Hello all! My second stop in Peru was in Madre de Dios — the heart of the Amazon rainforest. As we drove to the Alliance for Sustainable Amazon’s field station, I saw roads of papaya farms. I noted the expansion of monoculture into the biodiverse rainforest surrounding the region. According to ASA, Madre de Dios is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. However, major threats to the region include illegal gold mining and timber logging, which is uncontrolled and unregulated. A second major challenge, according to ASA, is the expansion of the agricultural frontier. With the completion of a new highway in the region, loggers have invaded the rainforests along its margins, and once the valuable timber has been extracted, the forest is often cleared for cattle pasture or agriculture. A wave of papaya plantations has recently gripped the region, as mentioned before. However, with the increases in papaya production have come drastic drops in prices. Many farmers are currently looking for alternatives and ways to make money during this hard time, and help is needed to create empowering programs that can aid farmers before they turn to illegal logging and mining for income. Most of the papaya farmers in the region have been letting the papaya fall to the ground to rot because the prices are too low to harvest, so they were very generous in letting us have a taste. The picture below features one of the naturalists from ASA enjoying a papaya. Also, make sure to look closely at the technique of the planting into the background. Many of these fields have become ridden with disease because of monoculture, or single fruit tree planting. We were lucky to find a healthy papaya for breakfast, but understood the dangers of such a practice.
There is a need to introduce sustainable agriculture into the region that will not harm the areas natural wonders while also empowering farm workers. I had the privilege of helping ASA complete an analysis of cacao for the region. The local government has encouraged the introduction of cacao as an alternative to papaya, and I helped to evaluate their proposed programs. In addition to data collection from governments, I was able to do fieldwork to understand how small farmers are feeling about these issues.
The sight I stayed on was beautiful. I enjoyed watching the sunset from my window (usually around 5pm, something I wasn’t used to). Some of the tallest trees were brazil nuts. I was shocked to see how big the seedpods were. I was warned not to walk under them during season, as they might cause a head injury when they drop. In the pictures below, the tallest tree on the left is a brazil nut and a brazil nut seedpod.
My housing at ASA was a wooden hut featured in the picture below. There was no running water, and our shower was a lovely stream. It was great to completely disconnect from modern technology such as my phone and laptop and truly experience the wonders of the area. I found that it was good to have a deck of cards for nights at the field station, and was happy I had brought along a harmonica for after dinner music. We ate by candle light in the nighttime, and used headlamps to navigate our way back to the sleeping area.
I wrote a poem found below that explains very simply some of my daily experiences:
Dampness molds what nature allows
The circus of circumstance
The ingenuity of the human
On the streets with no name
Where anything can be built
I had two hands
Each with a papaya
Walking the mile back from Planchon to the kitchen
Sassy the dog
Jumped eager at my feet
Holding memories of
Chickens past and table scraps
The sun sets early
A deep mist congregates around the canopy of the Brazil nut trees
Big enough to share
I am tangled in the mesh
Of the mosquito net
Thinking of the cacao
Planned to cover the grasses around my hut
Thinking of the woman
Selling ice-cream in Plaza de Armas
I had a wonderful time with the other researchers and naturalists on sight, here is a picture of us on my last day.
Thank you to the Alliance for Sustainable Amazon for housing me and allowing me to volunteer with you. If anyone is interested in ASA please have a look at their website for more information. They offer volunteer programs, internship programs, and various jungle expeditions.
Please stay tuned for my next post on Lithuania. I look forward to bringing you along with me to this wonderful place, and sharing what it is like to live on a small farm in the rural areas of the country. In addition, if you or anyone you know is willing to donate to my research experience, please see my go fund me page linked below. Travel based research is costly, and any help is greatly appreciated.