The wicked problem of tropical deforestation seldom takes place in a vacuum. It arises when hungry populations convert wild natural habitats to produce food and income in a hasty and expedient way. Rather than simply blame and shame such ecologically harmful activities, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) seeks instead to address these underlying causes by helping frontier communities pursue more economically valuable alternatives.

In the Meta state of Colombia, the Institute is working with a private consortium – backed by Agrosavia, Asorinquia and Campo Capital – to develop a profitable agroforestry project based on non-timber forest products (NTFPs), while reforesting high-value timber on previously degraded lands.

NTFPs include a spectrum of renewable resources, and range from berries, nuts and fish to medicinal plants, resins and fibers. Some NTFPs include tourism or even carbon sequestration. A hallmark is that they can be harvested without clearing or causing irreversible harm to the ecological health and integrity of the forest structure itself.

Colombia finds NTFPs to be attractive – in this project, GGGI demonstrates the rich potential and value of cacay, achiote, acai, and sacha inchi – because they offer a viable source of financial income for rural communities to sustain themselves. The money earned from NTFPs support local families, are reinvested in schools and clinics, while buffering greenhouse gas emissions and conserving globally irreplaceable biodiversity.

The first agroforestry agreement, covering 300 hectares in Puerto López, is based on achiote an experimental crop of acai and a plan for harvesting wild acai berries. Acai is known as a healthy ‘superfood’ because of its high antioxidants, fat and fiber that benefit the brain, heart and overall health. Achiote seeds are a source of natural food coloring – and represent one percent of a US$ 14 billion global market. The agreement generates a 32.6% internal rate of return with a US$ 2 million net present value, with a 7-year payback – making it not only socially equitable and ecologically resilient, but also highly “bankable.”

Beyond acai, the second agroforestry agreement builds a market for sacha inchi nuts, from which a lightweight, omega-rich oil can be extracted. The oil has been marketed as a skin-care product to treat those with acne-prone skin or psoriasis. Sacha inchi represents a 0.13% of a US$ 17 billion global nut market, giving the seven year project high growth potential to pay back 30% on a net present value of US$ 778,000.

The combined organic nature and commercial potential make these products attractive to investors and allow for rapid expansion. Their positive impact on biodiversity is embedded in local job creation, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. This approach to agroforestry exemplifies a collective action approach.

It helps promote native species, secure long-term income for frontier communities, and halt deforestation. Best of all, it can be scalable and replicable among other small, medium and large producers.

Operating in 38 member countries, the GGGI will lead the project development. The Institute is joined by administrative agent, Campo Capital, which provides a link between investors and/or financiers in Colombia. Agrosavia brings technical agricultural knowledge to the project, while Asorinoquia will help promote it to businesses and producers in the region. 

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