Tag Archives: Yully Rojas

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.

Ines – the laughing and feisty artisan from Brillo Nuevo – July 27, 2015

Ines lighting copal incense

Ines lighting copal incense. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

I first became aware of Ines during my second visit to the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo in 2009 because she was enthusiastic about everything.  When we first tried to make incense candles from copal resin, she immediately got her hands blackened with the burnt sticky stuff and suggested they might look nice in the half-shells of macambo fruit pods.  She pulled me aside, though, and said, “You know these are really pretty ugly.”  I said, “I know,” and she burst out laughing.

Ines and Graciela drawing snake patterns

Graciela and Ines drawing snake patterns for belts. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Ines is a quintessential artisan from the Peruvian Amazon.  She said, “I live by selling bags and hammocks made from chambira palm that I cultivate in my fields.”  While meeting with artisans in a Brillo Nuevo classroom to discuss weaving new products to expand their income, Ines jumped at the chance to go the blackboard to draw the patches and wavy lines of a cascabel (tropical rattlesnake) as a design for a woven snake-pattern belt.

Ines weaving belt with cats eating fish 800 px

Ines weaving cascabel pattern belt with cats. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Ines soon welcomed me into her home while making the prototype on her hand-made loom with her two cats munching on a little fish in front.  Ines’ voice stood out in the animated mélange of Spanish and Bora of artisans discussing their creations and her distinct laugh could mark her location more than a soccer field away.

Ines grating mishquipanga montage

Ines grating mishquipanga fruits to dye chambira fiber. Photos by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Over the past six years, we have shared many adventures, triumphs and challenges with Ines.  She showed us how she grew, collected, and prepared half a dozen plants used to dye chambira palm fiber various shades of yellow, orange, red and deep purple and then dyed my silvery hair black with roasted leaves from a huito tree.  She has proudly showed us new styles of bags and guitar strap designs that she invented and readily shared these with her fellow artisans in skill-sharing workshops.

Ines dying CP hair with huito 800 px

Ines dyeing Campbell’s hair with huito leaf mash. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

Ines’ hard work made her the most prolific craft maker with CACE.  She once told me, “I really like working with your project because it has given me a chance to create new kinds of crafts and improve the quality of my weaving.  The extra income has allowed me to help my sons study at a better school.”

Amrit and Ines with certificate

CACE volunteer Amrit and Ines with certificate. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Giving Ines an award for being the top-selling artisan in her community, though, first generated more resentment than accolades from her peers.  One evening, she came to talk and began to cry. “My sisters and I love working with your project, but we are thinking of dropping out because people can be so mean.”

I soon met with other artisan leaders and families to hear their view of the situation.  They had said they wanted us to give certificates to artisans according to their sales and give small prizes as incentives for doing extra good work.  Did they want us to stop?  We wouldn’t continue the practice if it was going to stimulate jealousy and weaken rather than build their community.  One artisan Gisela said, “We really do like the certificates because they give us pride about our success.  The prizes are good as well, but don’t ask us to select any winners.”

Casilda Vasquez with TP028

Casilda with chambira hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Since that meeting, some things have gotten better, and we have had to face new challenges.  Over the past few years, providing some soda and snacks at the award ceremony, applauding and taking a picture with every winner has made this a fun and more mutually supportive event.  When we announced that Ines was the top-seller again, one artisan Casilda said, “I knew that was coming, but it’s OK, I’m going to keep making more crafts myself.”

I’ve also learned that while Ines has a big heart, she can also be a tough cookie.  During one recent artisan meeting, we were talking about ways to encourage artisans to plant more chambira palms when suddenly Ines and another artisan leader began yelling at each other.  Apparently our survey of chambira in their fields had reignited an old dispute about whose family had the rights to harvest plants in one small section of recovering forest.

Artisans playing crocodiles and frogs

Artisans playing “crocodiles and frog” during meeting at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The incident helped me realize that artisans’ periodic troubles cooperating may be rooted more in historical frictions in the community than personality clashes in the present.  We’ve been trying to bring people together in our project and navigate around hazards that appear like the tips of Amazon village icebergs.  I’m glad that we have at least won the trust of talented and caring and sometimes feisty artisans like Ines to help guide us.

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.

The rosewood project in Peru – Part 1: Progress in Brillo Nuevo

By Campbell Plowden

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE rosewood project began in the summer of 2012 when we collected and distilled some leaves from one rosewood tree near Brillo Nuevo in the Ampiyacu River region. It was the lone survivor of a few seedlings that Oscar López Flores’ father had brought with him from the Algodón River farther north almost 70 years. Oscar remembers growing up with these aromatic trees in front of his home that had long since been left to return to forest.

