Project name: The Açaí Project - Sustainable Jungle Fruit Harvest
Time of Year: year round
Mission: Cultivate and execute a sustainable jungle fruit harvest system to provide an additional form of eco-friendly income for locals whose alternatives are logging and poaching
The Açaí (ah-sah-EE) Project started as a simple idea to grow açaí but evolved to include climbing 30m-tall palm trees, building a canopy observation tower, and harvesting aguaje fruit, as pictured in the banner photo above.
In 2015, Murilo Reis, director of the Tapiche Reserve, signed a new agreement with local communities to provide employment in exchange for locals not trespassing to log and poach on the reserve. Thus, the Açaí Project - Sustainable Jungle Fruit Harvest was born. Even though the eco-tourism activities of the Tapiche lodge had been sustaining a group of locals with fair and regular wages, it became clear that more jobs were necessary to meet the growing population of people coming from other parts of Peru to the jungle looking for work.
The village of Esperanza (28 families) and the community of El Torno (8 families) are located 70km and 50km from the Tapiche Reserve, respectively. They are the reserve’s closest neighbors, and Esperanza in particular is a hotbed of loggers and poachers. Having already decimated surrounding areas through unmonitored logging and poaching, locals turn to the Tapiche Reserve in search of resources. The government provides them with little assistance, so the men rely on logging and poaching for income, and the women often resort to offering "companionship" in exchange for food or lodging.
The initial plan was to employ a rotation of 4 locals from the village of Esperanza and 4 locals from the settlement of El Torno each month. planting and caring for açaí palm trees. This project restores some of the natural landscape of the rainforest in previously cleared areas and installs the foundation for a commercial jungle product that can be ecologically harvested, guaranteeing eco-sustainable jobs for future generations.
The açaí seedlings need a few years to mature before harvest, so in the interim, we provided wages by building a Canopy Observation Tower (with the help of funds from Tapiche friends, many thanks!). We've also trained locals to climb trees to harvest jungle fruits instead of cutting them down. Many visitors are surprised to learn that cutting trees down to harvest fruit is the "normal" and accepted practice in our region. We invited a tree-climbing expert from a neighboring river region to help show our locals how to climb trees and explain the benefits of allowing the tree to live and generate more fruit for the next season.
We practiced the new tree-climbing sustainable harvest skills with the "aguaje" fruit from the Mauritia flexuosa palm tree. This fruit is very popular in Iquitos for making juices and popsicles and is one of the most commonly cut palm trees in the Iquitos area for its fruit. Cutting the trees pushes the harvesting groups further into the jungle each season in search of mature trees that bear fruit, reaching all the way to Tapiche 400km away from the city and beyond. Aguaje has a high content of natural estrogen and is known as burití in Brazil. It has been gaining popularity on the international market for its use in cosmetic and personal care products for both its estrogenic properties as well as its ability to act as a natural sunscreen and skin protectant.
The Açaí Project strives to show locals that there is a way to live in harmony with the jungle by involving them in eco-conscious projects, providing them a jungle-friendly income and keeping them so busy that they literally do not have time to log or poach. Besides planting, maintaining and harvesting açaí in The Açaí Project, we also place locals in ongoing rotating apprenticeships at the lodge, helping them to learn technical skills and gain experience interacting with international guests.
Header Photo: First sustainable aguaje harvest at the Tapiche Reserve