Native Artisan and Forest Conservation Project on Global Giving

Bora artisan weaving Amazon guitar strap. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan weaving Amazon guitar strap. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


CACE MISSION
The Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) was founded in 2006 to promote the understanding, conservation and sustainable development of human and other biological communities in the Amazon region. We conduct research on the ecology and sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and work with forest-based communities to sustainably manage and market value-added NTFPs as sustainable alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. For the past six years, we have been studying the ecology, management and market potential of resins and other aromatic rainforest plants and worked with native and campesino communities to develop innovative designs and markets for plant-based handicrafts. We return part of the proceeds from our sale of crafts to our partner communities to support their basic needs in health, education and conservation.

CACE Global Giving Photo ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE Global Giving Photo ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GLOBAL GIVING CAMPAIGN
Our work with native communities in the Ampiyacu River region of the northern Peruvian Amazon has been funded so far with grants from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation and donations from CACE supporters. We are participating in the Open Challenge of the Global Giving Foundation to expand our base of support for this project. We can earn a permanent spot on this grassroots funding platform by raising at least $5000 from at least 40 unique donors by December 31. Global Giving awards bonuses of $300 to $3000 for groups that exceed these minimum goals in various ways. Please visit Grow Amazon Artisan Income & Peru Rainforest Trees on Global Giving to view or donate to this project. See full CACE Ampiyacu Project Description. See a summary of project goals and activities below.

Bora women artisans with chambira palm leaves harvested for craft making. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora women artisans with chambira palm leaves harvested for craft making. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


SUMMARY
This project will enhance forest conservation in the Peruvian Amazon by promoting the sustainable harvest and marketing of value-added non-timber forest products (NTFPs) by indigenous communities near the 433,000 ha (1.07 million acre) Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area. Our project team will work with five Bora, Huitoto, Ocaina and Yagua native communities in this high biodiversity region to: 1) survey and sustainably harvest wild plants used for making value-added products, 2) promote the planting of trees that yield important non-timber products, 3) produce essential oils from aromatic plants, 4) create innovative high-quality handicrafts from local plants with traditional weaving techniques, and 5) build artisan and community capacity to market these products as alternatives to economic activities that damage natural forests. In addition to working directly with artisan associations in the focal villages, the project will closely cooperate with the Federation of Native Communities of the Ampiyacu (FECONA), Camino Verde, the Instituto del Bien Comun, and other Peruvian institutions.

Mishkipanga fruits used as natural fiber dye. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Mishkipanga fruits used as natural fiber dye. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

PROJECT GOALS AND SITES
This project will catalyse forest conservation and community development in the 433,000 hectare Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area in northern Peru by empowering native communities to sustainably harvest and market value-added non-timber forest products including essential oils and innovative fair-trade handicrafts as an alternative to destructive logging and cash-crop agriculture. This strategy treats rich biodiversity and traditions as assets to improve livelihoods so communities will have tangible incentives to safeguard the area’s 1,500 plant and 700 vertebrate species. The project will focus its efforts in five of the fourteen native communities in the region: Brillo Nuevo (Bora), and Nueva Esperanza (Ocaina) along the Yaguasyacu River and Puca Urquillo Bora, Puca Urquillo Huitoto, and San José de Piri (Yagua) along the Ampiyacu River.

Bora men measuring copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora men measuring copal tree at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

DEVELOPING ESSENTIAL OILS FROM AROMATIC TREES
This project will help build the capacity of native communities to assess the abundance, sustainable harvest and economic potential of copal and aromatic trees by combining their natural curiosity and traditional knowledge of forest plants and wildlife with new forest inventory and technical skills. It will work with native woodsmen to sustainably harvest parts of aromatic plants and distill them into fragrant essential oils. Marketing these oils would be one new way to generate income without imposing severe impact on the forest. The pilot phase of these activities is based in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo on the Yaguasyacu River.

