Eco-Madera: Sustainable Wood From Ecuador - Part 2

In the first part of this post yesterday I began telling you about Eco-Madera, an Ecuadorian company that makes wooden floors and doors from sustainably harvested mixed species wood. Kallari is looking forward to having one their mixed species floors in the café in Quito. There are going to be as many as seven different species of wood in the new floor. This will show the biodiversity of the forest and hopefully look pretty funky too. It will certainly be more beautiful than the dark stained eucalyptus floor that the café currently sports. Eco-Madera will use this new floor as their showpiece in Quito to show their work to potential clients. This means Kallari can be assured of a top quality job and some extra customers! Since the beginning of the Eco-Madera project in 2001 the company has been working mostly as a research and training project. They have been teaching previously unskilled labourers in woodwork and sustainable agro-forestry principals whilst also approaching the environment ministry to persuade government bodies and local authorities to work with them. There has also been a lot of research into potential product markets. Eco-Madera have high overheads, due to their fair trade and sustainable forestry principals, therefore they need to produce high value added products to sell to the high end Ecuadorian, US and Europe markets. But, as well as wanting to produce value added products, they also face the challenge of finding uses for as many of the 35 different species of wood, that are available to harvest, as possible.

Unfortunately not all clients are keen on having a funky mixed species floor, but there others ways of mixing it up. On engineered floors you can use inferior species on the under layers and then lay a superior specie on top. Eco-Madera are now also making stave doors which have an interior core, for which inferior species can be used, which is then covered with superior specie lamellas. Eco-Madera has also just started to research the wooden blind market in the US and Europe.

The forestry laws in Ecuador says that farmers should only harvest 4 to 5 trees per hectare, per month in native forest. By contrast the illegal cutting that goes on in the same area that Eco-Madera works in produces 150m3 per week. The difference in quantity is staggering, as are the prices local farmers earn for this illegal logging. At best they get paid $5 per hectare and they are probably cutting about 10 hectares a month. That makes an income of $50 dollars a month. It is subsistence living which often leaves the farmer in debt to the intermediary wood buyer. The incentive for the farmers to work with Eco-Madera is 60% higher prices for the wood if they promise to harvest it sustainably. However a problem Eco-Madera has encountered are farmers with two fincas who use one to work with Eco-Madera, but uses the other for illegal cutting to repay his previously accrued debt.

Slowly but surely though, Eco-Madera is persuading local farmers that there are long term benefits to sustainably harvesting wood from their forests. Not only can they earn higher prices by cutting out the intermediaries, but also by creating agro-forestry plantations they are putting less strain on the native forest. With the high biodiversity in the tropical landscape there is great potential to grow different species of plants together, which have benefits as short term and long term investments. For example cacao and fruit trees can be seen a short term investment, where as hard wood trees are considered long term. Agro-forestry also sets out to regenerate degraded land, which there is much of in the Esmeraldas province due to extensive illegal logging and monoculture crops.

Eco-Madera has planted more than 7000 trees since they started in 2001. They hope to do a lot more. Currently they set up forestry management plans with the individual farmers dealing with a percentage of the hectares they own. They have started small by managing on average about 10 hectares of 50 hectare farms, but as the business model develops they hope to be able to create management plans not only for the native forest and the plantations, but also for the agricultural part of the farm. There are 60 000 hectares of coastal rainforest which Eco-Madera would like to work in, so far they have only worked in a small percentage of it, but they’d like to make big expansions into land regeneration projects, agro-forestry and sustainable agriculture. In the meantime they are doing research into the environmental effects of their work in the tropical landscape. For example, Ecuadorian forestry laws say that it is best to only cut the largest trees so the smaller ones are left to grow, but Eco-Madera thinks there might be benefits to cutting a wide range of young and old trees as the older trees might provide better seeds for the regeneration of the forest. Thanks to Garrett Sieger of Eco-Madera for talking to me about the company's work. :: Eco-Madera ::Kallari

Tags: Ecuador