extract should increase over time as the trees continue to grow and produce larger branches that can be carefully removed without damaging the tree.  This principle seemed to be confirmed a few days later when we collected material from 11 year old rosewood trees from a campesino family’s field near the town of Tamshiyacu.  The yield of oil from these older trees was 30% higher. 

Oscar described his experience with the rosewood project this way – “I fondly remember the aroma of a few rosewood trees that my father had brought from the Putumayo to plant in our front yard.  I really appreciate the chance to plant rosewood trees in my field in Brillo Nuevo now and learn how to use this distillation equipment to make oil from it.”  He concluded, “Our goal isn’t to create big plantations of rosewood trees.  The Bora have an old tradition of planting many kinds of trees to produce fruits, fibers and medicines (a well-documented process called agroforestry).  It’s great that we can now include valuable rosewood trees in this mix.” 

******

Thank you very much for your interest in this project.  We would particularly welcome your support on the next GlobalGiving Bonus Day on March 16 when a part of your donation will be matched by other donors.  Visit www.AmazonAlive.net to make a contribution.

Measuring width of rosewood tree at Brillo Nuevo.
Measuring width of rosewood tree at Brillo Nuevo.
Measuring rosewood seedling height at Brillo Nuevo
Measuring rosewood seedling height at Brillo Nuevo
Discussing strategies for pruning rosewood trees
Discussing strategies for pruning rosewood trees
Weighing rosewood trees leaves and branches
Weighing rosewood trees leaves and branches
Returning to a flooded Brillo Nuevo
Returning to a flooded Brillo Nuevo
Shredding rosewood leaves and branches
Shredding rosewood leaves and branches
Bora team member collecting rosewood essential oil
Bora team member collecting rosewood essential oil

Links:

Special anaconda model guitar strap /Plowden-CACE
Special anaconda model guitar strap /Plowden-CACE
Dear Friend of the Amazon,
Shortly after I got back from my most recent trip to Peru, our project manager Yully told me about a good kind of challenge she needed to deal with quickly.  “Doctor, we were expecting about 20 to 25 artisans from Ampiyacu villages to come to our skill-sharing workshop this month, but fifty-five artisans have shown up.”  While our work in three main villages was doing well, our repeated attempts to involve artisans from a few smaller communities including the workshop host Santa Lucia de Pro had not taken off.  This workshop, however, finally seemed to ignite interest in this and four other smaller villages so Yully had to scramble to pull extra funds together in the remote Amazon town of Pebas to feed the large group of artisans and their small children.
 
We had contracted several veteran Bora artisans to show their groups how to make a few popular models of woven handicrafts with chambira palm fiber.  Brillo Nuevo artisan Beder carefully explained how to weave the complex “anaconda” pattern belt while Gisela worked with her group to make the multi-colored tight-weave “naca naca” (coral snake) pattern guitar strap.  One teacher Rosa from Puca Urquillo said, “I’m here to share the things I know and inspire others to make their own hot pads.  While I am a teacher, I also want to learn how to make the “anaconda” belt because I’m also a student and need to keep learning.”
 
I was particularly excited that the master calabash carver Rider agreed to be a “professor” in this workshop for the first time.  While some artisans could etch a figure that looked like a bird or fish onto the dark-brown pod, Rider had used various sharpened and scallop-ended nails embedded in a wooden handle to create miniature scenarios of hummingbirds, monkeys, and snakes in their natural environment with individual personalities.  He and a few accomplished artisans had been reluctant to share the fine points of their trade, but he excitedly told me in October, “I can make a set of tools that I invented for everyone in my group so they can improve.”
 
The workshop produced the result we hoped for.  Wilder from the host village told our videographer Tulio: “I’ve made some “tutumas” before, but I was not enthusiastic about selling them because they weren’t well made.  In this workshop, I learned from someone who really knows how to do it well.  I can make “tutumas” much better now and am excited to try to sell them.  I appreciate CACE organizing these workshops that give us the chance to learn.”
 
We are now selling Amazon Christmas tree ornaments and woven handicrafts made by our partners at gift fairs, house parties, offices of non-profit groups, and Christmas tree growers.  Please contact us to buy any crafts now or host a craft sales event next year. 
 
Thanks so much for your generous support, particularly at the end of the year, that makes this work possible.
 
