An Overview Of Our Solution
- Population Impacted
- Continent: North America
PO Box 2371
Crested Butte, 81224
Approximately 90 communities are currently harvesting and marketing Maya Nut and/or reforesting degraded areas, impacting approx. 200,000 ha. of tropical dry forest and degraded land. We have trained 1953 communities so far and continue to teach more ....
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose
Local threats to resources
Level of sensitivity
Level of adaptive capacity
Maya Nut Institute (formerly The Equilibrium Fund) began working to rescue lost traditional knowledge about the Maya Nut for food, income and ecosystem services in 2001. Maya Nut is a massive rainforest tree, dominant in tropical dry forest and common in tropical humid forests throughout the neotropics. Maya Nut was an important food for pre-Columbian hunter-gatherers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It is known by more than 150 indigenous names, including Ramon, Ujuxte, Capomo, Mojo, Huje, Guaimaro, Ojoche, Ojushte, Manchinga, Ax, Tillo, Berba, Breadnut and there are thousands of regions, archaeological sites, towns, streams, rivers, and mountains named after it, probably due to its importance to food security in historic times. In recent times, however, it has been forgotten and ignored as a food and is stigmatized as food for poor, landless, indigenous people. Maya Nut today is consumed only in times of extreme food insecurity, such as during droughts or other events (locust invasions, climactic events), which destroy conventional crops and cause food shortages. Maya Nut has saved countless lives in the region because it produces abundant, nutritious food even during severe drought when other crops fail. We believe that Maya Nut will reclaim its status as a staple food to ensure food security in the near future, as climate change negatively affects yields of conventional annual crops. Maya Nut is not only drought and pest resistant, but is also much more nutritious than current staples (corn, wheat, rice), has much higher yields per unit area and requires no inputs at all once established. Maya Nut is a perennial tree crop and agricultural systems based on Maya Nut also provide essential ecosystem services and climate change mitigation such as protection of soils and watersheds, biodiversity protection, carbon sequestration and flood mitigation. We are working to establish a certification program for wild harvested women?s Maya Nut to ensure that the majority of economic benefits accrue to rural women and youth. This has proven difficult, as we must overcome the dominant paradigm, which undervalues the contribution of the rural poor to national economies, national food security and environmental sustainability. We work very hard to overcome this paradigm by ensuring that the producers establish the price for their product based on their production costs plus a profit margin. We have been highly criticized for this by numerous potential buyers, but are defending the producer?s right to set their price and hope that in time Maya Nut will be recognized and valued as a high-quality product which benefits people and the environment. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/04/16/cnnheroes.erika.vohman/#cnnSTCVideo
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit
- Measure growth rates of trees - Measure soil moisture and fertility before and after - Inventories of birds/mammals before/after - Measure economic benefits (from selling fodder, fuelwood, Maya Nut seed)
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit
- Cost of fencing forests to protect forests from cattle during critical times of the year - Cost of equipment for Maya Nut processing - Cost for consensus building meetings - Cost of trainings/capacity building requested by stakeholders
- More income over short and long term - Increased sustainability of communities - Increased economic vitality of participating communities
Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit
- Socioeconomic surveys/focus groups reveal increases in economic benefits to users - Measurable increases in income and/or decreased expenditures reported by participants in training/capacity building courses
What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?
The communities face challenges of lack of land tenure, conflicts with other stakeholders, free ranging cattle grazing, and others. We and our partners are working with them to help find ways to mitigate these challenges. The biggest risks faced in our solution is continued pressure to convert Maya Nut forests to annual export crops, particularly sugar cane and palm oil. Cattle ranching poses another enormous threat. We are working to overcome these threats by creating demand for Maya Nut locally and in the USA and Japan. Once Maya Nut becomes more lucrative, landowners and governments will be more interested in planting and conserving it.
Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used
The community based process used to motivate Maya Nut conservation, restoration and production started in 2001 when our founder and some Guatemalan women experimenting with Maya Nut to determine ways to prepare it for eating. With the lessons learned, they began teaching a basic, one-day workshop for women on nutrition, recipes, ecosystem services and fundamentals of Maya Nut production. With those workshops, thousands of rural women have acquired a useful tool to better feed their families and care for their environment. In some cases, some of the workshop participants decide they want to learn more about Maya Nut, produce it for sale, or to become teacher-trainers. When invited to do so, Maya Nut Institute or our partner organizations find ways to provide more capacity building for women or help them acquire materials and equipment to improve their quality and production potential. Women participants are the leaders of their own development process. We and our partner organizations provide help on request and within reason. In some cases, women Maya Nut producers can barter for training and equipment with Maya Nut. This establishes a precedent of a dignified exchange, not charity, which values women?s work and their productive potential(in this case, dried, roasted Maya Nut). In 2010 we started promoting an additional Maya Nut solution called ?Ecological Ranching? or ?Ganaderia Ecologica?. We implement this program in partnership with MAGA (Ministry of Agriculture and Ranching) in the Peten region of Guatemala and have conducted trainings for partners and communities in Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. This solution was developed to appeal to men and to capitalize on another of Maya Nut?s multiple uses: Highly digestible high protein fodder for cattle, goats, pigs, horses and mules. We conduct before and after socioeconomic assessments of Maya Nut producer groups and have found that the average family income of Maya Nut producers is higher than non-producers and that Maya Nut producers contribute an additional 17-29% to the annual family income. Women?s self esteem and status in the family is much harder to measure, but the producers testify that they enjoy more freedom and decision making power now that they are earning money and are contributing to the family income. 90% of the women producers interviewed in 2012 say they don't have to ask their husbands permission to leave the house. We have also conducted participatory forest inventories with communities, forest ministry staff and the Maya Nut producers as part of our program to develop participatory Maya Nut management plans. These inventories permit producers and land use managers to establish sustainable harvest quotas and permit Maya Nut Institute and our partners to understand the population dynamics of the forest in question. These inventories serve as a valuable baseline from which to monitor changes in population structure over time and ensure that the overall health and resilience of these forests remains stable over time. ? Include information on how the most vulnerable stakeholder groups in the community were included the decision making process. The most vulnerable group in our communities tend to be illiterate women and girls. We target these women and girls for our trainings: All of our teaching materials are specifically designed for use in illiterate groups, all our field staff is female and all of our work is conducted in rural areas. 79% of our beneficiaries do not have access to public transportation, 37% are illiterate, 94% are female, 69% do not have electricity in their homes, 90% live in homes with dirt floors, and for 82% of our beneficiaries, Maya Nut Institute is the first organization that has ever invited them to participate in productive activities! Women in Central America are vulnerable because they are marginalized in almost every aspect of life. The Maya Nut program is committed to ensuring that our program benefits accrue directly to women. In 2013 we began to focus on youth (between 16-25 years of age) to help provide interesting and novel opportunities for young people in Latin America. Our first pilot programs are in Nicaragua and Guatemala where we are in the process of helping organize and integrate 4 youth producer groups into the Maya Nut agroindustry. ? Include partners/organizations who were involved in supporting the solution and their roles. Our partners are too numerous to mention, but I can list a few here: El Salvador: ? Ministry of Natural Resources invited us to work in El Salvador in 2009 but were not active until 2013. Now they are interested in approving the first sustainable management plan for Maya Nut harvested from natural forests and to that end have sent 15 national park guards to be trained by Maya Nut Institute in participatory data collection and