Tag Archives: Amazon ecology

Butterfly ornaments and Dora’s family of artisans

Chambira Association of Jenaro Herrera - Dora, Hilda and Doilith. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira Association of Jenaro Herrera – Dora, Hilda and Doilith. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

In the summer of 2007, the Center for Amazon Community Ecology began its second summer of field work researching the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal resin at a research station on the outskirts of Jenaro Herrera – a town of 5,000 people reached by a 12-hour ferry ride up the Ucayali River from Iquitos.  On one trip to town, I met Dora and her “family” of artisans and bought an assortment of their shicras (shoulder bags that were loosely woven with chambira palm fiber) and seed jewelry to bring back to the U.S.  Their handicrafts were similar to ones made by many other artisans in the region so I asked them how they thought they might make their crafts more distinctive.

Miniature woven pot ornament made by mestizo artisan Dora Tangoa in cooperation with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Miniature woven pot ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Dora volunteered, “I could sew a satiny lining into a chambira bag – what about red?” Great, let’s try it!  My 17-year old daughter Marissa who was with me on that trip suggested the idea of making a chambira choker decorated with achira seeds.  Dora’s “aunt” Hilda said, “I could make that.”   We then walked out to their fields to watch them collect oblong-shaped pashaco seeds to accent some longer necklaces.  Several weeks later we got some well-made examples of the standard crafts and some examples of the new ones.

Our sales of earrings made by other artisans from Jenaro Herrera did well, but the new woven crafts made by Dora and her relatives hadn’t yet struck a chord.  After some Christmas tree ornaments made by artisans from the Ampiyacu region began to sell well, I brought the challenge to Dora and her group.  We brainstormed different ideas, and they decided to try making colorful miniature versions of the woven baskets and plates that were usually 8 to 12 inches across.  Doilith who was a younger relative that had recently joined the group made chambira stars with black and red seeds in the five points and center.

Artisan Rosa Mozombite from Jenaro Herrera with chambira insect ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Rosa Mozombite from Jenaro Herrera with chambira insect ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

It was encouraging to see that people liked many of these ornaments, but the spark of success came the following summer when Dora modestly told me, “My daughter Rosa has woven some critters that I think you will like.”  It was a wonderful understatement.  Arriving at her house, I marveled at the first examples of a butterfly, bee and dragonfly that she had woven from chambira.  The normally shy teenager beamed when I asked her if I could take her picture displaying her creative efforts.

Over the next few years, we experimented with different colors, models and sizes of these unique insect ornaments.  It didn’t take long to figure out that people buying one for their Christmas tree or a gift much preferred ones with bright colors like yellow and orange to dark ones and generally liked small to medium sized-ones more than giants.  We gradually improved, but Dora and friends produced some batches that still mostly sit in boxes because I failed to understand that certain Spanish words for colors are different from their English equivalents and their meanings may vary from region to region.

Hilda weaving blue morpho butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chambira Association of Jenaro Herrera – Dora, Hilda and Doilith. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I appreciated that in spite of these glitches in communication, the Association of Chambira Artisans as they now called themselves worked very diligently to comply with any craft order and were always ready to discuss and try new ideas. They in turn appreciated that while CACE was their only regular craft buyer once or twice a year, these sales were making a difference in their lives. When I got to Jenaro Herrera in the summer of 2014, I noticed that Dora’s house was completely new.  She said, “thanks to making these ornaments, Eliazar and I were able to buy enough wood and palm thatch to put up new walls and a roof.”

While the Dora group will continue using their imagination to make new crafts, we are now trying to develop some chambira ornaments based on actual species of Amazon insects. They have made good-looking models of the blue morpho butterfly, scarlet peacock butterfly, (day-time flying) uranid moth, and the Amazon darner dragonfly.  Attempts to make a bright green orchid bee and yellow and red tailed “ronsapa” bee that are important pollinators and collectors of copal resin are still in progress.

Amazon butterflies and chambira ornaments. Ornament photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Amazon butterflies and chambira ornaments. Ornament photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Since Rosa left town, Doilith has become the master weaver of these new critters.  She said, “I love the challenge of trying to figure out how to make the details of these beautiful little animals that live in our forests.  Before we started making insects ornaments, I wasn’t really aware that they have six legs instead of four.  My goal now is to bring them to life as best as I can so people can have a better understanding of our art, culture, and nature in the Peruvian Amazon.  Making crafts is already helping my family meet its needs, and (placing her hand gently on her tummy) I’ve got another baby on the way.”

