Growing a wild-forest economy in the Colombian Pacific rainforest with the açaí super berry.
Colombia’s Pacific region is one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world, but also has one of the highest rates of deforestation in Colombia.
Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities largely populate the region, organised into collectively owned territories. These communities, which have traditionally been highly isolated, are now experiencing an upsurge in external pressures.
Under the recent peace process, withdrawing armed groups leave behind them a power vacuum in areas where they formerly controlled forests. And in their absence deforestation has spiked; at 12% of the national total in 2018, the losses are mainly down to illicit farming, illegal mining and expanding pastureland.
The Pacific region is one of Colombia’s poorest and most socially vulnerable regions, and a wild-forest economy has the potential to create a new start for the people of the Pacific coast.
The açaí tree (Euterpe oleracea) is indigenous to the eastern Amazon, and is most abundant in the estuary of the Amazon River where it grows in both seasonally and permanently flooded forests. Communities in açaí -growing regions of Colombia have been consuming the ‘super berry’ for decades. More recently, reports of its range of health and therapeutic benefits have stirred growing demand from international markets.
In 2016, NGO Fondo Accíon began piloting an açaí collection and processing project with Naidiseros del Pacifico SAS, a private company set up in 2015 by seven community councils as public shareholders. Naidiseros del Pacifico runs the harvesting, processing and commercialisation of açaí fruit – known locally as naidí.
The process starts with traditional collectors who harvest fruit from the palms. It is then sent to collection centres, where the pulp is extracted and packed for selling, mainly as frozen paste for high-end beverage companies. For açaí collecting families, participation in the project offers them them as much as 131% more income over a multi-year period than they could earn from illegal logging.
As an afro-descendant community organisation, Naidiseros also ensures that 30% of its profits are used to fund the communities’ priority issues, such as education, health or infrastructure, as agreed by a community assembly. The remaining profit funds the production process. Community councils regularly report the use of the funds and all community members have the right to query it. A planned forest management plan is due to further strengthen community institutions with improved governance, including greater gender equality within the business.
Over time, the project will improve forest scrutiny as Naidiseros SAS collectors travel key waterways for 120 days each year – the same routes that are used for the transport of illegal timber. Collectors will be trained to monitor and report signs of deforestation.
Partnerships for Forests is supporting Fondo Accíon to pilot the project, supporting operational and logistical improvements, increasing market demand, creating a business plan and ultimately to scale-up their operations. By 2020, the project is set to have brought 56,000 hectares of forest under active, sustainable management.
© Fred Mauro
- Choco, Colombia Pacific Region
- Naidiseros del Pacifico SAS (private company), Fondo Accíon (non-governmental organisation)
- Commodity focus
- Hectares under sustainable land use
- 56,000 (by 2020)
- Private investment mobilised
- £800,000 (by 2020)