analysis for developing sustainable management plans for Maya Nut in El Salvador. No precedent exists in the country at this time, they do not have a system in place to manage harvest of nontimber forest products. ? Initiative for the Americas Fund (Debt for Nature fund administration organization) has funded much of our most important conservation and education work in El Salvador. They funded Maya Nut school lunches for kids in 9 schools in 2011 and 3 in 2013. In 2013 they are financing support and training for a rural women?s Maya Nut producer cooperative. ? SALVANATURA has participated in our training courses and will probably receive training in participatory forest management from us in the near future. They co-manage ?El Imposible? National Park, Los Volcanes National Park and the Bicentennial Park. ? Fundacion Agape has been our primary partner in El Salvador since 2009. They co-manage Plan de Amayo National Park which is where the first Maya Nut producer group in El Salvador began working. They continue to support and promote Maya Nut work in El Salvador, primarily through their television and radio channels. ? University of El Salvador has invited us to lecture in their agriculture classes since 2010 and now they are allocating resources to research, funding thesis research on Maya Nut genetics for conservation and agronomic improvement for 2 students and one professor in 2013. ? Consortium of Cooperatives of El Salvador (CONFRAS) has partnered with us since 2011, they are conserving and conducting research on several promising varieties of Maya Nut and have done the world?s first research to improve Maya Nut precocity through grafting. ? MannaOjushte y PrOjushte are two Maya Nut producer groups. These groups are composed and managed by rural women and they earn money by producing Maya Nut for school lunch programs and for sale at farmer?s markets, festivals and environmental fairs throughout the region. They also sell training courses to NGOs and interested communities in El Salvador ? Intervida is a Salvadoran NGO who has received training from us in Maya Nut processing, nutrition, recipes and propagation to help them better achieve their rural development goals in the communities where they work. ? Catholic Relief Services, is an American NGO who has received training from us in Maya Nut processing, nutrition, recipes and propagation to help them better achieve their rural development goals in the communities where they work. Guatemala: ? Ministry of Agriculture and Ranching (MAGA) since 2009 has provided all the trees for reforestation as part of our Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests Maya Nut school lunch program in Peten, Guatemala (75,000 Maya Nut trees) and an additional 1,500,000 Maya Nut trees to establish fodder plantations to improve cattle ranching operations during the dry season. ? Association of Forest Communities of Peten (ACOFOP) contributes cash, transportation, staff time and other in-kind donations to support our Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests initiative in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. ? Alimentos Nutri-Naturales, S.A. is the women?s Maya Nut producer group in Peten, Guatemala, formed in 2005 after some women participated in a training course. They provide all of the Maya Nut for the Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests program. ? San Carlos University is a research partner since 2008 ? Rafael Landivar University is a research partner since 2010 ? Defenders of Nature partners in Sierra del Lacandon in reforestation and Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests school lunch program. ? Ministry of the Environment has conducted trainings using our methodology in many communities in Guatemala. ? United Nations Small Grants Program funds some Maya Nut producer groups equipment and reforestation. ? World Food Program is exploring the possibility of permitting Maya Nut as part of the official WFP food donations program in Guatemala ? Ministry of Education has partnered with us in the past in Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests school lunch program and passed a law that Maya Nut be served at least twice/week in schools as a result of this program. ? and others. Nicaragua: ? Mesoamerican Information Systems (SIMAS) partner since 2012, provides free consulting, fair trade price assistance to producers, help with production of manuals and other training and educational materials. ? Ministry of Natural Resources partner since 2009 but never seem to have any funds for anything ? Municipalities of Chichigalpa, San Pedro del Norte and Cinco Pinos partners since 2009 have passed moratoria on cutting Maya Nut and declared it a protected species. San Pedro and Cinco Pinos government donated land for construction of women?s Maya Nut processing plant. ? National Forest Institute partner since 2009 but have