Artisan Doilith del Castillo from Jenaro Herrera with butterfly ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Doilith del Castillo from Jenaro Herrera with butterfly ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dora and family examining insect photos to make ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Dora and family examining insect photos to make ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Amazon darner dragonfly and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amazon darner dragonfly and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Scarlet peacock butterfly (Anartia amathea) and chambira ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Scarlet peacock butterfly (Anartia amathea) and chambira ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Uranid moth and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Uranid moth and ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Blue morpho butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Blue morpho butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Listening to artisans in the Ampiyacu

Angelina Torres and her family of artisans in the Bora community of Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Angelina Torres and her family of artisans in the Bora community of Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology aims to promote conservation, create sustainable livelihoods and build stronger communities in the Peruvian Amazon by helping native and mestizo artisans to develop and market innovative handicrafts and novel essential oils.

We began working with the Bora community of Brillo Nuevo as a pilot project site in the Ampiyacu River area in 2009.  In recent years we have organized skill-sharing workshops so veteran artisans can teach others how to make new kinds of crafts.  This growth in the number and skill of partner artisans as well as our increasing capacity to market their crafts has allowed us to gradually expand our program to eight of the fifteen villages represented by the native federation in the region.

CACE intern measuring chambira yield with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

CACE intern measuring chambira yield with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Surveys done in the field with artisans have given us an idea about the current stocks of chambira palm trees and the amount of palm fiber needed to make different types of crafts.  While our general goal has been to continue building artisan capacity to make and sell more quality handicrafts, the GlobalGiving Feedback Fund has given us a valuable opportunity to ask our partners about their economic realities and dreams, and how making more crafts with our without our assistance could help them achieve their goals.

With assistance from GlobalGiving staff and a team of international affairs students studying monitoring and evaluation at the New School, we designed a survey to ask artisans to respond to questions in four areas: sources of family income, expenses, assets, education levels, personal and family goals, and handicraft production.

We contracted Peruvian videographer Tulio Davila to conduct the survey because he was well known and trusted by the artisans due to his previous work with them in workshops and making instructional videos.  In the course of two weeks, Tulio spent an average of one hour speaking with 18 artisans from three villages – about one third of the artisans we routinely work with.

CACE paying Bora artisan for woven hot pad at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

CACE paying Bora artisan for woven hot pad at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We learned a lot from this first round of surveys.  It’s been obvious from the beginning that our partners don’t have much money; this survey gave us a sense of the upper and lower range of income in the village and how important selling crafts is to many families.  It was also interesting to learn that CACE is the major craft buyer from some artisans and a minor one for others.  We had assumed artisans wanted to sell more, but asking them to describe their goals for one year and five years gave them a chance to set craft production targets and showed us how many more crafts we would need sell to help artisans meet their goals.

Two-story house in Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Two-story house in Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Learning how artisans spend their limited income now and what they want more for has given us valuable insights into their evolving expectations and aspirations.  In the past, people wanted enough money to buy a few basic items (like soap, salt and kerosene) to supplement their subsistence lifestyles.  As access to electricity increases through wider use of gasoline generators and connections to power lines from cities, lighting, TV, and DVD players have become common.  Many people now want bigger houses, bigger boats and engines, chain saws, refrigerators, and nicer clothes.  A few want to raise fish, raise cattle or expand the size of their fields.  Some goals are focused on increasing their means to increase income while others describe the amenities they could get with more money.

Confirming that our partners have materialistic aspirations was not surprising but revealed something important.  While artisans are well aware of the challenges, most families want to at least try to stay and improve their standard of living in their remote villages.  Recognizing this has significant implications for our work and forest conservation.  One is that we need to try and help our partners increase their income from sustainable enterprises even more than we had expected.  Their desire to make money is growing, and it may not matter much if the way they attempt to do so is illegal or damages the forest.

