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Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category
Welcome to the next instalment of journalist, Richard Lofthouse’s guest blog about his trip to the Amazon with the Rainforest Alliance…
One of the finest eco-Lodges in the area is Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, which opened in 1975 and has become a beacon of best-practice for the all important question: what is an eco-Lodge? I was fully expecting to have to slum it and had even brought my own mosquito net bought, I chuckled to myself, on Amazon! But no. I was greeted by a magnificent classroom/laboratory full of scientific samples and species, and following that taken to a private lodge, one of 35 rooms connected by a special path that is lit at night by aromatic citronella candles. At the centre of the complex is an enormous, mind-bending canopy walkway 30 metres above the ground, and a giant common area and restaurant serving up cold beers, superb local cuisine and wi-fi. It’s not skin deep either, although your skin can get deeply pampered if you go to the spa next to the Madre de Dios river, where the only products used are made from locally sourced jungle products such as the Brazil nut.
No, Inkaterra has gone deep. They have even worked out a formula whereby the rainforest services it provides to travellers offset the airmiles they incur to get there, a miniature model for what is being debated globally. The difference: in this case it’s already happening. By the same token, the trail system at Inkaterra, the black Caiman watching trips, the twilight and dawn canopy watching, the butterfly house and the visit to the Hacienda Concepcion, a
botanical garden with medicinal plants, are all drawn out of serious academic research projects. It was educational but never boring. It was actually not tourism at all in the Disney sense, but being granted privileged access to something precious. I realised my own ignorance bit by bit, and imperceptibly began to realise that the forest is not just gawping through binos but what actually sustains whole ways of life there, since times immemorial. Most stunning of all was the realisation that numerous species are still being discovered every year, very heartening if you’re accustomed to only hearing about their loss. Dr E.O. Wilson of Harvard University surveyed 365 ant species in 1995, a world record. Multiply this by flora and fauna, birds and mammals, and you’re left speechless.
Another highlight, perhaps the highlight, for me, was the nearby Sandoval Lake, adjacent to which is another award winning eco-lodge, Lake Sandoval Lodge. A shallow, landlocked lake, it has become an extraordinary habit for the threatened giant otter. We didn’t see any otters, but we did see black caimans lurking in the creek shallows, and dozens of other bird and mammal species including a whole troupe of red howler monkeys. At dawn, following a three kilometre walk through the jungle, the moment at which we paddled out of a narrow, dark creek onto the steaming, sun-streaked lake was one of those extraordinary moments that you fully believe you’ll take to the grave.
Other remarkable lodges we visited included Tambopata Eco-Lodge, which is linked to a research centre.
Later in the same trip we were introduced to all manner of common efforts to combine thoughtful tourism and travel initiatives with social progress and the alleviation of poverty combined with sustainability. Also, I saw slash ‘n burn fires by day and out of control forest fires by night. I never quite got used to the incongruity. Admittedly, we were in Peru at the end of an unusually intense dry season, just ahead of the rains. It would not normally be smoky. But since coming home I’ve been on websites showing satellite images of half of the Bolivian Amazon on fire, not to mention all manner of other aberrations of fires from northern Canada to Indonesia. The tensions between development and sustainability are palpable, as is the backdrop of global warming, but so are the conspicuous successes. The lodges can’t succeed without visitors, and nor can the forest, so if you are contemplating a life-time trip and want to retain a good conscience, you might consider going to an eco-lodge in the Amazon.
The Rainforest Alliance recently took freelance journalist, Richard Lofthouse to Peru to meet various partners working towards sustainability initiatives. Here on the UK Frog Blog is the first of a two-part guest blog, where Richard talks about the importance of eco-lodges in one of the most bio-diverse places on earth…
I recently returned from two trips in one. First, Rainforest Alliance took me to the Amazonian rainforest in southeast Peru, and then to the classic Inca trail and Machu Picchu, Latin America’s most popular tourist destination.
I was in the company of a dozen other tour operator chief executives from all over the world. One of them, Praful Albuquerque, had flown all the way from Melbourne Australia, which made my journey via Miami to Lima to Cusco to Puerto Maldonado look timid by comparison. All the way out, as the air miles stacked up, I was conflicted about the nature of so much fossil-fuelled travel for a supposedly eco-initiative. I thought to myself: ‘Isn’t this one more western indulgence masquerading as a helping hand to the environment?’