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The oil that we extracted from this tree had a wonderful aroma, but we would clearly need more than one tree to create a community enterprise that would make and sell rosewood oil. Read full story about Oscar’s rosewood tree.

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

We got a look at what such a project might look when we visited shaman Juan Silvano and saw some of the thousand plus rosewood trees that he had planted near his eco-lodge on the outskirts of Tamshiyacu. While most of his fellow rosewood planters had stopped pruning their trees many years ago when government support for the project evaporated, Juan still hoped that he would be able to find a good partner to make essential oil from his rosewood trees and other medicinal plants. Read full story about rosewood and ayuhuasca at Juan’s center.

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

With encouragement and funding from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center, we combined forces with the NGO Camino Verde and contracted the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) to use rosewood cuttings and seeds from rosewood acquired from the Tamshiyacu River region to produce 1000 seedlings to plant at Brillo Nuevo. See full story about rosewood seedlings at IIAP nursery.

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

By February of this year, the nursery had produced 900 good seedlings that were taken by truck, ferry, speedboat, motor canoes and backpacks from Jenaro Herrera to fields around Brillo Nuevo. Robin van Loon from Camino Verde then worked with four families (chosen by lottery) to plant 225 seedlings in a half-hectare plot of each family.See more photos about rosewood planting at Brillo Nuevo.

Luke Plowden and Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

This summer we organized a team of young Bora men to check on the status of the rosewood seedlings in the four plots around Brillo Nuevo. Half of the team including CACE volunteer Luke Plowden first counted the number of rosewood seedlings that were still alive. They then recorded the height, width, number of leaves and general condition of twenty seedlings selected at random in each area.

Measuring soil humidity near rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring soil humidity near rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The team also used a battery-powered probe to record the soil moisture near these sample plants. While we had heard complaints that some plants had been stolen and saw that a few had withered to leafless stems, it was good to find that at least 90% of the plants were alive in each plot and most were in very good shape.

Bora men photographing insect at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora men photographing insect at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While one crew was taking these measurements, four other fellows used digital cameras to take pictures of the measurers and sundry critter and plants in the field. This was our first photography workshop designed to help the Bora document their activities and nature in the forest, field and around their own homes. See photos of insects and frog in the field.

Red lip plant with water at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Red lip plant with water at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

On the next day of the monitoring, we reversed the roles so the photographers learned to use the measuring tape, GPS and humidity gauge while the first group got lessons and practice using the cameras. We gathered in the evening to review the day’s images with the group when we had reliable power and functioning computers.

it Moore and Bora man drawing chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

it Moore and Bora man drawing chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our Amazon Field Volunteer Amrit Moore was beginning another kind of documentation on the first day of the rosewood monitoring. She sat on a log and drew colored sketches of chambira palm trees – the most important plant for making crafts in the region since fibers are pulled from its leaves to weave into almost every handicraft.

Felix Flores sketch of chambira palm. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Felix Flores sketch of chambira palm. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Amrit was joined by Bora woodsman Felix Flores Vega who showed that he had good potential to develop as much skill with a colored pencil as he already had with a machete. Amrit is now working to make illustrations for all of the major Ampiyacu craft plants for a resource manual to be shared with all of the artisans in the region

Go to: The rosewood project in Peru – Part 2: Rosewood in the Ucayali

To learn more about or support this project, please visit http://www.AmazonAlive.net or http://www.AmazonEcology.org.

Campbell Plowden measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas doing training Bora men to use GPS. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas doing training Bora men to use GPS. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

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

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

Yully Rojas and Bora team recording rosewood seedling growth. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas and Bora team recording rosewood seedling growth. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing chambira palm tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing chambira palm tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden in field with rosewood seedlings at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden in field with rosewood seedlings at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Amrit Moore on canoe at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Amrit Moore on canoe at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Sharing clothes and good will with Bora artisans

by Campbell Plowden

Bora artisan with State College Friends School sweatshirt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan with State College Friends School sweatshirt. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I generally don’t give away many of my old clothes because my size and fashion sense haven’t changed for 30 years and I wear my shirts until the collars are worn through. Other members of my family, however, do periodically clear out items from their closets that no longer fit them or their lifestyle and put them in a large plastic bag. My daughter once carted a batch of nice blouses and pants to Plato’s Closet in hopes of getting some money, but none were accepted because they weren’t popular top brands. We didn’t want to organize a yard sale, so it looked like four bags were destined for Goodwill. I had regularly taken some t-shirts and pants to our Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) field assistants and their families in the past, but the stiff new fees to check a bag on Delta Air Lines made it too expensive for me to continue doing this on my own.