Bora children playing at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora children playing at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The stakes for success seem higher in another way we hadn’t considered before.  Families have often worked hard to help their children learn a professional trade so they can build a life outside the village, but it seems the trickle of entire families leaving the villages is increasing.  Adults want to get regular and higher paying work, and they want their children to attend higher quality grade schools.  This emigration threatens to create a downward spiral in local development because the regional government will close down secondary schools if their enrollment drops below a minimum number of students.  If the villages at the frontier of the forest continue to shrink, there will be fewer and fewer people with a vested interest in keeping the forest intact to support their low-impact lifestyles. This will leave the forests more vulnerable to predatory exploitation by outsiders.

The other types of lessons we learned from this first survey were that questions need to be asked in a way that matches peoples’ normal frames of reference.  We initially thought that since most people do not keep any records about their earnings or expenses, we would get the most accurate responses by asking people to provide monthly “averages” for certain sources of income or types of things they paid for.  It turned out that the artisans we spoke with had the best overall recall when asked about the previous six months of economic activity combined.

Bora artisan with daughters and woven bag in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora artisan with daughters and woven bag in Puca Urquillo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Our imprecise phrasing of one question greatly slanted its perceived meaning.  We expected that many families would say that a key long-term goal would be to provide a better education for their children.  A few did express this, but this response may have been low because our question unintentionally seemed to ask them to mention concrete objects they could buy like a TV or chain saw rather services they might need to pay for like school tuition.  We corrected these issues before carrying out a second round of interviews.

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo making chambira palm fiber bracelet. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo making chambira palm fiber bracelet. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

While artisan surveys provided thoughtful and insightful answers about their goals, the amounts of time, material and money they thought they would need to achieve these goals often seemed based on imprecise and unrealistic estimates and faulty basic math.  The message to us is clear.  Artisans need to continue mastering their craft, but we also need to help them better understand the quantitative aspects of managing trees, processing fibers, and selling crafts.  We have done studies that provide solid data about these issues.  Our next task is to teach the artisans how to derive and work with these numbers on their own.  This will be a critical step toward truly empowering them to improve their lives and safeguard the forests.

Building a better bug ornament

In 2007, I spent a month near Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River.  While I spent most of my time studying copal resin ecology at a research station, I also wanted to meet local artisans to see if CACE could help market any of their handicrafts.

Peruvian artisan Dora Tangoa from Jenaro Herrera holding achiote fruit pods used to dye chambira palm fiber. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dora Tangoa with achiote fruit pods. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

One Saturday afternoon, I met Dora and her small group of fellow artisans at her home and watched them lay out some bracelets and necklaces made with rainforest seeds and simple bags woven with chambira palm fiber.  I bought some samples of each and asked them to make some chokers with certain colors at my teenage daughter’s suggestion.  CACE sold enough of these in the U.S. to buy some supplies for the public school when I returned in 2008.  That summer, Dora took us out to her field and showed us which plants provided the seeds and natural dyes to make her crafts.

Peruvian artisan Rosa Estela Mozombite Tangoa with chambira palm fiber insect ornaments made in cooperation with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE.

Rosa Mozombite Tangoa with chambira insect ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE.

Sales of the loose woven bags (called “xicras” in the local market) were never great for us, however, and over the next few years, sales of the seed jewelry slowed to a trickle.  In 2011, we started developing Christmas tree ornaments with artisans in the Ampiyacu, and I invited Dora and her group to come up with ideas of their own.  Dora wove a miniature pot, her aunt Hilda made a miniature plate, her niece Doilith wove chambira stars with seeds, and her teenage daughter Rosa made little butterflies and grasshoppers.  We did so-so with the first three types, but the insects were an immediate hit.

Chambira palm fiber bee ornament made by Jenaro Herrera artisan in cooperration with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira fiber bee ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Over the next few years, we tested different colors, sizes and types of new critters – sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident.  We learned (probably not surprisingly) that people much prefer pink, yellow an orange critters over black ones with any color.  One batch of giant purple bees were produced due to misunderstanding over the Spanish meaning of “fuxia.”  So, some ornaments have sold very well while others are lingering long in our inventory even at “clearance” prices.

