Hunting for ivory deep in the rainforestâ€¦â€¦.
posted on Friday, June 27, 2008 10:17 AM
Author: Navreen De Silva
Tropical rain forests cover only 7% of the earth's surface, yet nearly one half of the world's species of plants and animals are found there.
For thousands of years people have lived in rainforests. These indigenous people (whose ancestors were the first to inhabit the area) have relied on their natural surroundings for their livelihood. Fruits and vegetables, nuts and their oils, tree saps, natural dyes, seeds and medicinal plants are some of the treasures stored in the rain forest. The gathering of forest produce is known as wildcrafting.
While these indigenous people have always known that these treasures existed, outsiders have just recently begun to appreciate that the rain forests may be more valuable if kept intact and the 'renewable' resources are collected and used rather than destroyed.
Non-profit organizations like Conservation International (CI) and Cultural Survival Enterprises (CSE) are working with local communities to gather and sell rain forest products. As the demand for naturally-based products increases, you'll begin to see more products with rain forest ingredients on store shelves. Already there are many of these products on the market, from rain forest cereals and nuts to coffee and spices, even ice cream and chances are you'll find some of them at your local Asda supermarket. Check out the produce section and you'll probably find fruits, like coconuts and bananas, which are grown in the rainforest, too.
Juice companies are developing new juice flavours using a variety of tropical fruits like mango and guava. Rain forest ingredients is also be found in some personal care products. Manufacturers of these products are sourcing exotic oils and scents from rain forest nuts and plants to make shampoo, conditioners and lotions.
One interesting and successful rain forest project involves tagua (pronounced togwa), a nut which grows on South American palms. Tagua is also called ‘vegetable ivory’ because of its remarkable likeness to animal ivory and easily carved texture. The idea of using tagua in place of ivory goes back more than 100 years. In the 1800's tagus, became one of the Ecuador's leading exports to Europe. The nuts were carved into everything from dice and cheese pieces to buttons and umbrella handles. In 1990, Conservation International linked up with communities in Ecuador and Colombia to collect, harvest and sell tagua nuts to be crafted into jewellery, buttons, and small carvings.
Since 1991, more than 35 million tagna buttons have been sold through Tagua Initiative Partners.
A good portion of the profits from rain forest products goes toward rain forest conservation efforts and back into local communities working on these projects. Buying rain forest products is one way individual can help support efforts to save rain forests.
Navreen De Silva is a Goan working as a social entrepreneur in Toronto, Canada.