Every organization, if it’s lucky, has an inspirational story. And the Rainforest Alliance has its own—her name is Juana Payaba Cachique.
The former president of Tres Islas, a community based in the Madre de Dios region of Peru; that now harvests wood and non-timber forest products sustainably, has led the fight against illegal logging and destructive mining activities in Tres Isles.
The global nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation of tropical forests has been working collaboratively with Payaba since 2010, and invited her to speak at its 2016 leadership summit in New York City on Wednesday.
Clad in a feathered headdress, and speaking through a translator, Payaba shared her story of how being the leader of a local production committee, she has worked with her neighbors to promote sustainable development, including the production of goods derived from the Brazil nut tree—especially value-added products such as oil and snack foods, which generate more income for the 320-person community, which manages 32,000 hectors of land. She’s worked in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance ever since the organization visited the land six years ago, offering to support the community’s forestry and give it greater access to markets and add value to its forest products.
One of the ways the community learned to live sustainably includes not chopping down the entire tree anymore to get to the top fruit, which is not sustainable, but rather using technology to reach the fruit all the way on top.
Last year alone, the Madre de Dios community exported more than 4,000 metric tons of shelled Brazil nuts, equaling to a value of nearly $31 million, and created its own brand (OHEE) of products now sold in gourmet retailers in Peru.
Under her leadership, Tres Islas applied for credit to develop these businesses and received a loan that’s already been repaid. Payaba has shown her neighbors that it’s possible to generate economic value for the community’s conservation practices.
According to the Rainforest Alliance, through Payaba’s efforts she has proven that economic growth does not have to come at the expense of multiculturalism and indigenous rights.
Asked what she considers the most pressing threat to her community, Payaba said illegal gold mining, which contaminates rivers and food sources.
The community may own the rights to the land, but not to the soil, so there’s consistent government pressure from mining enterprises to deforest communities and she’s convinced that fighting this together will not come through the government but through engagement.
Her main goal is simple—to provide a better life for her children and grandchildren by living sustainably off the forest’s resources.
Payaba called for all organizations to come together, work in collaboration to tackle this issue by finding more sustainable production alternatives.
“I’m convinced that we can do this together and secure a better future for next generations,” she said during the Q&A.
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