Chambira palm fiber butterfly ornament made by Doilith del Castillo in cooperration with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira palm fiber butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Last year, we asked Dora and company to increase the number of legs on the critter ornaments from four to six so they would have one more realistic element on them.  This past trip, I asked her group if they would like to try to advance this process a step further by trying to weave replicas of specific types of insects.  I had downloaded a variety of photos of butterflies, dragonflies and bees from the internet onto my laptop and went over each image with them at Dora’s big table in front of her house.  They embraced the challenge – each one agreed to make a prototype of one or two new “species.”

I checked in a few days later and was thrilled to see the progress of Doilith’s Amazon darner (Anax amazili) which closely represented the dragonfly’s shape, colored tail bands, and fine lacey wings.  Hilda’s blue morpho butterfly also had a lot of promise.  Dora had skillfully captured the green orchid bee’s hind legs used to carry pollen and resin back to its nest, but her “ronsapa” bee needed more work since its head resembled a bull-dog snout.

Amazon darner dragonfly and chambira palm fiber ornament made by Doilith del Castillo in cooperration with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photos by Bob Thomas & Campbell Plowden/CACE

Amazon darner dragonfly and chambira palm fiber ornament. Photos by Bob Thomas & Campbell Plowden/CACE

I admit that most members of the public neither know nor care if these ornaments are anatomically correct, but I do hope we can develop models with our partners that will be attractive enough to sell and gradually educate buyers about real rainforest critters along the way.  It seems this type of understanding can only help to increase people’s desire to preserve the forest and support sustainable livelihoods for its traditional peoples.

It has been rewarding to see that creating and selling more crafts has allowed Dora and her relatives to improve their houses and invest more in their children’s education.  I am glad that CACE has played a role in this process.

Miguel, Celestina and Rosewood Trees in Tamshiyacu – November 8, 2015

Juan harvesting rosewood branch

Juan Silvano harvesting rosewood leaves from Miguel’s tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

One highlight of my recent trip to Peru was spending a day with Miguel and Celestina – a couple who live in Tamshiyacu, a small town that is about an hour and a half by Iquitos by speed boat.  I first toured their farm a year ago with our local contact Juan who introduced us to a few families that had planted rosewood trees in a community development project around 2003.

 

They warmly greeted us in their home filled with their children, grandchildren and dogs.  Other families in the area had either sold their land or sold the rights to their rosewood trees to a new company making essential oil.  I was pleased that this senior citizen couple wanted to work with us to manage the rosewood trees they had left on their property.

Motorcar from Tamshiyacu

Motorcar from Tamshiyacu. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Heading out with machete and large collecting basket, our project manager Yully, Celestina and I sat in the back seat of a motorcar while Miguel and CACE videographer Tulio perched in the luggage rack in back.  We soon got beyond the paved road in town and traveled for miles on dirt roads that were rutted but solid since the “dry” season rains were not intense.   Twenty minutes out, we passed by some rough wooden buildings with tarp roofs in a clearing made by roughly hacking down a section of rainforest.  The government was creating these new settlements by giving land rights to poor families seeking a place to farm.

 

Miguel squeezing sugar cane

Miguel squeezing sugar cane with wooden press.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The motorcar dropped us off at a tiny trail entering the woods on the other side of the road and promised to pick us up at the end of the day if we could reach him on his cell phone.  After a half-hour hike, we reached Miguel and Celestina’s plot that they had legally acquired over twenty years ago.  They had planted yucca (also known as cassava and manioc) as their main staple food.  Pineapples, umari fruit, and Brazil nuts were their main commercial crops.  Sugar cane provided snack food. They hoped that selling rosewood material could increase their modest income.

 

Miguel attaching tag to rosewood tree

Miguel tagging rosewood tree on his property. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We got to work tagging and measuring all of the rosewood trees that were still alive a dozen years after the donated seedlings were transplanted into their field.  Some were vigorous tall trees that seemed good to maintain as a source of seeds in the future.  Many had grown to 30 feet tall and seemed good candidates to be pruned to provide branches and leaves for distilling.  A few were still no bigger than seedlings that might grow if exposed to more light.

 

Tulio measuring rosewood tree diameter

Tulio measuring rosewood tree diameter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

After four hours of hot hard work, we gathered under their rustic shelter built to protect bags of charcoal they were soon going to sell.  Miguel then cut up and gave each of us a whole pineapple to savor – the freshest and sweetest I had ever had in my life.

