Palma Real, Where the Technicians Come
Giving harvesters of Brazil nuts the skills to manage
their forests sustainably secures their livelihoods and land rights
- and provides a Bolivian community with a new
When December rains hit Bolivia, the towering Brazil nut trees
swell with moisture and unload their bountiful burden. Nuts the
size of a grapefruits plummet to the ground and bury themselves in
the soft earth.
And so the harvesting season begins. Tens of
thousands of people head to the forest to collect, crack open, and
carry out the prized Brazil nuts. For many poor families, 3 months
of frenzied harvesting provides income for a year.
Just as the nuts are now finding their way into the hands of
local people, land reform is seeing the forests come under the
control of local communities. Greater community involvement in the
forests of Pando, Bolivia's most heavily forested region,
follows a wave of land reforms that, starting in 1996, saw large
forest estates dismantled and now allows rural communities to
request up to 500 hectares of forest per family.
The price of Brazil nut has recently skyrocketed, but this is
not entirely good news for Pando villagers. Because of
the high demand for the nuts, the forests now swarm with people
seeking their fortune. Locals have started taking nuts that do not
belong to them, and outsiders have arrived in search of a quick
buck. Rivalries and conflict within and between communities have
quickly emerged. Traditional land-management approaches cannot cope
with these new challenges. Without maps, resource inventories,
family registries, or rules of access, communities find it
difficult to defend their rights and serve as effective custodians
of their forests.
To help communities better manage their forest resources, and to
reduce the likelihood of conflict, the Center for International
Forestry Research (CIFOR) was asked to help.
The village of Palma Real, in the municipality of El Sena, was
in the process of receiving title to 9,000 hectares of forest when
CIFOR researchers were invited to visit. On arrival, the
researchers found that villagers had no maps of their forest, only
a small printout provided by the government to show its borders. As
it turned out, even the borders were wrong - which none had
realized because none could read a map.
Using CIFOR's multidisciplinary landscape assessment,
researchers helped the community record a range of important data.
This included a global positioning system (GPS) map of the area,
transects of vegetation, a survey to learn local views regarding
natural resources, and inventories of those resources. The
researchers ran capacity-building workshops that leveraged existing
experience in the community. Kristen Evans, one of the researchers,
reports that training the more knowledgeable villagers helped
others improve their knowledge of vegetation and trees.
"Through the workshops, we were able to rapidly collect
data using local knowledge and teamwork," Evans says.
"Community members trained each other in using a GPS to record
map references. Then they did the mapping themselves."
The villagers were ecstatic, using their new map to substantiate
land claims when negotiating border issues with the National Land
Reform Institute. The Palma Real community then presented their
work to government officials and started training other community
leaders in their newly acquired skills.
"Palma Real is now exporting technicians," one
community member proudly proclaimed.