Learning experience: Young Peruvian foresters contribute to Brazil nut research

CIFOR scientists are recording the production of every Brazil nut tree in this concession to determine the impact of timber harvesting.  Marco Simola/ CIFOR

CIFOR scientists are recording the production of every Brazil nut tree in this concession to determine the impact of timber harvesting. Marco Simola/ CIFOR

LIMA, Peru (5 June, 2013)_Deep in a Brazil-nut forest in the Peruvian Amazon, university student Hideki Kohagura Arrunatogui is working alongside harvester Serapio Condori Daza.

Serapio is swinging a machete and hacking open a pile of the hard, heavy Brazil nut fruits – called ‘cocos’ in Peru for their resemblance to coconuts – to extract the handful of nuts inside.

Hideki is noting the coordinates of each Brazil nut tree, and recording how many fruits it has produced. Later, when Serapio has worked his way through the small mountain of cocos in front of him, they’ll weigh all the nuts collected from this particular tree.

Our research can help the Brazil nut producers, so that they are more informed about what is happening in their concessions – and at the same time we are learning.

They work well together – not saying much, just listening to the insects, the birds, the rhythmic crack of Serapio’s machete, and the occasional deep and perilous thump of a ripe coco hitting the ground.

“We make sure we work away from the Brazil nut trees so that the fruits don’t fall on us – there have been accidents in the past,” he says. He’s also wearing a helmet.

Hideki is one of 13 Peruvian forestry students from the Universidad Nacional Amazónica de Madre de Dios (UNAMAD) in Puerto Maldonado who are working with the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on a new research project.

They’re aiming to determine what impact selective logging in the Brazil nut concessions has on how many fruits, and the weight of the nuts inside those fruits, that each tree produces. The students are collecting data in five concessions near the villages of Alerta and Alegría, going out each day with the workers for the duration of the collection season.

“For me the aim is to get experience in as many different areas as I can, so that I can decide what kind of forestry work I want to do,” Hideki says.

“Our research can help the Brazil nut producers, so that they are more informed about what is happening in their concessions – and at the same time we are learning.”

Project leader Manuel Guariguata says the university has been very supportive.

“The students are applying what they learn in the classroom in the field. So we are giving them training in that regard, on how to quantify the weight of the harvest, the condition of the trees and other attributes,” he says.

University student Hideki Kohagura Arrunatogui works with harvester Serapio Condori Daza to weigh the Brazil nuts produced by one tree.  Marco Simola/ CIFOR

University student Hideki Kohagura Arrunatogui works with harvester Serapio Condori Daza to weigh the Brazil nuts produced by one tree. Marco Simola/ CIFOR

“We hope that they become more aware of the system they’re working in, as they’re the ones who are going to be making the decisions in the future.“

“It’s a dynamic process, it’s not only one-way – we’re learning from them, too,” he said.

Senior UNAMAD student Eriks Arroyo Quispe and CIFOR consultants Julia Quaedvlieg and Cara Rockwell supervise the students in the field.

“Many of them are quite young, 20, 21 – it’s their first professional experience,” Rockwell says.

“Some of the students have had experience in the concessions because their grandparents had concessions, or they came from small towns like Alegría and Alerta and are used to the Brazil nut culture. But some of them we really had to start from scratch,” she says.

“It’s not quite the same as working with forest engineers with several years of experience, there are certainly drawbacks, but I think it’s a really great thing that an organisation like CIFOR has a hand in the training of young people.”

“There are a lot of opportunities in Madre de Dios right now for young people coming out with a forest engineering degree.”

While the students are learning practical scientific skills like taking reliable measurements, and using GPS systems, they are also absorbing important lessons about working with communities.

“Hopefully one of the things that they get out of it as researchers is that especially when you’re working with community members, local people, it’s important to keep an open communication with them and discuss how they can apply the results of your research on the ground,” Rockwell says.

Cara Rockwell, Hideki Kohagura Arrunatogui and Eriks Arroyo Quispe take the measurements of a Brazil nut tree. Marco Simola/ CIFOR

Cara Rockwell, Hideki Kohagura Arrunatogui and Eriks Arroyo Quispe take the measurements of a Brazil nut tree. Marco Simola/CIFOR

“It’s a very timely research question. Not only is this going to be interesting information for the scientific community at large, but we also have a real desire to return these research results to people on the ground, so that they can be using them in their management plans.”

Rockwell says it’s also an opportunity for the students – and the CIFOR scientists – to learn things from the communities where they are working.

“We all have university degrees, and we put a lot of time and effort and tears into getting our degrees, we have the techniques and the background and we can analyse data.”

“But the people in these communities have been living in these forests for a very long time, so I think there are lot opportunities for collaboration and learning from each other,” she says.

To read more about the research the students are doing, click here.

For more information on issues discussed in this article, please contact Manuel Guariguata.

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by USAID.