Project activities

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Working alongside community

The Huarango festival

Huarango festival Click image to find out about the 2012 Huarango Festival!

Huarango festivalThe Huarango Festival (now in its sixth year) is organised in April over three days to coincide with the Huarango pod harvest. This popular family event is attended by several thousand people and attracts wide local press coverage. The regional government has been supportive following its establishment by the project, declaring the festival for official inclusion in the municipal regional calendar.

Themes at the festival include: sustainable products, desert ecology, exhibitions about local natural history and biodiversity, competitions and prizes for poetry and drawing, music, theatre and story telling. Food products made from the Huarango pod harvest are demonstrated by local producers including ice cream, cakes, biscuits, flours, coffee, marmalade, chicha (fermented brew) and stews.

Educational activities focus on native plants and include demonstration of species grown for exhibition. The key native tree species are now established in a small botanical garden in the festival grounds at INC. There is an exhibition of seeds from local plants Huarango pods from varieties known in the region, to highlight the importance of seed conservation and exchange. Huarango seedlings from productive tree varieties are distributed during this event.

The large educational banners on local biodiversity are displayed (tied to trees), with local students giving talks to a series of school groups, reaching several hundred school children on the Friday. Other entertainment is provided by a merry-go-round and fairground rides for younger children. The Festival hosts well known music groups for the younger generation, and provides Andean folkloric music and traditional dancing.

Tree and shrub planting

Planting native trees in IcaA useful tree planting scheme was developed in over thirty schools with several thousand children taking part. Ecological brigades were formed to champion tree planting and aftercare, both in school grounds and homes. A planting programme continues in villages and suburbs in collaboration with local councils and regional government,.with support from Trees for Cities.

Training is provided by the team members with agricultural and horticultural skills, based at the plant nursery. The tree planting was developed in response to requests by local people and government agencies.  The project provides plants and technical advice for productive varieties including Huarango (Prosopis limensis), Pacay (Inga feuillei), Tara (Tara spinosa) and Espino (Acacia macracantha) to provide sources of food, fuel, soil improvement and ultimately income. When sufficient water is available, local-provenance fruit trees, although more costly to produce, are co-planted when requested including species such as Lucuma (Pouteria lucuma) and Guava (Psidium guajava). Local native and endemic shrubs were selected on the basis of association within native reference vegetation. Cahuato (Tecoma fulva ssp. guarume), Toñuz (Pluchea chingoyo) and Perlillo (Vallesia glabra) are planted to improve microclimatic conditions and provide for biodiversity, including biocontrol species.  These shrubs have medicinal uses that are appreciated locally.

The prerequisite for successful planting is water availability, preferably from river irrigation canals but often from mains supply. The program uses domestic waste water (including ‘bucket in the shower’ collection) and seasonal irrigation to water trees when possible.

Finding groups of enthusiastic individuals who would like plant useful native trees is thankfully easy in Ica, but tree planting alone is no guarantee of survival, especially in this arid area. Monitoring and aftercare are crucial. The other key factor for tree survival is soil quality, which is usually poor or saline in the free marginal areas. Specialist techniques of subsoil planting, watering, and soil improvement were developed from the establishment trials, including techniques for planting in saline conditions.

The project made detailed studies of previous reforestation attempts in Ica, taking species and size measurements and excavating root systems to assess criteria for success. The project outlined and illustrated the most successful technique in its guide.  Experience grows as the team continues to plant ten to fifteen thousand trees per year with communities and agriculture in challenging conditions. The project team in Ica now provides seedlings and technical advice to a range of other government bodies and social responsibility organisations.

Providing the right information

Vegetation at HuarangalThe great majority of people in Ica (over 400,000) are first-generation migrants arriving without access to information about the local ecosystem and the sustainable resources it can provide. The promotion of native plants (adapted to local conditions) is challenged by the common misunderstanding by influential sectors of society that 'native plants' are associated with poverty, when of course quite the reverse is true, as native plants provide a sustainable future.

The project published two books designed to work together: Plantas y Vegetación de Ica - Un recurso para restauración y conservación and it's sister book Sembrando un Futuro - Restauración y manejo sostenible de los bosques y naturaleza de Ica, Perú. These richly illustrated volumes are designed to fill a knowledge gap. They are written in Spanish (with Quechua headings) in a non-technical language and with a glossary.

The books explain local ecology and restoration concepts and practice, whilst illustrating the region's biodiversity. They include a guide to identification of all the key plant species and vegetation types of Ica with over 800 photographs and illustrations. They are designed to appeal to everybody including students, whilst being useful for landowners and government agencies as well as non-reading sections of the population. The vegetation types are described in sections with their key species and the beneficial ecosystem roles they provide. Cultural connections are shown in a 'strip' that runs through the book with shots of newspaper clippings, iconic species, archaeological artefacts, u-tube links and people.