Gradually, the tensions abated and I began to enjoy the trip on its own terms. Bright and early on Day 2, we settled into the two hour-long flight from coastal Lima to the Amazon. Coffee-refreshed, I dived into my travel guide and read about Peru’s mega-bio-diverse status (with 1,000 of the world’s 9,700 flowers, for example), and about the fact that Lima is technically in a desert, Machu Picchu is in the Andes – it’s own climate and altitude – and then, finally, one arrives at the magnificent jungle, in which smoking is strictly prohibited and the dusty titti monkey runs wild. Looking out of the window I saw immense, almost cartoonishly enormous mountain peaks covered in sparkly white snow and tiny trails pretending to be roads, linking precarious settlements at least 50 miles removed from each other. Then, on the far side of Cusco, brown turned to green and the cabin temperature registered an increase in temperature and humidity as the aircraft came down to land. Read about it. See it. Brilliant.
We were told that it was 32 degrees hot outside with high humidity, so I stripped off my sweater and prepared to disembark, as if arriving on the moon. I was a bit nervous because I had been warned about the biting insects. This was the Amazon after all, not some pale imitation!
This being Puerto Maldonado, a frontier settlement, the airport only receives a couple of flights a day, so there were metal steps down on to the tarmac rather than a tunnel into a terminus. It’s always a big moment when you step outside and sniff the air in a new continent. The last time I had done this, it had been in Muscat, Oman on a trip to the Gulf. I’d been treated to a ferocious blast of desert air, as memorable as it was sandy.
This time, I smelt warm, damp bonfire and saw the sun through a coppery haze, even though it was mid-morning and there was no cloud. Then, the screeching call of a brace of parrots high overhead, racing colourfully to their destination. Still at the top of the steps by the aircraft fuselage, I was distracted by something on the horizon. I did a double take. Maybe I was mistaken, or it was an industrial accident, a one-off; an oddity. But no, there it was: a sky-high plume of smoke, not even that far off. Then I realised that the air smelt sweetly of bonfire, all the time, everywhere, because the forest was burning. This aroused very nostalgic memories of being on a farm as a kid in southern England, where the stubble was burned in September to return fertilizer to the earth ahead of the next sowing of seeds. Perhaps this was the same, I thought. Maybe it’s normal for this sort of thing to be going on in the pristine jungle where smoking is strictly forbidden. Mental note to self: don’t make snap judgements about agricultural practices in foreign lands.
But my other unguarded thought, more of an instinct than a thought, was that this business of saving the forest is really urgent, like you’d better believe it. Like now. Not tomorrow, not next year; not when the world can get its act together on a comprehensive carbon trading initiative, but here in the messy today, where conservation gets tangled up in poverty and the two have to be tackled together. A UN report released on October 20th claims that ecosystems such as freshwater, coral reefs and forests account for between 47 and 89 per cent of what the UN calls “the GDP of the poor,” meaning the source of livelihood for the rural and forest dwelling poor.
And that’s where the eco-lodge comes in, because at a very small relative environmental price – motorised canoes here, the odd jungle trail there, some roads and of course some airmiles – the modern eco-lodge aligns the self-interest of native forest dwellers and new settlers with the preservation of the forest.
Of course it’s ironic, or even mildly obscene, to be a westerner, here to gawp at monkeys through state of the art binoculars, the air a-whirr with camera shutters and all the paraphernalia of affluence. But we were treated to such heart-warming narratives of human self-improvement and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds that by the end I had totally fallen for Peru. Not to gawp at what’s left, only to fly away, but that we align expenditure with the great goal of preserving as much of the forest as possible, not in a hopelessly sterile, idealistically pure sort of way but grounded in the best long term and sustainable interests of the people who live there. And yes, it was a mind-blowing trip, and yes, I saw a dusty titty monkey!
In part two of Richard’s guest blog find out what he thought about staying at eco-lodges, what he was doing on a walkway 30 metres above the ground and just how many species of ants have been discovered in the Amazon.
