Colombian Farmers Introduce Amazonian Gold to the World

Jhon MuAoz cuts open a green cacay fruit with his pocket knife, smiling as its three little pods drop into his soilsodden palm. MuAoz, 41, manages a 1090acre cacay fruit farm in Colombia's Orinoquia region, where he makes a living with this uncommon, yet multipurpose tree that is native to the area.

MuAoz' previously worked an entrylevel job at Kahai, a company in Villavicencio that was just starting to explore whether developing the commercial uses of the cacay nut could make for a viable business. After 10 years of working his way up the ranks, MuAoz now manages Kahai operations in rural Puerto Gaitan, looking after over 100,000 cacay trees.

The cacay fruit, similar in appearance to a lime on the outside, has three segmented nuts which can be consumed after processing or made into a nutritive flour or milk. The fruit also produces an oil, dubbed 'Amazonian gold', which is used for cosmetic purposes. The nut's high content of vitamin A (retinol), vitamin E and vitamin F (linoleic acid) is said to have antiaging properties.

Today, the company exports 3 tons of cacay oil worldwide to markets, including the United States, UK, South Korea, France, Spain, Australia, Canada and Thailand. Prices for high quality cacay oil are significant, with just 1 oz of cacay oil in the US often retailing at over $30.

We're the first area in the world to do it on a big scale, says Kahai's agricultural technician, Henry Sanchez. We're taking a Colombian nut from our biodiversity, from the Orinoquia and the Amazon, to the world.

The company hopes to expand its exports in the coming few years, but they will need help to get there with regards to growing volumes, expanding their processing capacity, and securing new markets.

Cracking the nut market

The cacay crop is introducing a profitable livelihood alternative to illicit production that has been identified as a driver of deforestation across the Orinoquia region. The potential for stable and higher income streams can also motivate farming communities to further conserve the local environment. This is exactly why Colombia is looking at how it can help scale up cacay farms such as Kahai.

The country's recently launched program with the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL) is focused on promoting sustainable agricultural production to help reduce emissions from the land use sector.

The biggest challenges we face are carrying out the analysis we need to prove cacay products are safe for consumption, and gaining better access to the international nut market. This is where the ISFL program could really help us get to the next level, says Sanchez.

Colombia's ISFL program is catalyzing partnerships between the government and private sector in the Orinoquia region to promote and scale up sustainable business practices, and to reward sustainability through payments for reducing emissions.

The ISFL program in Orinoquia is tapping into a growing commitment among farmers and companies here to restore degraded lands from cattle grazing, and produce in an environmentallyfriendly way, says Franka Braun, Senior Natural Resource Management Specialist and ISFL manager in Colombia. The initiative is providing an opportunity to promote a naturebased economy in the Orinoquia region, one of the remaining agricultural frontiers in the world.

We are very optimistic that this BioCarbon Fund work will make a critical difference to this important region by both protecting the environment, while directly assisting communities in improving their livelihoods, adds Braun.

Source: The World Bank

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