Luke Plowden and Bora boy with donated clothes. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Bora boy with donated clothes. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Two things made it possible for me to bring 100 pounds of good used clothing and surplus medical supplies with me to Peru this summer. The first was that my 17 year-old son Luke was going with me so we could use his strength and baggage allotment to bring one extra 50 pound duffle bag stuffed with these donated goods while I carried another. The second was that the “Do Good” Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friends (a group of Quaker teens from the mid-Atlantic region) pledged to raise $200 to pay for the extra baggage charges on our international flight to Lima and domestic flight from there to Iquitos.

Amrit Moore with Bora artisan Ines Chichaco and CACE certificate. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore with Bora artisan Ines Chichaco and CACE certificate. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We spent the first two weeks of our trip visiting Bora and other native communities in the Ampiyacu River region working with their artisans to develop new products, reforest chambira palm trees, create a communal dye plant garden, monitor the growth of rosewood tree seedlings and recovery of copal resin lumps and finish a community pharmacy built with funds from a CACE rebate of craft sales in the U.S. Amazon Field Volunteer Amrit Moore started making drawings of dye plants for an artisan manual. See CACE update for summer 2013 activities in Peru.

Yully Rojas distributing donated clothes to Bora artisans. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas distributing donated clothes to Bora artisans. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

At the end of our stay in the village of Brillo Nuevo, we hosted an appreciation ceremony where we gave about thirty-five artisans a certificate in appreciation for their making handicrafts with the CACE project. The ten top sellers also received simple prizes (a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, a pair of batteries, and a small tin of Vicks Vaporub). Our project manager Yully Rojas then distributed an equal share of the donated clothing to all of the women while the young artisan Maria filled and refilled the guests’ cups with bright yellow Oro (“gold”) soda – a special treat in this remote village.

Serving "Oro" to Bora artisans at appreciation ceremony. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Serving “Oro” to Bora artisans at appreciation ceremony. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully and I were both happy and relieved that this gathering had been much more fun than the first time we did this artisan “award” ceremony in 2012 when many artisans were sullen. This year women made jokes when Ines Chichaco won a prize again for being the year’s top seller instead of stewing with resentment. While Ines and another dozen artisans continue to make most of the woven crafts that we sell from Brillo Nuevo, it’s good to see that two dozen artisans, both young and old, now understand we are equally happy to buy creative and well-made crafts from them.

See related story about CACE donation of medical supplies to the regional health clinic at Jenaro Herrera.

Prizes for artisans at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Prizes for artisans at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Bora artisan with CACE certificate. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Bora artisan with CACE certificate. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Learn more about or donate to the CACE project in Peru at: www.AmazonAlive.net

Copal resin project – research progress and potential new market

by Campbell Plowden

Amazon native harvesting copal resin. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amazon native harvesting copal resin. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

One of CACE’s main projects is investigating the ecology and sustainable harvest of resin from copal (Burseraceae) trees and developing ways to distill and market the essential oil extracted from it and other aromatic plants. Our study began in 2006 at the Jenaro Herrera research station operated by the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) on the Ucayali River in Peru by measuring how much resin could be collected from 30 species of copal trees. We next harvested resin lumps from some trees and have closely monitored their recovery to estimate how long we would need to wait before they could be harvested again.

Copal resin lump and reference circle being analyzed with ImageJ program. Photo by Angel Raygada/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Copal resin lump and reference circle being analyzed with ImageJ program. Photo by Angel Raygada/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

This process has included taken periodic digital photos of over 1000 resin lumps to learn how their growth corresponds to the development of the bark-boring weevils who provoke their formation. Copal Project manager Angel Raygada has trained a computer-savvy assistant to help him analyze these photos with the ImageJ program to describe how and when these resin lumps change in shape, size and color as the weevil inside it grows from a tiny larva to an adult in two to three years.

CACE field assistant Italo Melendez checking weevil trap on copal tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE field assistant Italo Melendez checking weevil trap on copal tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Field assistant Italo Melendez has continued to refine the traps used to capture a few mature weevils that emerge from these lumps. Our challenges have been creating cost-effective designs that can withstand intense rain and heat, avoid buildups of fungus, minimize damage to the tree, and safely trap adult weevils that emerge from the resin lump.