Today’s blog comes from Edward Millard, Head of Sustainable Landscapes at the Rainforest Alliance, following a recent trip to Peru to meet cocoa farmers.
José Francisco de San Martín was the liberator of Peru from the Spanish empire in the 1820s and he is of course recognised widely, with a square named after him in the centre of Lima and a whole region in the north east of the country, across the Andes mountains, in the Amazon lowlands. The region of San Martín produces some of Peru’s fine coffee and cocoa. Coffee has for long been a major export of Peru, which is the world’s largest supplier of organic as well as Rainforest Alliance certified coffee. Cocoa is much newer and with some very high quality criollo cocoa trees, as well as newer clonal varieties, the future looks promising for cocoa becoming an important export as well. In July, Peru organised its first ever Salon du Chocolat to showcase this new industry and the event attracted chocolate experts as well as buyers from around the world.
One of the farmers who will benefit from this market growth is Edil Sandoval and his wife Sadit, who manage a six hectare farm close to Tocache in the
south of San Martín region. Sadit’s father farms on the other side of the narrow road. Edil and Sadit have carefully planted and managed their cocoa and achieved a staggering production of 3,800 kg per hectare. To put this into perspective, the average production across all countries according to the International Cocoa Organisation is 550 kg per hectare. Moreover, they have achieved this while maintaining other trees on their farm, as I experienced talking to them under the shade of an orange tree together with my colleagues Gerardo Medina, Rainforest Alliance’s national coordinator in Peru and Rubén Santibañez, his lead technical officer, and later drinking coconut water from the nearby coconut trees. With cocoa prices at one of the highest levels ever (about US $2.50 per kg at farm gate in Peru) this outstanding productivity is enabling the family to make improvements to their home, which, as usual, is on the farm. At the back of the house is a conservation area of natural forest, with a stream running into their garden and opening up into a large pond. It’s hard to imagine a nicer setting.
True enough, this is a model cocoa farm and an example of what can be achieved in cocoa productivity. It was the first time Rainforest Alliance had visited the family. They had heard of us but had never read the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. One of the characteristics of the Standard is that it deals with a lot more than just the farm and has a lot to say on people’s living and working conditions, as we strive to raise awareness of health and safety and quality of life. For example, we pointed out Principle 2, which requires a vegetative barrier between the farm and the dwelling. The main reason for this criterion is to avoid any drift of agrochemicals into the house but the way that Gerardo presented it was creating an area of separation between work and family life, in which they could plant some flowers to give a pleasant aspect and relax away from the place of work. In the garden, there is a little jetty from the path to the pond and on the jetty detergent and a scrubbing brush. This is where Sadit does the washing, and of course what results is that chemicals from the detergent go into the water. The family can easily incorporate a washing area in the house extensions they are presently undertaking; what is lacking is not the resources; it is realising that this would be a better way to avoid contaminating a precious source of clean water. Pollution of natural water sources by domestic chemicals is dealt with in Principle 4 of the Standard. Sadit agreed it was a very good idea and would cost next to nothing; but nobody had ever suggested it before. Her mother did the washing like this.
Inside the house there were some agrochemicals. The Standard allows farmers to apply these as long as they are not on the list of dangerous and non-approved substances and are properly stored on a cement floor. This is spelt out in Principle 6. The Sandovals store agrochemicals next to the bed. How simple to move them away from the living area and remove the threat to their health each night. Nor is it difficult or expensive to apply Principle 10 and organise waste so that it does not become a health hazard, pollute the farm of their neighbour or look unsightly.
It is making these small changes in the way that families live that represents so much value in applying our Standard and becoming Rainforest Alliance Certified. Our visit demonstrated that the Sustainable Agriculture Standard has much to contribute to the social aspects of sustainability, promoting people’s well being. The biggest change that farmers need to undertake to get certified is often the mental change, realising that they can improve their conditions and get the benefit for themselves and their families of a more peaceful, orderly, healthy lifestyle.
Today (3rd July 2010) is the UN International Day of Cooperatives. To mark this Katy Puga from the Rainforest Alliance talked to Wilson Sucaticona an award winning Peruvian coffee farmer and cooperative member about how he manages his farm and the benefits of being Rainforest Alliance certified™.
