Robin van Loon and Bora rosewood planting team
Dear Friend of the Amazon,
I'd like to begin this report with a story about a man named Oscar Flores who we have worked with since the beginning of our project in the Bora native village of Brillo Nuevo in Peru. Oscar was a young boy when his father brought his family and half a dozen rosewood tree seedlings from the jungle up the Putamayo River near Colombia to a growing Bora native settlement on the Yaguasyacu River in Peru. Oscar fondly remembers growing up with the pleasant aroma of those trees that his dad planted in front of their new house. Sixty years later one lone rosewood tree had grown to maturity in the patch of forest that grew back after Oscar moved his own family several miles downriver to the community of Brillo Nuevo.
In the summer of 2012, Oscar led a CACE team back to this rosewood tree to collect some leaves and branches we could distill to make a trial batch of essential oil. While it now lay in the domain of a neighboring village, tradition allowed Oscar free rights to use it. The fragrance of those first oil samples was wonderful, but climbing one tall tree to get branches was cumbersome and it would not produce enough seedlings to create even a small essential oil enterprise in a reasonable amount of time.
We asked all of our partner communities if any of them had rosewood we could collect seeds from, but only one fellow said he knew about one tree in the forest of a friend. We soon learned that this variety of rosewood was not only uncommon in the Ampiyacu - it had been virtually eradicated throughout the Amazon because generations of harvesters had cut down thousands of trees to make oil from their entire trunks or make fine furniture from its timber. We knew we could make good quality oil by harvesting a modest amount of leaves and branches; with help we could help reestablish the endangered rosewood tree in the Amazon.
With support from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center, CACE collaborated with fellow GlobalGiving organization Camino Verde to bring 900 rosewood seedlings raised in a government nursery to Brillo Nuevo in early 2013. Five families were selected in a village lottery to plant a share of these in a forest plot under the guidance of CV’s director and reforestation expert Robin van Loon. Since then CACE has used part of its project funds provided by GlobalGiving donors to monitor the progress of these seedlings every three months with local Bora men. They have witnessed the challenges that the young trees have faced getting established including intense heat, hungry grasshoppers and an unknown whitish fungus. This monitoring is now done by the five plot owners so they can receive some compensation for their time weeding and tending the young trees until the survivors grow large enough to sustain a modest harvest of leaves and branches.
Most of these owners including Oscar have been diligent stewards of their young rosewoods. One fellow whose plot was getting overgrown during long absences from the village has now turned over control of his share to his nephew who has been enthusiastic about the venture from the start. One owner commented to our project manager Yully – “I am excited that these rosewood trees may generate some income for my family in a couple of years. It’s great that I can now try to enrich the forest around here with these beautiful trees that will be valuable for my life and the lives of my children.”
We have recently bought a stainless steel distiller and Patriot shredder to process copal oil and leaves of other aromatic plants like rosewood. The still was hand-made by Heart Magic in Oregon and after some bumps along the way, the equipment finally got to Iquitos. Dealing with the shipper, airline, customs, and customs broker gave us a crash course in the art and frustrations related to international shipping, but these lessons will help us advance from conducting experimental level harvesting and distillations to taking the first steps of creating a small essential oil enterprise with our Ampiyacu native partners and other villages in the region.
I have just arrived in Peru and look forward to getting a lot done in the next seven weeks. We will set up the distiller in a house in Iquitos that we now share with Project Amazonas – another partner NGO that supports health care and conservation with native and campesino communities in the region. Robin van Loon from Camino Verde will return to Brillo Nuevo with us to check on the young rosewood trees first hand with the plot owners. This summer, we hope to begin collecting and processing batches of copal resin from several current and new partner villages.
We also plan to return to the town of Tamshiyacu to partner with a forest farmer to collect and process some leaves and branches from rosewood trees on their land. These trees were planted twelve years ago in a government project, but they stopped maintaining them for easy leaf harvest when the project was aborted before it reached the commercial stage. We hope that working with this community will teach us a lot about growing and pruning rosewood trees as well as making and selling its oil abroad. We will then have solid experience to apply to do similar work with our partners in Brillo Nuevo families once their young rosewood trees reach harvestable size. The vision beyond that is not to create acres and acres of rosewood plantations. It is to integrate rosewood trees into the natural flow of traditional Bora agroforestry and in so doing help promote the recovery of this magnificent Amazon native from near extinction.
Thank you for your interest and support for this project. To donate to it on GlobalGiving, please visit: www.AmazonAlive.net.
Executive Director - CACE
Separating rosewood oil during distillation
New distiller and shredder in Iquitos, Peru
Carrying rosewood seedlings in canoe to field
Oscar and Bora team collecting rosewood leaves
Measuring rosewood seedling growth at Brillo Nuevo