Trigona stingless bees at nest shelf entrance. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Trigona stingless bees at nest shelf entrance. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The other aspect of this project is studying the relationship between copal resin and other insects that use it. Our observations of fresh resin lumps have showed us which stingless bees and other Hymenoptera (the taxonomic group that includes bees, wasps and ants) collect fresh copal resin. We are now seeking to develop ways to measure how and how much they use this resin to build their nests and defend their young. I learned this summer that some bees can be quite tame since they allowed me to get very close to their nest entrance in a trunk or hole in the ground to photograph them. Other times, though, a wave of bees swarmed around my head and got into my eyes, ears and hair when I got closer than 20 feet to their home. These stingless bees cannot sting, but some can inflict painful bites.

Two weevils and copal resin lumps. Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Two weevils and copal resin lumps. Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

This July, we met with researchers from CIRNA (Center for Investigation of Natural Resources of the Amazon – associated with the National University of the Peruvian Amazon) in Iquitos to discuss a joint project. Our goal is to compare the DNA from the weevils so we can tell how many species are involved in this system and which ones produce the most and highest quality resin. We are also seeking partnerships (and funding) to analyze the resin from the different species of copal to understand how its chemical differences affect its ecological relationships with weevils, bees, and commercial potential.

Collecting high copal resin lump near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Collecting high copal resin lump near Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Yully Rojas/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We extended our copal project to the Ampiyacu region in 2009 with small-scale exploration of copal trees near the Bora native village of Brillo Nuevo. With support from the Rufford Small Grant Fund and other foundations, we conducted more extensive inventories of copal trees (sampling 51 plots in about 366 hectares) around this village and three other adjoining areas over the next two years and found at least 34 copal species – almost all of which had at least one tree with a resin lump. Since our study at Jenaro Herrera indicated it would take at least five years for resin lumps to recover on trees where all lumps were removed, we decided to remove no more than half of the lumps from any tree in our study in the Ampiyacu.

Bora men measuring copal tree diameter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora men measuring copal tree diameter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Last year we conducted the first round of monitoring to see how well resin lumps were recovering on the trees around Brillo Nuevo. Many of the resin lumps were small, but we were happy to see that our more conservative harvesting system seemed to be working. We have now begun our second year of monitoring this recovery.

Digital camera workshop for Bora men. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Digital camera workshop for Bora men. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

In addition to collecting data to chart the progress of resin lump growth, we are also using this process as an opportunity to train young Bora men how to use forestry and documentation tools such as a diameter tape measure, GPS, and digital cameras. Most of the trees in the inventory are still there, but as expected, the forest around these communities is a dynamic environment. Some trees that were in the original surveys, though, were lost when fallow forest was once again burned to grow crops or fell over in storms with strong wind and rain.

Distilling copal leaves with copper alembique pot. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Distilling copal leaves with copper alembique pot. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We have been distilling batches of resin lumps collected at both Jenaro Herrera and Brillo Nuevo and sending oil samples to L’Oeil du Vert – a company ally in Los Angeles with the hope of finding ones that could be used to make perfume or other specialty fragrances. These evaluations have been tantalizing and frustrating since the samples with the greatest potential come from species which have been relatively rare in the areas we have searched so far in the Ampiyacu.

Bora man collecting distilled essential oil. Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man collecting distilled essential oil. Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Jenaro Herrera has a few relatively abundant species with very nice aromas, but our activities there have to been focused on research rather than commercial harvest. Beyond distilling copal resin, we are also conducting experimental distillations of leaves and small branches from various species of copal. This would open up new possibilities for a more regular supply of plant material to make aromatic oils.

Floracopeia company banner. Photo by Floracopeaia.

Floracopeia company banner. Photo by Floracopeaia.

We are now cooperating with two other groups doing forestry surveys in the Ampiyacu region to see if we can locate concentrations of the most promising copal species beyond the forests around Brillo Nuevo. Thanks to a contact from our partner NGO Camino Verde, we have discovered that aromatherapy offers another potentially good market for copal and other essential oils. One type of copal oil that may not have the right smell for use in a perfume may still be good for healing or relaxation. Another essential oil buyer based in California is now evaluating a range of our copal oil samples to evaluate their prospects for these applications.

20 gallon essential oil distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

20 gallon essential oil distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

As we move forward with our work on copal and essential oil made from rosewood, we are aiming to expand the size and efficiency of our distillation operation. Our 20 liter (5.3 gallon) copper alembique pot has been good for experimental extraction of essential oil from small batches (3 to 5 kg) of resin and leaves, but we are now seeking to purchase a larger stainless system that will allow us to process 20 kg or more of plant material at one time with a higher yield of essential oil. We will also need to purchase a grinder to chip branches into small chips that can be efficiently distilled. Please contact CACEif you would like to support this venture.

Learn more about or donate to CACE’s project in Peru at: www.AmazonAlive.net