Both books are presently being included in the official environmental curriculum of Ica. The project team is working with 36 schools and 90 teachers of environmental education.

Sustainable products

Huarango pods

Huarango podsThe Huarango trees of Ica produce two crops of pods per year: a large one in April and smaller one in October. The production is prolific: a tree 20-70 years old can produce 50-150 kg of pods per year depending on the pollination and seasonal conditions. The sweet yellow pods (known as huaranga) are so nutritious they are considered a 'complete' food, containing high levels of carbohydrate and protein as well as vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, folic acid and minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron). They have been used for human food for at least 7,000 years, and in pre-Columbian times sometimes provided an estimated 50% of the diet for local populations.

In the dry forests of Northern Peru the pods of the Algarrobo tree (Prosopis juliflora and Prosopis pallida), which are similar to the Huarango (Prosopis limensis), are still used to make a variety of products. The Project began training enthusiastic women's group in Ica by visiting a number of pod processing communities and cottage industries in the Piura and Tambogrande region.

Honey

Many species of Prosopis (the tree genus of which Huarango is a member) are excellent honey producers, considered by some experts to be of the highest quality. However, the relict forests of Ica are generally species-poor and honey production from a single nectar-producing plant is difficult, as bee hives must be moved to provide nectar throughout the year. Nevertheless, in one of the project's reforestation areas (Samaca), organic farming practices have left thick borders of native species around the fields, especially Chilco (Baccharis lanceolata) and Pajaro bobo (Tessaria integrifolia) as well as shrubby species like Toñuz (Pluchea chingoyo) and Lucraco (Waltheria ovata). Together with ith Huarango and Espino (Acacia macracantha), these provide nectar and pollen for profitable year-round beekeeping without moving hives.

The project also studied honey production from native stingless bees (Meliponines). A capacity-building course in Piura, northern Peru (DarwinNet) provided training for an Ica beekeeper in their management. Stingless bees have relatively low productivity but their honey has a high market value due to its medicinal and nutritional properties, anmd they are comparatively easy to manage.  Sadly these bees are in decline due to insecticide use and lack of investment, so funding opportunities are being sought in northern Peru.

Miskyhuaranga

Huarango products at festivalIn 2006 the project supported the establishment of a small Huarango products company called Miskyhuaranga associated with a network of family pod producers. The aim was for the pod suppliers to work as a co-operative, investing in the company with labour or pods. However, most producers needed the cash for the pod crop that could otherwise be sold readily for forage. Miskyhuaranga purchased the crop (in very short supply at the tyime due to insect plagues), paying extra for the cleanest pods and providing training and advice to producers.

The project trialled production of pod syrup, sweet meal flour and a coffee substitute. Miskyhuaranga opted to produce flour made from the finest sieved fraction of milled pods, as well as a coffee substitute made from the toasted coarser sieved fraction (30% of original weight).   The pod flour has the advantage over the syrup of llower energy demands for processing.

The project teamed up with a small but efficient local industrial milling plant. The process development was problematic due the high sugar content of the pods which caused the flour to solidify.  Eventually several drying stages allowed efficient milling. The resulting pod flour was sieved into 3 fractions: (i) fine sweet flour (mesocarp), (ii) coarse 'bran' (exocarp), (iii) tough 'bran' of seed packet (endocarp). The seeds where also milled with the flour as they are exceptionally high in protein and nutritionally rich.

Permit issuing authorities required detailed description of the product as it was the first time it had come to market from southern Peru.  The pod product was sent for analysis in preparation for sale on the open market, and was initially found above regulatory limits for microbial contamination. This was thought to be due to producers collecting pods where domestic animals were free ranging. The analysis was repeated after washing the pods in disinfected water and rinsing, whilst harvesting hygiene was improved. The washing required further drying but energy was saved using a solar drier. Microbial levels then satisfied the phytosanitory permits for sale of the flour.

The Project designed a logo and label, and Miskyhuaranga sold the product in Lima. In Ica it was sold during promotional events, in local shops and at the Huarango festival. However most successfully the flour was made into cakes and sold in corner shops and at tree planting events. The coffee substitute was made simply by pan-toasting the coarser sieved fraction, and sold in packets.

Miskyhuaranga did not recover all the investment in the first year. The group has been contacted by ice-cream manufacturers and investors, but is still seeking microfinance to expand the company with several products. The group continues to train teachers and children in local schools in processing of pods and several schools are now producing their own products. Miskyhuaranga found that capacity building is essential, especially for insect plague management, harvest, storage and hygiene, to enable pod producers to maintain quality of production.  Marketing can be the highest single cost, but local radio provides an effective way to spread the word.