Bora leader and CACE Director Campbell Plwoden distilling copal resin. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora leader and CACE Director Campbell Plwoden distilling copal resin. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE Project Manager, Local Project Coordinator, and a rotating team of native woodsmen will map the location of copal, moena and other aromatic trees and plants, collect samples of resin and leaves, and distil them to assess the quantity and quality of the essential oil extracted from them. This information also will be used to devise a management plan with the native communities and help the provincial government establish sustainable harvest guidelines for similar enterprises in the region.

Bora man with rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man with rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE is collaborating with Camino Verde, an NGO based in southern Peru, to plant 1000 rosewood tree seedlings (now being raised at a nursery in Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River) in Brillo Nuevo in secondary forest plots (“purmas”) of five families. This reforestation project will have long-term benefits since residents will be able to begin harvesting leaves from these trees in three to four years and distil them into a fragrant and marketable essential oil. The offspring of these trees will then be shared with other community members to plant in their fields.

By the end of this phase of the project, a cadre of woodmen will know how to use basic forestry equipment (GPS, compass, climbing spikes, pole pruner, and hand pruner) to conduct a basic survey of forest resources, preserve specimens for identification, and sustainably harvest resin and leaves from forest trees. Essential oil samples will be chemically analysed and examined by fragrance company specialists to assess their commercial potential.

Bora artisans Gisela and Angelina with chambira fiber belts. ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisans Gisela and Angelina with chambira fiber belts. ©Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


EMPOWERING ARTISANS TO PRODUCE INNOVATIVE HANDICRAFTS
The handicraft component of this project will work with artisans from all five community partners in the project. Encouraging these artisans who are mostly women to develop new woven products incorporating snake patterns and native motifs has already begun to transform craft making in Brillo Nuevo village from an individual pursuit to a more collective endeavour. The process is infused with creativity, skill sharing, cultural richness, ecological concern, and pride that craft sales can help fund immediate community needs. We are seeking to strengthen newer relationships with Bora and Huitoto artisans from the twin-village of Puca Urquillo, Ocaina artisans from Nueva Esperanza, and Yagua artisans from San José de Piri. We have had preliminary meetings with the Yagua community of Santa Lucia de Pro to become part of this project in 2013.

Dog with Amazon dog collar and leash. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dog with Amazon dog collar and leash. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE works closely with our partner artisans to develop new products and models of handicrafts. We began by buying and trying to sell some of the crafts they were already making. Customers who liked these often suggested ideas for ways to improve these or make whole new products. We now aim to develop signature products or models with each partner community. In Brillo Nuevo, where we have been working the longest, artisans are refining designs for belts, net bags and hot pads (trivets), dog collars and leashes, and guitar straps woven with chambira palm fiber. See the special brochure about the Amazon Guitar Strap for the full story on this unique product for musicians. We are working with weavers in Nueva Esperanza to develop a line of coin purses and cell phone carriers.

Yagua artisan with doll hammock. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yagua artisan with doll hammock. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

In San José de Piri, Yagua women are making samples of a doll-sized woven hammock. Artisans from Puca Urquillo have made great progress developing diverse models of Christmas tree ornaments that double as hand rattles. Most are made from small calabash fruit pods – some are etched with wildlife figures, others are covered with colored chambira fber. The newest models are woven miniature jungle animals like armadillos.

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

IMPROVING HANDICRAFT QUALITY
Our Project Manager visits our partner communities every month to place orders for the crafts. The village associations then divide these orders among their members according to their particular talents and enthusiasm. We encourage artisans to share their skills with each other informally and organize larger skill-sharing workshops within and between villages so the most accomplished artisans can demonstrate their techniques for making new and complicated products to their peers. When an artisan finishes a craft, the project manager inspects the item and gives the artisan detailed feedback on how to improve it if necessary. We are also encouraging each association to form its own quality committee so the artisans can approach a peer mentor for help and move toward full responsibility for the quality of crafts offered for sale.