We promised to return soon to do our first modest harvest to make a small batch of rosewood oil. We will need to undertake this task carefully, though, since many of the trees have grown very large and will need to be pruned carefully to keep them healthy and produce good material for distilling in the future.

CP Yully Miguel Celestina at Tamshiyacu

Miguel, Celestina, Yully Rojas and Campbell Plowden. Photo by Tulio Davila/CACE

In addition to helping this couple in the coming years, we hope to learn a lot about rosewood tree growth and management that we can apply to our rosewood project at Brillo Nuevo being developed with our partner Camino Verde.  Those trees are now almost three years old, and we expect to conduct our first experimental harvest in early 2016.

Exploring a new partnership with Maijuna native communities

March 5, 2015

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I just returned to Iquitos after a successful four day visit to the Maijuna native community of Nueva Vida in the Napo River region of the northern Peruvian Amazon. The main purpose of the trip was to meet their artisans and see if they wanted to work with CACE to develop and market several new models of handicrafts. I also wanted to explore the potential for harvesting copal resin with them and distilling it into fragrant essential oil as a new source of sustainable income for the village.

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009.  Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

My journey began with a speedboat ride at dawn from Iquitos to the Amazon River town of Mazan with my CACE videographer companion Tulio Davila. After stocking up on supplies, we eventually met up with our Maijuna guides Everest and his father Sebastian “Shebaco” Rios Ochoa.

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009).  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009). Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I first met this friendly confident native leader through long-time Maijuna friend and CACE board member Michael Gilmore. We had danced together after a Maijuna federation congress in 2009, and he hosted me last summer in Sucusari when we conducted a quick search for copal trees near his village. I much appreciate that he gave me the name “Baiyiri” – the Maijuna word for copal.

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our original host for this visit was going to be Walter Perez from Nueva Vida, but on two days’ notice he had flown to Lima with two other Maijuna to meet with the Peruvian President. This was a critical meeting that marked the final hurdle to winning government approval for a regional protected area that would encompass the four main Maijuna villages in the Napo and Putumayo River region and the forest in between. This struggle to gain legal recognition for their traditional lands coincided with a multi-year battle against a road project that would go through the heart of it. I wished Walter well on his mission and was happy to have Shebaco with me again for mine.

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Like many native groups, the Maijuna are striving to improve their standard of living and standing in modern Peruvian society and maintain certain aspects of their culture that give them pride and sustenance. The Maijuna were once called by the derogatory term “orejones” (big ears) because they had the custom of placing increasingly larger disks into their ear lobes. They gave up this practice a generation ago, but they embraced a program led by linguists from U.C. Berkeley that has reinvigorated the teaching and use of the Maijuna language by all generations.

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Michael Gilmore

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan. Photo by Michael Gilmore

Half a dozen women from Nueva Vida learned how to make decorative baskets from chambira palm fiber that were similar to ones made by campesino artisans from the Tahuayo River, but their skills languished for several years because the workshop’s sponsors did not provide follow-up support to market any baskets they made. Since there was a new spark to this enterprise, Michael thought that this would be a propitious time to connect with these budding artisans.

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan. Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Due to our late start from Mazan, we didn’t get into Nueva Vida in Shebaco’s peque-peque (motor canoe) until well after dark. After setting up our tents in our host’s main room and a quick supper of tuna fish and crackers, we went to sleep. My visit began in earnest the next morning by meeting almost the whole community. I spoke no Maijuna beyond my nickname, but showing and discussing a video of our handicraft project with other artisans quickly established a common language dealing with chambira palm fiber and other plants used in making woven crafts.

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

There was no doubt they could make the kind of baskets we wanted, but it took a patient dialogue to sort through which dye plants they had available to make certain colors and which colors we should avoid using in our initial designs unless we wanted to provide artificial dyes from the city. Our discussion about pricing for the baskets was uncomfortable for a time because their scale was different than other villages we have bought similar products from.

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While the Maijuna were all familiar with the basic uses of copal resin – burning it for light or boiling it to caulk their canoes, they were fascinated to see and hear the stories about the intimate relationships that copal resin exuding from the trees has with various weevils, flies, ants and bees.

