By supporting Rain Forest Rescue, you are not only saving rain forests. You’re preserving the communities and culture of these areas as well. The stories here are just a glimpse of all the work being done.
Chichleros Continuing a Tradition
Chicle harvesting is a trade that has been passed down from generation to generation in Central America. And it depends entirely on the rain forest.
Chicle comes from the sap of the sapodilla tree (or chico zapote), and it is collected by workers called chicleros. Similar to tapping maples trees for sap to make syrup, chicle can be collected for years without damaging the tree.
The harvest of chicle has been a sustainable use of the rain forest for decades. Chicle was the raw ingredient for chewing gum before synthetic components were developed. Real chicle is still being used in some countries (primarily China and Japan), so a market for the product still exists.
Elias Cahuich is one of the chicle tappers. The 57-year-old native wields a big machete to slice progressively higher diagonal cuts into the moist bark of a chico zapote and lets the white sap drip down into a collection bag at the base of the tree. The latex-like sap is later strained, boiled and shaped into 10-kilo (22-pound) bricks that are sold to companies still making chewing gum from the natural ingredient. Tapping the trees this way does not harm them. The red gashes in the bark seal, and the tapped trees are recognizable by their climbing “X” marks.
The good thing about chicle is that it doesn’t run out, and it doesn’t destroy the forest. You don’t just go and cut into every tree. We tap a tree and then we leave it for 10 or 12 years before tapping again. Nothing is destroyed, and the forest stays intact. It’s an ecological process.
My father was a chiclero, Elias said. He taught me how to work with chicle when I was 20 years old, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Now my son is following in my footsteps.
In this ejido (communally owned rain forest property), there are seven of us who still practice chicle extraction. All my colleagues are happy about the way the work is going. Based on a study that was done on the capacity of the forest, we have permission to take out 15 tons of chicle per year. We’re only at one or two tons now. If there’s more demand for chicle, I believe that as long as prices are good, we’ll just work and extract more.
Although chicleros like Elias Cahuich continue the tradition, there are fewer tappers now. stop
A Coffee Grower Under the Canopy
Julio Fernandez Aguilar grows coffee sustainably, in the shade of the rain forest, high up in the Andes Mountains of Peru. We met Julio while we visited numerous Peruvian coffee farmers to see their shade-grown farms—in the heart of the rain forest.
Standing in his coffee field, he explained that he plants trees over his coffee to protect the environment, but also to protect the coffee in the middle of summer. Julio understands the many benefits of growing coffee under trees, such as protecting the soil from washing away during the rainy season; providing organic minerals to the coffee shrubs; and capturing, filtering and absorbing the water to maintain fertility. All of these factors work together to produce a higher quality coffee with a richer, fuller taste.
Julio went on to share the story of when he and his community realized the benefits of planting trees. He had an area of land covered in tall grasses and small shrubs with no trees. The soil in this area was inert and not suitable for growing crops. As the locals started planting trees, the soil improved and birds and animals returned to the area.
Today, this area is a lush forest full of biodiversity and a high-yield coffee crop. With 90 percent of Julio’s community depending on coffee for their livelihood, they rely on trees to protect the coffee shrubs and improve the soil in order to produce the highest quality coffee bean. The quality beans mean that Julio is able to earn more for his crops to sustain his family, provide better school facilities for his children and contribute to quality food and resources for his community. stop
The Ready Women of Madagascar
The Rain Forest Rescue program is supporting a community-based program in Madagascar that is working to reforest the area and restore the lemur’s natural habitat. More than 1000 local individuals are involved in this tree planting effort—including a women’s association known in the native language of Madagascar as Vehivavy Vonona, which roughly translates to “the ready women.” And these ladies are indeed ready to help make a difference in their community.
This group fills the role of weeding nurseries, prepping compost and transplanting seedlings into reforestation plots. These women, who are single mothers, were struggling to support their families. Now they are making a huge impact in their community, and the project is having profound effects upon their own lives.
Suzanne Boahariva has been a member of Vehivavy Vonona since 2012. She is a mother of seven children, six of whom are now grown. With the income she earns from the reforestation project, she is able to send her youngest to school. Before working on the project, she had some basic knowledge of plants but says, “I have learned even more about germination and fruiting trees.” She has transferred this knowledge to better care for and increase yields from her own garden. Over the course of just two years she has seen the development of the project and the landscape starting to change. “I am excited to see the trees growing so well.”
Enthusiasm for the tree planting effort seems to be infectious. “It is important to protect the environment!” exclaims Elia Rolland Raharinirina. From her experience with the project, she says, “I was able to teach some of my village of Ambalahosy how to plant trees with the skills I learned.” Raharinirina and her fellow women’s association members have learned that trees play an important role in water preservation and soil erosion.
They also understand the disadvantages of slash and burn agriculture that is so common throughout Madagascar. Baotina, another passionate Vehivavy Vonona member, states, “I have started to teach my family about not burning the forest and to protect the environment. I look forward to having more people help me to mobilize my community.”
Many women of the association have expressed interest in working in their respective communities to educate their neighbors on the importance of the program and the need for additional community participation. By taking leadership roles, these women are making a real difference in their community, helping to ensure that trees will cover the landscape for people and wildlife for generations to come.
Locals Learning Sustainable Forestry Methods
While massive logging operations can be detrimental to the rain forest, responsible forestry will not have a negative impact. It’s a great way for locals to make a living off of the forest while maintaining it.
Technical training in forestry, low-impact logging methods, and small-scale milling equipment has been provided to the residents of Bethania and Veinte de Noviembre. They were educated on selective logging and taught how to manufacture boards and other products onsite using the milling equipment.
Now, instead of middle men taking the best and leaving the worst on the community’s 87,000 acres, the locals have control of the logging. Trees are carefully selected for sustainable harvests, and logs are processed onsite.
The work is labor-intensive, but damage to the land is minimized, employment is provided locally, finished products are sold at higher prices and sustainable income is being provided to community residents. stop