Measuring chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

BUILDING A CRAFT MARKET BASED ON SUSTAINABLE PALM HARVEST
Most handicrafts made in the Ampiyacu region (and northern Peruvian Amazon) are woven from fibers of the chambira palm tree. Artisans harvest a spear of young leaves (a “cogollo”) from a palm that has grown naturally in one of their fallow agricultural fields (“purmas”) that is reverting to forest. There always used to be enough chambira for artisans to harvest in a casual way when the demand for crafts from these remote villages was low. As the demand for handicrafts grows, however, the communities need to harvest chambira with greater care and increase its abundance.

Bora artisans attaching pruning saw to pole to harvest chambira palm leaves. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisans attaching pruning saw to pole to harvest chambira palm leaves. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE project will help the communities create a sustainable supply of chambira palm for craft making in several ways: 1) we are providing each pair of artisans (usually a mother and daughter or two sisters) a slender pruning saw to harvest a chambira “cogollo”. This will allow them to remove a spear without damaging the healthy leaves next to it that frequently occurs when harvesting chambira with a machete; 2) we are working with artisans to measure chambira abundance in their “purmas.” Results will show how many crafts they can make from their current stock; 3) we will support the creation of nurseries to grow chambira palm seedlings that can be transplanted into artisan “purmas”; 4) we will encourage artisans to leave some chambira trees unharvested so each plot will have at least one large tree to provide abundant seedlings and natural regeneration in the future.

English Beat leader Dave Wakeling with Amazon guitar strap and Bora artisan who made it. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

English Beat leader Dave Wakeling with Amazon guitar strap and Bora artisan who made it. ©Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

COLLABORATING WITH ARTISANS TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC AND CRAFT BUYERS
Native artisans from the Ampiyacu region have always had the opportunity to sell their crafts to shops that cater to tourists in the city of Iquitos. The reason this option has not been very attractive for most is that getting to the city is a long and costly trip for them, and the tourist markets are glutted with low-priced bags, hammocks, and jewellery made by hundreds of artisans. The CACE Handicraft project offers our partner native artisans a chance to sell their unique crafts to more lucrative markets in the U.S. and other countries. This effort will best succeed if potential customers feel connected to a craft and the people, plants and places that went into making it. We want them to understand how their purchase can help put an artisan’s child through school, build a pharmacy for the community, and bring back a species of tree that was almost wiped out.

Amazon Forest Store logo. © Center for Amazon Community Ecology
We will work closely with the artisans to record their accomplishments, challenges and dreams for themselves, their family, and community. These rich stories will be presented in long and short forms on handicraft tags, product brochures, the CACE blog, newsletter, website and the upcoming online Amazon Forest Store. To supplement photos taken by the Project Leader and Project Manager, we will train the Local Coordinator to use a camera and video to help document these processes during this project and beyond.

This project’s ultimate goal is not to make new products; it is to help forest-based communities realize that cultivating their imagination and cultural traditions, intimate knowledge of nature, and entrepreneurial skills can improve their standard of living without destroying their forest or relying on charity.

Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy built with CACE social rebate. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Brillo Nuevo community pharmacy built with CACE social rebate. ©Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GIVING BACK TO PARTNER COMMUNITIES: THE CACE SOCIAL CONTRACT
A “Fair Trade” product usually means the item was made by people paid a fair price for their labor in decent working conditions. A “green” star is sometimes added onto this to this label to indicate the product was made with minimal negative environmental impact. CACE aims to surpass these criteria by adding a third component to the social contract with our partner communities. We set aside 20% of the proceeds from crafts we sell made by artisans from their community into a “Social Rebate” fund. These funds are then used to support health, education or conservation needs in that community. With small communities like the native villages in the Ampiyacu region, CACE informs the whole community how much is in their account and then leaves it to this general assembly to decide how these funds will be used. In towns such as Jenaro Herrera, CACE consults with the head of the public health clinic and principal of the public school to use available craft rebate funds to support the most pressing local needs for health and education.

In the case of Brillo Nuevo, rebate funds have so far been used to buy some pruning saws for careful chambira palm harvest, and to buy medicines and materials to build a public pharmacy that is nearing completion.

See full CACE Ampiyacu Project Description.

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