Wilson Sucaticona, a young farmer of indigenous Aymara descent, inherited a tradition of coffee farming from his parents and is growing some of the best coffee in the world on his farm, Tunkimayo.
In the December 2009 Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality event, Tunki came in second place overall, beating farms from Brazil, Indonesia, and East Africa. Most recently, Tunki coffee won the Best of Origin for Peru at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2010 Roasters Guild Coffees of the Year Competition. Tunki has also won first prize in the Peruvian National Coffee Contest — twice.
From his farm in Sandia, located in the Puno department near the border with Bolivia, Sucaticona discusses how he grows the best coffee in Peru.
Question: How many years have you been a coffee farmer?
Sucaticona: I’ve been doing this for 17 years — my parents and grandparents were coffee farmers and I was raised in this tradition. During school vacations I used to help with washing the beans and removing the pulp, which was how I began to learn how to grow coffee.
My father retired, leaving me in charge of our small, seven-acre (three hectares) farm. At 34 years old, I’m still a coffee farmer and I want my children to grow coffee as well.
Q: Are you a member of any coffee cooperatives?
Sucaticona: Yes, I belong to the San Jorge Cooperative and also the Central de Cooperativas Agrarias Cafetaleras de los Valles de Sandia (CECOVASA).
Sucaticona: Support from the cooperative has been very important to me. The certification programs in Peru work closely with producers who have organized into cooperatives and associations. These organizations are key entities to support farmers in the certification process and are the best way to reach international markets.
The Peruvian National Coffee Board has also had an important role in strengthening coffee organizations and promoting the participation of small producers in the different certification programs.
Q: Your farm has been Rainforest Alliance Certified since 2006. How has this certification helped you?
Sucaticona: I obtained Organic and Fairtrade certifications in 2003 and Rainforest Alliance certification in 2006. These certifications taught me many things about managing my farm. For example, before we used to cut down trees and hunt animals, but now we have learned how to take care of the forests, to stop logging, and to care for the animals and the water. We protect the environment and now we have our house in order.
Certification from the Rainforest Alliance has given me very good benefits. For example, I learned how to improve the quality of the coffee plants and how to better dry the beans, which is crucial because drying affects the quality of the beans.
Q: What is the key to maintaining quality?
Sucaticona: It is difficult and care must be taken during the entire process because any slight changes can affect quality. Everything is important, from planting, to harvesting, to drying…if something isn’t right, it harms the coffee.
For example, to make sure that quality is not affected, I take my product to the stocking center by wheelbarrow. It’s a three hour walk from my farm but I do it because I know that the aroma of the coffee changes if I take it by mule or horse; these animals sweat and their odor affects the beans. Since I want my coffee to be perfect, I am always looking for better ways to do things.
Q: You won the national coffee prize for the second time. What does having the best coffee in Peru mean to you?
Sucaticona: The first time I won was very exciting because frankly, I wasn’t expecting it. The truth is that this year I did expect to win. I already had experience from the last time, I knew exactly how long to dry the coffee to make it perfect and when to submit the sample to participate in the contest. I worked very hard and spent a lot of time preparing.
Later I realized that my coffee competed against more than 300 coffees and I won first place in a very competitive event! This makes me very proud and happy. Now my coffee is being auctioned and I hope to get a good price.
These awards prepared me for the Specialty Coffee Association of America award that I just won. These recognitions motivate me to continue improving the quality and reputation of Peruvian coffee.
In Peru, coffee is an important source of income for thousands of small and medium-size farmers, who export around 95% of their beans to international markets thanks to their high quality, aroma, and flavor. Peruvian coffee is produced in 12 of the nation’s 24 regions; many are located near protected areas, making sustainable farm management essential. Currently, some 30% of Peru’s coffee production is certified as sustainable.
Thanks to support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon, a regional project that supports the creation of economic alternatives for local communities, Rainforest Alliance is helping coffee farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices, and creating important international market linkages. As a result, more than 70,000 hectares of land have been brought under sustainable management and Peru boasts the largest number of Rainforest Alliance CertifiedT coffee farms in the world. And, more than 50 coffee roasters across four continents source their beans from these sustainably managed farms.
This interview first appeared in Eco-Index: Connecting Conservationists Across the Americas in April 2010.