Sincerely,
Campbell Plowden
Executive Director
Project Leader
Bora artisan with woven bag and daughter /CACE
Bora artisan with woven bag and daughter /CACE
Rider with calabash pod maracas / Plowden-CACE
Rider with calabash pod maracas / Plowden-CACE
Artisan workshop at Santa Lucia de Pro/Davila-CACE
Artisan workshop at Santa Lucia de Pro/Davila-CACE
Rider teaching tutuma making / Davila-CACE
Rider teaching tutuma making / Davila-CACE
Bora artisan Rosa with woven bag/Plowden-CACE
Bora artisan Rosa with woven bag/Plowden-CACE
Making naca naca guitar strap at worshop /CACE
Making naca naca guitar strap at worshop /CACE
Toucan calabash pod ornament / Plowden-CACE
Toucan calabash pod ornament / Plowden-CACE
Dragonfly ornament from Jenaro Herrera/Plowden-CAC
Dragonfly ornament from Jenaro Herrera/Plowden-CAC
Turtle calabash pod ornament / Plowden-CACE
Turtle calabash pod ornament / Plowden-CACE
Woven frog ornament from Chino / Plowden-CACE
Woven frog ornament from Chino / Plowden-CACE

Links:

Bora legendary woman painting by Elmer
Bora legendary woman painting by Elmer
Since I first visited the Bora village of Brillo Nuevo in 2008, I’ve learned that almost everyone knows how to weave things that are essential for rural life in the Amazon – thatched roofs from irapay palm fronds, woven bombonaje cane to strain yucca root mash, and simple baskets made on the spot from leaves in the forest to bring home fruit or game meat.  Most people also know how to make a basic bag from chambira palm fiber, but few families have as many creative artisans as Angelina.
 
I have often found Angelina working on some craft alone in the front room of her house on stilts overlooking the Yaguasyacu River.  She has told me, “My mother taught me to weave chambira when I was a little girl and now I have taught my daughters to weave as well.” The family nature of this activity is very evident because I usually see her sitting in a circle on the floor of her or her married son’s home with her mother Ernestina and one or more of her daughters and their children.
 
While no one including Ernestina seems to know exactly how old she is, this 70+ year-old lady has lived in Brillo Nuevo for all of her and most of this village’s existence.  She has been an enthusiastic participant in our project from the beginning, although her first belt was such a mish-mash of patterns, colors and widths that I worried she might not ever make something that we could sell.   Yully and my attempts to speak with her directly in Spanish usually only produced quizzical looks and good-natured laughs, but one of her relatives is always on hand what’s needed to her in Bora.  Her grand-daughter Rode told us, “Grand-mother’s hands are still strong but her eyes are getting weak.  I help her finish up the detailed parts of her handicrafts.”
 
While Angelina laughs when sitting at ease with her family, her aura of reserved confidence has made her a well-respected artisan leader in Brillo Nuevo and other native communities in the Ampiyacu.  I appreciate that she has never been shy about creating and showing us one new design of woven belt, guitar strap and hot pad after another.  Angelina said, “New artisans are sometimes scared to bring their work to Senora Yully from CECAMA (CACE’s name in Spanish) because they don’t want her to tell them that their work isn’t made well enough to buy.  I don’t mind, though, because we need this kind of tough inspection.  Her suggestions have made me a much better craft maker."
 
Angelina has also become of the project’s best and generous teachers.  She was one of the veteran artisans who patiently showed a group of four women who to weave her popular “shushupe” (tropical rattlesnake) design guitar strap at a skill-sharing workshop we sponsored this year in the village of Puca Urquillo.  Angelina said, “A few women don’t want to show others how to weave their special designs because they worked hard to make them and are worried they won’t get as many orders if others can make them too.  I really enjoy sharing my creations, though.  It gives me a lot of pride to have my daughters and women from other villagers ask me to show them how to weave the colorful patterns I’ve invented.  We can all make money to help our families sharing this way.”
 
While the women in Angelina’s family focus on weaving, her two sons have become very accomplished painters.  Darwin and Elmer both make their canvass by pounding the inner bark of the “llanchama” tree, a fast growing pioneer species in young forest fallows, into a thin layer.  They use both plant-based dyes and commercial paints to depict portraits of Amazon wildlife and scenes of traditional Bora life and legends including mystical plants, animals and other spirit beings.  I haven’t found a channel yet to support the marketing of their creative efforts, but I am glad that they are gaining recognition as talented native artists in Iquitos and beyond.

Thank you very much for your support for our project that helps multi-generational families of artisans like Angelina’s to use their creativity to earn a living, maintain their traditions and conserve the forest.  We would welcome your continued support on Wednesday, Sept. 16 – the last GlobalGiving  Bonus Day of the year.  Donations made early in the day will receive a 30% matching donation until matching funds run out – usually within one hour of the 9 am starting time.