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

For two days I accompanied Shebaco and rotating four-man teams from Nueva Vida to search for copal. We had most luck finding large fresh lumps on trees on or near the tops of little hills and spent the other half of our time slogging through swampy low lying areas.

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Harvesting a lump was sometimes as simple as cutting it off with a machete at chest height. A team member lashed his machete to a pole and thrust the blade under lumps that were attached to the trunk ten to twenty feet from the ground. In a few cases, a spry Maijuna wrangled his way up a nearby small tree or vine to get at some lumps that were twice as high. Two men tried to catch the dislodged lumps below (in Tulio’s long-sleeve shirt the first day and an old cassava carrying bag on the second) while trying to keep dry resin bits from falling in their eyes.

Maijuna tossing copal lump down.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna tossing copal lump down. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The teams quickly adopted our protocol of not harvesting small fresh resin lumps so the weevils inside them could mature and stimulate more resin lumps in the future. They also understood that while they could take old black lumps back to their homes to stoke cooking fires, the dry odorless lumps were not worth distilling because they had lost most of their essential oil. We collected GPS points at all of the trees to aid in finding these trees again in five or six years and combine them with satellite landscape data to help identify other good sites for finding copal trees in more distant Maijuna forest areas.

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Other highlights of my time in Nueva Vida included fishing with Shebaco and Everest and meeting Elena, an artisan who had woven a beautiful river dolphin as a sample keychain. After Tulio talked with her, I commissioned her on the spot to make fifteen more as Christmas tree ornaments. I was impressed that Tulio was able to sincerely engage with people who are understandably often very shy in this situation to become comfortable enough to share something about their craft making and other aspects of their lives. In the final hours of light, I was very happy to reach an agreement with the president of the artisan association about making an initial batch of baskets for us.

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our Nueva Vida hosts were accepting if circumspect in sharing their evaluation of our visit with us. Every community in this region has had multiple experiences with visitors from various groups coming in to pitch one project or another – many of which lack follow-up or don’t go well for other reasons so I understand why they temper their enthusiasm for a new venture until it proves worthwhile. I already felt a bond with Shebaco, but I was encouraged that several people from Nueva Vida asked me one and only one simple question: “When are you coming back?” So the dance has begun. I hope to see thirty beautiful baskets in three weeks as the next step.

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Back in Iquitos, our project manager Yully set herself to the task right away of distilling the resin collected at Nueva Vida. It was great to learn that it shared the highest yield of essential oil we have produced so far from any region. Analyzing a sample of it will help determine its composition and commercial potential. If these aspects prove positive as well, the next step will be to formulate a management plan to guide the development of this local enterprise in the years to come.

Hello Peru rainy season

February 24 – Panama City airport

I’m excited to be leaving for Iquitos today. It will be in the middle of the rainy season when both tasty Amazon fruits and mosquitoes (with and without malaria) are abundant. I’m ready, though, because I get to spend a whole month away from the coldest winter I remember after living in central Pennsylvania for almost 20 years. The snow has been pretty, but repeatedly freezing my fingers and toes while shoveling my and a neighbor’s driveway has grown tiresome.

Squirrel on snowy porch in Pennsylvania. Photo by Campbell Plowden

Squirrel on snowy porch in Pennsylvania. Photo by Campbell Plowden

As I started packing two days ago, I saw a squirrel perched on the hand rail of our back porch with her tail curled onto its back giving it a Mohawk look. As she looked at me through the window, I wondered if she was just curious about me or wanted to come inside for a reprieve from the extra chill. I donned five layers to walk my lab-mix Juno, but I did smile when I saw her running with her head lowered to plow fresh powder into her open mouth. It reminded me of a black skimmer slicing through the ocean surface with its open beak to scoop up tiny fish.

Ania teaching Jill to make hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ania teaching Jill to make hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’m also excited about spending a month to advance CACE projects in Peru. It’s hard to believe we are now nine years old! I will again visit the native villages of Brillo Nuevo and Puca Urquillo where we are doing back to back workshops to help 80 Bora and Huitoto artisans learn to make popular models of hot pads, belts and ornaments. I also want to ask them about their goals for their families and communities to gauge how much time they really want to invest in craft-making compared to other ways of making money and tasks of daily life.

