Rubber and Brazil Nuts, linking the histories of Bolivia, the UK and Kew

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Rubber shoe made in the Amazon region of Para Rubber about the middle of the 19th century. At his time rubber was entirely exported from the Amazon, often in the form of shoes such as this sample. Image courtesy of Mark Nesbitt / RBG Kew

Most people in the UK are unaware of the strong historical connection between Britain and Bolivia. Connections that were built on two major non-timber forest products from the Amazon: rubber, the congealed sap of  Hevea brasiliensis and the incorrectly named Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa). The rubber tree had a great impact on the rise and fall of the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon during the 19thC and early 20thC; the Brazil Nut continues to be Bolivia and the Amazon’s major non timber forest export today. The UK played a key role in developing both markets and today remains the main buyer of Brazil Nuts from the Bolivian Amazon. Being presented with a pair of artesanal rubber shoes (below) by our partner community Palacio brought to life over 150 years of shared history that I was only vaguely aware of. Continue reading Rubber and Brazil Nuts, linking the histories of Bolivia, the UK and Kew

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Back in Cobija: flooding and still no vehicle

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Cattle trying to escape flooding in the Beni Department: in Amazonia Bolivia the flooding has been some of the worst in living memory. Image: David Mercado / Reuters

Projects always seem relatively straightforward when you plan them but of course the reality can be very different. We are working with two  hard to predict phenomena: the fruiting time of our seed trees and the weather, coupled with one inflexible one: the harvest season for brazil nuts, and one which with hindsight we should have predicted, but did’t: the difficulty of hiring a vehicle to access our sites.

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The flood defences for the seedlings at the Palacio nursery. The whole community is now underwater and the villagers have sought temporary accommodation. The seedlings are apparently fine though!

Continue reading Back in Cobija: flooding and still no vehicle

Meeting with UK Ambassador Ross Denny in La Paz

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One of many amazing and slightly scary views in La Paz

En-route to the Pando I took the opportunity to introduce our project to HM Government’s Ambassador in La Paz, His Excellency Ross Denny, and to learn of UK Government funded projects in Bolivia.  I was also very interested to hear that whilst Governor of the Ascension Islands, Ross Denny had been involved in the protection of a rare endemic fern and in the conservation of a historic cloud forest planned by Joseph Hooker, founder of the RBG Kew on the advice of Charles Darwin!

We also discussed the possibility of arranging him to visit our project in the field which would be a great support to us with the local government and media.

Using Inga to enrich cattle pasture

Degraded cattle pasture in the Pando, Bolivia
Degraded cattle pasture in the Pando, Bolivia. There are probably millions of hectares of marginal cattle pasture in the Amazon. Improving their productivity could have a big impact on reducing the pressure on natural forests

Despite the impact cattle-ranching has had on the Amazon over the past 40 years many ranchers are not making money. Degradation of the soils and  quality of the pasture results in farms with very low densities of cattle spread over large areas that are expensive to maintain. There is also significant encroachment by inedible (to cattle) shrubs and grasses. This generates demand for fresh pasture which is in-turn leads to further deforestation. In addition, diversification away from beef to more profitable dairy relies on cattle breeds, such as Frisians,  that are not well adapted to the heat of the tropics and suffer from the lack of shade in the colossal fields.

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Click on the image to see Brahman cattle feeding enthusiastically on young branches and leaves of Inga and supporting the claims of its use as a fodder tree in Mexico

Continue reading Using Inga to enrich cattle pasture

Our project team in Bolivia and the UK

Rolman Velarde, our agroforest manager based at Herencia. Rolman has overall responsibility for overseeing the seedling nurseries and developing agroforest plots. Together with Jazmin he also plays an essential role in liaising and developing our relationships with each community
Rolman Velarde, our agroforest manager based at Herencia. Rolman has overall responsibility for overseeing the seedling nurseries and developing agroforest plots. Together with Jazmin he also plays an essential role in liaising and developing our relationships with each community

Our project aims to reduce pressure on natural forests in the Pando by supporting Inga-based agroforest systems, identifying non-timber products and raising awareness of the economic and biodiversity value of these forests. This requires a dedicated team of people in Bolivia but also in the UK where some of the technical expertise and the funds reside. Our team comprises people from the Bolivian NGO Herencia, the  Noel Kempf Mercado Natural History Museum in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Jazmín Daza, our community outreach and Bosque de los Niños coordinator. Jazmín is based with Herencia in Cobija, Bolivia and has helped set up the Bosque de los Ninos plots in the Pando
Jazmín Daza, our community outreach and Bosque de los Niños coordinator. Jazmín is based with Herencia in Cobija, Bolivia and has helped set up the Bosque de los Ninos plots in the Pando

Continue reading Our project team in Bolivia and the UK

Secondary forest on bauxite in Bahia: methods and protocol

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Dary Rigueira, Brazilian ecologist at the Universidad Federal da Bahia, Salvador. Dary and myself designed a survey protocol that we hope will suggest suitable species for restoration

Dary Rigueira and myself designed a sample protocol for characterising the vegetation growing on disturbed sites on bauxite. We are hoping that by contrasting sites of different ages and disturbance histories we will be able to identify patterns which point to what determines the assemblages of species growing at a site and help us identify species which may be suitable for the rehabilitation of mined sites.  Our 44 study plots are between 3 and 20 years of age since deforestation and in which deforestation had been accompanied by top soil removal or burning and conversion to pasture or simply allowed to recover. Continue reading Secondary forest on bauxite in Bahia: methods and protocol