Sustainability innovation in all Latin America: Our contest winners


By Karina Bautista

We want to share exciting good news: An inspiring palette of diverse sustainable initiatives in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, reached out  to Canopy Bridge in response to our call to find innovative approaches to sustainability in the region. From Maya and Brazil Nuts, to jungle hostels and adventure tourism -with cocoa mucilage, honey, ishpink and chocolate bars in between– side of bamboo construction, goat ranching, Amazon essential oils, shampoos and soaps, and finally, energy efficient wood stoves, timber management and traditional amazon health tourism to top it off. Our contest “Forest Economies: Supporting Indigenous communities and Sustainable Producers in Latin America” was conceived with the intention of discovering and recognizing sustainability efforts regardless of its focus, discipline, technique or sector, hence the requirements for entry were only that the initiative support tropical forest conservation and the improvement of livelihoods. Surpassing our expectations, over 60 initiatives registered to participate, with 37 sending in applications.

And it has been a sincere delight to get to know these responsible efforts working to support indigenous communities and sustainable producers. From family ventures to established international enterprises and NGOs, not only are we confirming that there is a growing wave of sustainability focused efforts, but also that these are happening at all scales throughout the American continent.

However, along with the excitement of discovering and getting to know these initiatives came the challenge of choosing a winner. Since the contest deadline for application last April 29th, seven judges from Canopy Bridge, Forest Trends, EDF and Ecotore Brazil have read the written material, watched videos and pictures sent by participants, and interviewed finalists. At each meeting the discussion came to the same conclusion: these are all great initiatives and all are worthy of recognition and support.

So the 8 finalists: Naku, Chankuap, AIDER, ACOFOP, APE Pimental, Ecoaldeas, RUNA and Eca-Amarakaeri, coming from Ecuador, Peru, and Guatemala, are truly remarkable:


Chankuap a Shuar Indigenous initiative has created an alternative sustainable source of income for its community by processing amazon plants into a superb line of body care products.

NAKU is rescuing traditional healing knowledge, long conserved within the Sapara indigenous culture, through a Sapara indigenous-run healing center for chronic illnesses.

APE Pimental has recovered community soils and economies within the Peruvian jungle through the development of agroforestry systems and the commercialization of native chillies, now linked to sustainable gastronomy efforts on a national scale.

Ecoaldeas approaches innovation in conservation through the creation of new adventure tourism routes that involve indigenous communities and their off- the-beaten-track territories.

The RUNA foundation, having developed a sustainable supply chain for guayusa, is embarking on the production of new rainforest products to support more farming communities in the Amazon basin.

AIDER has supported Shipibo Conibo indigenous communities for over a decade, helping them to keep their forest standing by developing an association and the capacity to sustainably extract timber.

ACOFOP is a community based organization that has sustainably managed over a half a million hectares next to the Maya Biosphere Reserve for over 15 years, and is commercializing sustainably harvested Maya Nut, not only for its positive contribution as an income alternative that relies on standing, conserved forest, but also for its superb nutritional benefits.


And finally…the radiant winner: Eca Amarakaeri: Ten communities from the Hakbut, Yine and Machiguenga ethnicities, who after almost a decade of negotiations with the Peruvian State have achieved official recognition of their territory as a Communal Reserve. The Eca Amarakaeri Communal Reserve encompasses over 400,000 hectares of forest and is now co-managed by the indigenous communities and State Representatives. Their winning innovation is the sustainable recollection of brazil nuts, an effort from Eca Amarakaeri to develop and establish stable income-generating activities that can counteract illegal timber extraction, mining, and other activities threatening the Amazon rainforest. Not only does the initiative provide an alternative source of income, but it also helps promote the value of  standing forests. Its multiple benefits go way beyond generating income, yet proving further still that the latter CAN come without the need for deforestation.

Untitled1Eca Amarakaeri will use the prize of $5000 to hire a consultant with the technical capacity needed to extend the territory in which the communities sustainably harvest brazil nuts. Specifically, this means identifying trees, creating trails, mapping and incorporating all of the above into sustainable management plans. Currently only 3 of the 10 communities involved are included in the 1700 hectares that are ready for sustainable brazil nut extraction. The prize will help extend these areas along with  the benefits of the productive  activity that they make possible.  

Marcio Halla, one of the contest judges couldn’t have said it better:

The innovation shown by Eco Amarakaeri is so strong because the initiative is a new one in terms of its legal and institutional establishment, because of its high potential to be replicated, and its prominent role in the community… Their proposal for the use of the funds granted by the prize is an excellent one, with potential to contribute greatly, and to proportionally increase its positive impacts.”

Like I said before, it has been truly inspiring to see such brilliant action across so many countries, sectors, ethnicities and scales. We are not only working on a second edition of this contest, but also on developing different ways in which we can support more than just one winner, because, like I said before, all the initiatives we found,– as well as the many I am sure are still beyond our knowledge–are truly worth our support and the support of the global consumers that Canopy Bridge can connect them to.

This contest is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Canopy Bridge and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.”

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We would also like to thank Conservation International, Galapagos for their generous support throughout this process. 

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Eca Amarakaeri







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