not achieved much. Sold some Maya Nut trees from the National Nursery for a few years. ? United Nations Small Grants Program has funded two women?s Maya Nut producer groups for capacity building, equipment purchase and construction of processing plants ? and others Honduras: ? National Forest Institute has worked with us since 2010. They are spearheading the participatory sustainable management plan development, in alignment with their commitment to foster development of nontimber forest products in Honduras, as an alternative to logging for forest communities. ? Natural Resources Program (PRORENA)- is a component of the National Forest Institute. They are the primary funder of the work on development of the participatory sustainable management plans for Maya Nut in Honduras. They are also supporting work in El Salvador because El Salvador has no trained foresters in the country (!) ? German Development Agency- donor supporting all Maya Nut work in the departments of Colon and Olancho, Honduras. ? World Neighbors has partnered with us since 2008 imparting workshops in the regions where they work (Santa Barbara, Danli, Intibuca) ? Fundacion AgroLibano is a private foundation partnering with us for the first time this year (2013) they will finance training and equipment for 5 new Maya Nut producer groups in Choluteca and will provide Maya Nut school lunches for 3 schools. ? Zamorano University has supported several students conducting research on Maya Nut nutrition. ? Lancetilla Botanic Gardens has established some conservation plots with Brosimum and we hope to establish more concessions there in the near future. ? AJAM-Asociation of Water Users of Choluteca is reforesting watersheds with Maya Nut to protect them and improve water quality and quantity, particularly in the dry season. ? and others. Mexico: ? Semillas, S.A. is a Maya Nut producer group, working since 2010 ? University of the Yucatan Peninsula supports students conducting thesis research on Maya Nut ? National Forest Commission provides training about Maya Nut to communities requesting it. Has conducted research in seed harvest protocols and postharvest handling. ? University of Guadalajara is a partner since 2012 but nothing concrete has happened there yet. ? Museum of the Child (Museo del Nino) is distributing Maya Nut for sale in the museum store ? Puerto Vallarta Botanic Garden conducts public Maya Nut cooking workshops once a year ? Peru: Urku Amazonian Studies Institute we trained them and the 7 communities where they work in 2010. Colombia: Fundacion Natura, Envolvert these are partners since 2011, when we trained them and the communities where they work about Maya Nut to motivate reforestation as part of their Tapir conservation program. Haiti: ? Article 29 Organization reforestation and education ? First and Alton is organizing most of the reforestation with Maya Nut in Haiti ? Haiti MPHISE is a partner in reforestation with Maya Nut ? Sadhana Forest-reforestation and experimentation in planting methods ? SOIL Haiti-reforestation, education ? Three Angels Children?s Relief Nursery- reforestation ? Wynne Farm Ecological Reserve-reforestation ? Association des Volontaires MUCI AVM- reforestation, education ? Sow-a-Seed-Reforestation ? Haiti Communitere-Reforestation ? ANAVIPH- Reforestation ? PRODEV- Reforestation ? Zanmi Lasante-Reforestation ? Include current management systems used to support the solution. SUSTAINABILITY: Maya Nut Institute and our partners (primarily PRORENA, Honduras) are working with a grant from DEFRA, Darwin Initiative to develop participatory methodologies to determine sustainable harvest quotas for wild harvested Maya Nut. We are working closely with the Ministries of Natural Resources and local producer groups to ensure that the methodology is simple enough for rural women to implement, but at the same time, will provide robust data for short and long term forest management. CERTIFICATION: We have developed a certification program for wild-harvested Maya Nut based on the criteria of ? Chemical and GMO-free production ? Quality and Hygiene guaranteed ? Sustainably harvested ? Fair Trade ? 10% of product sold remains in the community to ensure local consumption (through Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests Maya Nut school lunch program) ? Reforestation (3 trees planted for every 100lb sold) ? Produced by Women We are also working with national governments and botanic gardens to establish ex-situ conservation plots of Maya Nut to ensure long-term conservation of Maya Nut genetic diversity. We are working with universities in the USA, Central America and Mexico to motivate interest in Maya Nut research, as there is very little known about the species in terms of agronomic potential, genetic diversity and nutraceutical potential of the seed and leaves.
Climate hazard of concern
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?