Yermeth Torres with frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yermeth Torres with frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’ll return to Jenaro Herrera to begin winding down our basic research on the ecology of copal resin as we apply results from these studies to help our community partners sustainably harvest resin from their forest and distill it to marketable essential oil. I’m looking forward to seeing the women artisans from Chino to pick up a new batch of woven frogs whose expressions reflect their creators’ warm personalities. I also want to record how they’ve used CACE social rebate funds to tend young chambira palm trees planted to supply fiber for making the frogs and their signature Tahuayo region baskets.

Campbell dancing with Maijuna. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell dancing with Maijuna. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Thanks to CACE board member Michael Gilmore, I will return to the Maijuna village of Nueva Vida to help their artisans make six models of small baskets we can try to market in the U.S. I’m hoping for good health and energy since I spent several days languishing in a hammock after eating something funky at an otherwise wonderful festival.

Rode making guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rode making guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

After my trips to our partner villages, our project manager Yully Rojas and I are going to host our first CACE public gathering in Iquitos. Almost 200 people who live there have “liked” our Facebook page, so we’re going to invite them to a combo presentation and little party. My hope is that we can start to kindle local and interest and support for our project with the people who live in the heart of the region.

Tracy Stayton. Thirtyfourtunate.com

Tracy Stayton. Thirtyfourtunate.com

Near the end of my trip, we will welcome Tracy Stayton to a CACE Amazon Field Volunteer for ten days as part of her remarkable Thirtyfourtunate project. Having turned 34, Tracy has begun a year-long global giving adventure when she will do 34 acts of service to give back and bring awareness to NGOs and their causes around the world. Follow her journey at: Facebook.com/34tunate.



Thank you to my loving family and many friends for your warm wishes as I head south again. May you enjoy the winter outside as much as you can and savor a cup of hot tea when you come back inside.

I also offer thanks to the Rufford Foundation, New England Biolabs Foundation and GlobalGiving Foundation for support of our work in Peru. Please visit wwww.AmazonAlive.net to support our proect.

Building relationships with GlobalGiving – a crowd-source platform with smarts and hearts

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology began like many non-profit organizations – it had one person with few resources and a big dream about making the world a better place. I wanted to conserve the Amazon rainforest by helping native people to improve their livelihoods and communities by selling innovative non-timber forest products as alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. Our early work was supported almost entirely with the support of a few friends, family members and foundations.

Campbell Plowden and Robin van Loon at Baltimori. Photo by CACE.

Campbell Plowden and Robin van Loon at Baltimori. Photo by CACE.

We gradually expanded our presence on the web, but did not get many donations through our website, Facebook or blog. So in 2012, I started exploring a variety of crowd-source platforms. Kickstarter seemed great for hot business ideas, but wouldn’t work for non-profits. Indie-gogo offered a space for non-profits, but these seemed lost in their mix, and every project had to meet a funding target with a short fixed deadline. Network for Good offers great resources to non-profit groups to raise their profile and funds, but it lacks a central site that attracts visitors interested in supporting a cause or project. Robin van Loon from a partner group Camino Verde told me that his group had received extensive support for his work reforesting native trees in southern Peru through the GlobalGiving network so I decided to give it a try.

Global Giving LogoGlobalGiving is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC (with a sister group in London) that provides a dynamic platform for other non-profits to raise funds for specific projects that benefit people and/or the environment. GlobalGiving keeps a 15% commission instead of the 5-10% taken by most other platforms, but being part of the GlobalGiving network offers a lot more than a simple mechanism to channel online donations. It offers its partners valuable tools and a place in a community that fosters open communication and mutually supportive relationships between the people in the group, the people that it serves, the people that fund its work, leaders of other groups in the network, and the people who work in GlobalGiving. Playing an active role in this community has significantly increased the number of donors and quantity of donations to our work in Peru and strengthened the quality of our communications and relationships with our partners in remote villages and supporters at home and abroad.

Getting onto the GlobalGiving platform is a multi-stage process that begins by proving that your group is a bona-fide non-profit organization with tax-deductible status (501-c-3) in the US or equivalent status abroad. An applicant also needs to describe its track record and provide several letters of recommendation. After passing this due diligence process, a group can take part in an Open Challenge to earn a permanent spot on the platform by raising at least $5000 from 40 or more donors in one month.

