Building sustainable communities in the Rainforest

Sustainability: Ecology & Environment

Over the past 40 years, half of the world’s rainforest has been destroyed and the main cause, according to environmental charity Cool Earth, is poverty. Aiming to halt the onward march of deforestation, Cool Earth works alongside indigenous villages on the frontline, before they are forced to sell their trees to the loggers. By enabling local people become strong, self-determining communities, Cool Earth is helping them take control of their forest and keep the trees standing.

Saving the rainforest is not a new idea, but research shows that this community-led partnership approach is the most effective. And that is why Prologis has supported Cool Earth since 2010 as part of our embodied carbon mitigation programme.

The focus of our work with Cool Earth has been in Peru’s Ene Valley, which is home to the Ashaninka. This is one of the world’s most at-risk areas, with illegal logging and coca farming destroying the forest. However, Cool Earth is now working with 16 Ashaninka villages, who are not only protecting their own trees, but also forming a shield protecting millions of acres of neighbouring rainforest from loggers.

Beautiful ashaninka rainforest in Peru, South America

Food Growing Revolution

As the Cool Earth partnerships grow and the villages thrive, there is increasing pressure on the rainforest to provide food. Traditionally, families have cleared trees to create an area for cultivation.  But, the fertility of forest soil is created by the mulch of rotting leaves, so once the trees have been removed, the soil is stripped of its nutrients. After a few years, food crops fail and local people are forced to clear another area of ground.

Families in the Ashaninka partnership were keen to find out how they could continue to grow food without damaging the rainforest, so Cool Earth arranged a trip for community representatives to the Inga Foundation in Honduras so that they could learn about a revolutionary system of improving crop yields sustainably using the Inga tree.  

The Inga grows straight and fast, so it is valuable as a building material and fuel source, but its most useful quality by far is fixing nitrogen in the soil to maintain fertility. So, planting rows of Inga trees keeps crops supplied with nutrients, while also building leaf mulch and much needed shade. Existing plots remain fertile for years, meaning plenty of food without harming the rainforest.

A crop of Inga trees

Rainforest Jewellery

Building livelihoods that depend on the forest is the best way to protect it in the long-term and one of the enterprises that Cool Earth supports in the Amazon is artisan jewellery making. In northern Peru, women in Cool Earth’s Awajun partnership have formed ‘Amarno’, an association that began with five women collecting seeds together and is now making a significant income from its rainforest jewellery designs.

Cool Earth has helped ‘Amarno’ by providing accountancy and marketing training. It has also arranged for representatives from ‘Amarno’ to travel 500 miles south to share their skills and experience with the Ashaninka. A group of Ashaninka women have launched ‘Jeto’, their very own artisan jewellery and textiles cooperative and with the help of the ‘Amarno’ women, they hope to emulate their success.

As we are learning from Cool Earth, there are a great many aspects to saving the rainforest. So far, the charity has protected nearly 650,000 acres and we are delighted to have a long-term partnership with such an effective organisation.