Primary climate hazard of concern is drought, which negatively affects food security and access to water for rural populations. Maya Nut-based food production systems produce well during times of drought and other climate change events (hurricanes, tropical depressions) and can be established on marginal, rocky, dry soils throughout the tropics. Maya Nut is one of the most drought tolerant species ever studied and is one of the best species for protecting water sources, due to its extensive root system, perennial canopy and massive size. Maya Nut forests and food production systems reduce the exposure of human, plant and animal communities to drought by virtue of their perennial canopy cover, which shades, protects, enriches and cools soils and also contributes massive amounts of leaf litter to the understory through constant leaf turnover. These qualities contribute also to protection of watersheds, as well as the unique morphology and physiology of Maya Nut root systems, which enable Maya Nut trees to extract water from limestone bedrock, even in the absence of surface or underground water sources. Maya Nut is one of the most important food sources for neotropical birds and mammals, so conservation and restoration of Maya Nut forests contributes to the conservation of neotropical animal communities.
How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?
Maya Nut forests tend to be much more resistant to drought than conventional agroecosystems and even than other types of forest. This is presumably because Maya Nut is an extremely drought tolerant species and is one of the only species in tropical deciduous forests that retains its leaf cover in summer. In the driest regions, Maya Nut will lose its leaves for a few weeks during drought, but this is unusual and is actually an adaptation to severe drought. By continuing to grow and produce leaves and biomass even when other species are dormant, Maya Nut plays an important role in these forests, ensuring that the carbon cycle continues, and providing food for arthropods and soil organisms and maintaining soil temperatures and humidity. Our solution increases the capacity of neotropical agroecosystems to produce food despite climate change by mitigating vulnerability to drought. Maya Nut forests protect vital watersheds also, which are increasingly important as more and more agricultural systems come to require irrigation to be productive. Food security depends on ample water supplies OR finding more drought tolerant foods. Maya Nut does both. As ambient temperatures increase in the neotropics, our partners report that production of annual crops is in decline. This is exacerbated by the fact that the harvesters of these crops are unable to work a full day in the sun to harvest these crops. This reduces profitability and productivity of annual cropped lands. In contrast, Maya Nut harvesters work in the cool shade of the Maya Nut trees and, regardless of ambient temperatures, are still able to work a full day when the harvest is in progress.
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?
Maya Nut forests, if large enough, can buffer the effects of drought. It is common knowledge that deforested areas experience fewer rain events. Therefore, though we have not proven this yet because most new Maya Nut plantations are <4 years old, we can hypothesize that 100ha or more of Maya Nut forests can restore rains to a drought stricken region. Trees produce rain by evapotranspiration, pulling water from the water table and the soil and moving it into the atmosphere where it later falls as rain. Bare soils and ecosystems with low LAI (leaf-area indices) are much less effective at this process. Communities with access to Maya Nut trees are much more resistant to drought-induced hunger, food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition.
How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?
Communities with access to Maya Nut trees are much more resistant to drought-induced hunger, food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition.
How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?
Communities with access to Maya Nut trees are much more resistant to drought-induced hunger, food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition. Because they are healthier and have more income regardless of drought impact on annual crops, they are better able to adopt new technologies to further adapt to climate change.
Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?
Our solution started in Guatemala and has spread from there to 11 countries and growing. We owe our appeal to the fact that this solution was developed, nurtured and shared by rural women for rural women. It is extremely practical and sensible for rural communities to implement. This solution has been replicated in more than 1500 communities to date. This solution is innovative, ironically, because it re-introduces an ancestral food to the modern diet. Other products, such as Acai, Maca, Yacon, and others are being revitalized, but primarily for the export market. Maya Nut is primarily being marketed locally, in rural communities. Our partners at the USDA research station and Montgomery Botanical Center have sent Maya Nut seed to Somalia and Guam to test its performance there. We often receive requests for Maya Nut seed from other countries outside its native range. People are very interested in Maya Nut because it is a fruit/food and fodder tree that performs very well under extreme drought conditions.