Cuapuazú Products bring Alternatives to Bolivian Farmers

CupuacuPackaging2.gifProducts from Cupuazú are not only natural and interesting, but also a great way for the farmer families in the northern area of Bolivia to improve their lives. By teaching the farmers how to grow this fruit in a sustainable way, and purchasing the harvest to produce products like Cupuazú pulp (to prepare juice, yogurt, marmelade), wine, and Cupuazú seed butter (used in cosmetics), a company called Madre Tierra is helping develop-without-degrading the Bolivian Amazon and to give the locals extra income after the other crops' season.Cupuazú is a native plant from the Amazon, close relative of cacao. Its name comes from tupi guaraní 'Cupu acu', which means "big cacao".
There are three main products extracted from it: Cupuazú Frozen Pulp, which has an exotic flavor and can be used to prepare juice, ice cream, yogurt, marmalade, cream, margarine, etc; Cupuazú Wine, a white wine obtained from the ecological fermentation of cupuazú pulp; and Cupuazú Seed Butter, used in moisturizing creams and lotions, hair conditioners and shampoos. This last protects the skin for UV-B and UV-C rays, and has potential in food industry as a raw material for margarines and Cupulate: a chocolate similar to that made from ordinary cacao.

The Bolivian Amazon region, Riberalta, has been economically dependent on extractivism of rainforest resources: the most important product is the Amazonian Nut. But the main social-economical problems of this cultive are that the economy is dependent on it, and that the harvesting uses the old 'Habilito' system, in which people rely on their landowners. Also, the slash-and-burn agriculture doesn't provide monetary income necessary to buy services of health, clothes or other items necessary for a better standard of living.

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Madre Tierra buys its cupuazú from 300 families of farmers in 29 communities, who cultivate it through agroforesty systems. By mixing woody perennials in the same area with annual plants or domestic animals, agroforestry makes the nutrients more available in the topsoil and therefore to the annual plants, with smaller roots. As the soil maintains its fertility, the land can be cultivated for a longer time, and the need for slash-and-burn agriculture decreases or, as in the optimum case, disappears totally. Agroforestry is always introduced on secondary forest recovering from previous annual cultivation and can therefore be called economically viable and sustainable reforestation (is by many considered the best possible system of cultivation and mean of protection against deforestation of the tropical regions). The practice of agroforestry fights the 'Habilito' system, because as there is less dependency on the employers in the region, and increases the monetary income of the farmers: five hectares of well-managed agroforestry with market for the products gives the farmer economical security and enough income to satisfy the needs of the whole family.

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Bolivian farmers are given technical assistance in the creation, maintenance and development of their agroforestry systems by a local non-governmental organization called Instituto Para el Hombre, Agricultura y Ecología (IPHAE).

Besides the slash-and-burn agriculture, the region is still a very well-conserved area. According to Madre Tierra's responsibles, there is a great need for environmental education of the rural population before the free trade will enter Bolivia stronger, as the country still has the possibility to develop without degrading its nature. ::Madre Tierra. See also ::Treetap [by Paula Alvarado, from Buenos Aires]

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