Campbell Plowden giving Amazon presentation.  Photo by CACE

Campbell Plowden giving Amazon presentation. Photo by CACE

The prospect of raising this much money from so many people in one month seemed very daunting to me, but I decided to go for it in a challenge that began in late November, 2012. I began by contacting everyone in my universe and asking them to contribute any amount they could. I sent appeals to high school classmates, former colleagues at Greenpeace, and family members far and wide. I arranged to do presentations at church groups and homes of a few supporters who invited their friends. I wrote short pieces and posted photos on our website, blog, Facebook pages, and Twitter. I asked a few prospective larger donors to make their contribution on Bonus Days when donations were given a 15% match. By December 31, I was thrilled that we had raised almost $8,100 from 65 donors and matching funds from GlobalGiving.

Greenpeace Japan whale campaign reunion

Greenpeace Japan whale campaign reunion

When the challenge was over, I took some deep breathes and looked carefully at the data provided by GlobalGiving to see which outreach strategies had been the most effective for us. Not surprisingly, most of these funds came from my friends, family, or others I met through a friend. What was encouraging, though, was that many people who had known me and my work for years made their first donation to my group during this challenge. Being on GlobalGiving gave my group extra credibility and me the confidence to ask them directly for support for the first time. My friends understood that helping my group earn a spot on the platform would eventually give my group a good chance to receive support from many new people.

GlobalGiving Open Challenge results for CACE.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GlobalGiving Open Challenge results for CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While CACE raised far less than the top earners during the Open Challenge, my frequent questions to GlobalGiving via phone, email and webinars caught the attention of a few staff people. A partner associate soon asked me to share my experiences and analysis in a webinar with groups who were considering participating in the next Open Challenge. Since last January, I have participated in almost every webinar and special campaign that GlobalGiving offers its partners including a free two month long online fundraising academy. These lessons, contests, and feedback from GG staff have tremendously helped me improve the proposals, progress reports, thank you letters, photos, videos and social media posts we share with past and potential supporters.

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

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

GlobalGiving also offers its partners great tools and encouragement to improve their communications and relations with the people they aim to serve. As we strive to increase artisan income with new products, we are learning how to better incorporate traditions and cultural realities into the process. A GG volunteer visited our most remote village in the Peruvian Amazon with us to see how we were doing. When she witnessed our project manager Yully in the thick of a difficult conversation with an artisan partner, she offered her empathy and encouragement rather than judgment. I am now looking forward to trying out the new GlobalGiving Storytelling tool with our partners in eight villages this summer.

Amazon crafts at GlobalGiving. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amazon crafts at GlobalGiving. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Beyond its standard offerings, GG has directly supported our sale of handicrafts made by our native partners in Peru. These efforts have included featuring our crafts in their Gifts for Good program, bringing back a batch of our crafts from Peru to the U.S., buying 125 hot pads which they gave to a group of special donors, welcoming us to sell crafts to their staff people in their office around Christmas and inviting us to sell crafts at a big conference about corporate volunteerism in Washington, DC.

GlobalGiving continually encourages groups on the platform to seek input from and listen to their supporters and beneficiaries, and it passionately applies this practice to their dealings it partners. Companies now routinely solicit feedback from their customers in surveys, but it is clear that GlobalGiving is not following a rote corporate mantra. As I participated in one webinar, campaign and Leadership Council meeting after another, it became apparent that every person I interacted with from GlobalGiving genuinely wanted to know how they could improve their site and programs and then actually used partner ideas to do so.

I now think of GlobalGiving more as a “they” than an “it” because GlobalGiving staff people including Alexis, Britt, Katherine, Sonja, and Mari seem to truly understand CACE and want to help us succeed. Their commitment has inspired me to try and help GlobalGiving help other groups do their important work as well.

www.AmazonAlive.net
As of We have now raised $25,248 for our Peru project on GlobalGiving. Crossing the $24,000 threshold gives a group “SuperStar” status on the platform which gives groups greater visibility, opportunities with corporate partners, and a 50% match on donations on Partner’s Bonus Day coming up on July 16. Thanks for contributing any amount you can to help us help our partners in Peru and save some Amazon rainforest? Check out our project on GlobalGiving at: www.AmazonAlive.net.