 

       

Bora woman straining yucca root mash in basket
Bora woman straining yucca root mash in basket
Angelina with chambira woven guitar strap
Angelina with chambira woven guitar strap
Angelina
Angelina's mother Ernestina weaving a belt
Rode showing CACE intern how to weave a bag
Rode showing CACE intern how to weave a bag
Angelina teaching at CACE skill-sharing workshop
Angelina teaching at CACE skill-sharing workshop
Ernestina and chambira palm fiber placemat
Ernestina and chambira palm fiber placemat
CACE manager Yully reviewing crafts with Angelina
CACE manager Yully reviewing crafts with Angelina
Angelina son Darwin and traditional Bora painting
Angelina son Darwin and traditional Bora painting
Bora painter Elmer and legendary woman painting
Bora painter Elmer and legendary woman painting
Angelina daughter Rode and shushupe guitar strap
Angelina daughter Rode and shushupe guitar strap
Angelina group thankyou to GlobalGiving donors
Angelina group thankyou to GlobalGiving donors

Links:

Orchid bee males at copal resin lump
Orchid bee males at copal resin lump

Thank you very much for your support for our project 'Grow Amazon artisan income & Peru rainforest trees' through GlobalGiving.  I am very proud of the work that our project manager Yully does with our partner communities in Peru every month, but sometimes a short-time volunteer can make a big difference as well.  This past spring we welcomed Tracy to work with us as an Amazon Field Volunteer for ten days.  While approaching her 34th birthday, she decided to take a year off from her career path in marketing and communication to do community service with 34 non-profit organizations around the world in a project called ThirtyFortunate (https://www.facebook.com/34tunate).  I am very grateful that Tracy helped me tag and catalogue hundreds of handicrafts in Iquitos for several days.  She made an extra special contribution to our efforts, however, when she took the 12 hour trip by lancha (300 person ferry boat) from Iquitos to the town of Jenaro Herrera to help our copal research project. 

We have been studying the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal's aromatic tree resin for the past nine years.  The resin exudes onto the trunk when previously unknown species of bark-boring weevils chew into the inner bark to feed. This resin repels most insects, but these weevil larvae shape the resin into a protective chamber for themselves as they mature. Many types of bees collect this resin to build and defend their nests. While Amazon people usually harvest these lumps to caulk their wooden boats or make crude incense, we are distilling this resin to produce essential oil that native and campesino communities can sell to make money without cutting or burning the forest.  To try and develop methods for sustainably harvesting this resin, we have periodically harvested some lumps and then track how long it takes for the weevils and the resin lumps to recover.

Our copal project manager who has a degree in agronomy is now analyzing thousands of digital photos taken during the first phase of the study so we can publish our initial results and use them to guide our community-based copal projects in the Ampiyacu and other areas.  Since we want these local enterprises to be viable for many years, we have called on our long-time field assistant who I will call Alanzo to continue monitoring the recovery and growth of the resin lumps with low cost and low tech tools – i.e. a pen and paper.

Like many people who grow up in rural forest communities, Alanzo only completed 8th grade in school.  He was an excellent woodsman, but instead of becoming a full-time farmer or fisherman, he wanted to support his family by assisting researchers who came through the government research station at Jenaro Herrera.  During the years he worked with us, he was a keen observer of nature, creative and meticulous with physical tasks, and reliably recorded numerical data.  What I only learned recently, however, was that he was almost illiterate.  We are trying to help him fill this gap, but we needed to find a way for him to do his job well in the short-term.

Our volunteer Tracy found a simple and creative solution to Alonzo's need.  While the data collection sheet that I designed for Alonzo had words on it, Tracy added simple illustrations to signify the different options he would need to write.  For resin condition, there is a 1 next to a drawing of a white lump (meaning it is fresh and sticky), a 2 next to a lump that is partially grey, and a 3 next to a lump that is black (meaning it is old and dry).  The same system is used to indicate different stages of tree reproduction (whether it has flowers or fruits) and other variables.  She then spent two days walking with him in the forest to make sure he was confident and competent using these tools to record his observations.  At the end of her visit, Alonzo said, "I was embarassed that my difficulty reading made some things so hard for me.  I am happy that I can do this job well now my own."  

We sometimes work with student interns from the local university to help us with certain tasks, but I feel it is very important to empower the people who live in the forest to be directly involved with these studies since they are the ones who will ultimately decide its fate. 

Thank you very much for your support that makes this project possible. Donations made to our project at www.AmazonAlive.net early on Wednesday, July 15 (GlobalGiving Bonus Day) will receive a 50% matching donation from other sponsors.

Best wishes,

Campbell Plowden
Executive Director
Center for Amazon Community Ecology
Checking copal resin lump status
Checking copal resin lump status
Tracy and Alonzo at Jenaro Herrera field site
Tracy and Alonzo at Jenaro Herrera field site
Copal tree phenology code sheet with pictures
Copal tree phenology code sheet with pictures
 

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Organization Information

Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Location: State College, Pennsylvania - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.amazonecology.org
Project Leader:
Campbell Plowden
Dr.
State College, PA United States
$53,342 raised of $60,000 goal
 
446 donations
$6,658 to go
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