This is a story about a small bean that grew into a great big enterprise.
No, this isn’t “Jack and the Beanstalk.” And perhaps the best thing about this tale is that it leads to a garden on Earth – not a castle in the sky.
The story takes place in the Caura River basin in Venezuela’s Bolivar State, the third largest in the country, spreading across an area of over 4.5 million hectares and considered to be of the most pristine of the world’s remaining river basins.
Challenges and Opportunities
In an attempt to protect the region’s high biodiversity and mostly intact forest, the government declared the basin a Forest Reserve. There is a proposal for a management plan that will allow its continued conservation, but logging continues to be a threat.
Increasing pressure from agricultural expansion and illegal logging has turned forest into savannah, threatening the ecological integrity of the Caura.
The basin is home to indigenous peoples and Criollo communities, many of whom have migrated from other regions of the country in search of work. One of the natural resources that Criollo communities – the newcomers – from the lower part of the basin have traditionally harvested are Tonka beans (Dipteryx punctata), which are much sought after by the perfume industry.
The challenge was to convince the communities that it was in their own best economic interest to protect the biodiversity and the forests, and contain the agricultural expansion. Forest loss would be felt locally and at distances greatly removed, as carbon emissions into the atmosphere increased.
A New Agreement
Unfortunately, the bean had lost its magic for the younger generations, because the sarrapia, as it’s known in Venezuela, has not been so commercially attractive.
For Conservation International (CI), the situation seemed ideal for a conservation agreement, which provides local stakeholders with community benefits and economic incentives in exchange for their agreement to help conserve high priority areas.
So, partnering with Swiss-based Givaudan, a fragrance and flavor company, CI arranged an agreement that will protect the forests and benefit the inhabitants. CI and the community’s council, with the support of the company Cerbatana and the Ministry of the Environment of Venezuela, have identified an area of 88,000 hectares that will be protected and managed by the 64 families in the community of Aripao.
IN PHOTOS: See the success of the Tonka Bean.
Givaudan, the world’s largest user of the bean, has thus far agreed to purchase Tonka beans from Aripao as part of the agreement, with the total quantity yet to be agreed upon.
Pride in Community Conservation
Finding the bean inside the oval yellow mango-type fruits from the trees is once again a source of pride.
“When they get married, each family starts cultivating the sarrapia,” says Aripao resident Judith Tovar. “For many years people are used to living from this sarrapia. And today, I live as well from it because I harvest the sarrapia a lot.”
Families will continue harvesting and cultivating sarrapia, but the agreement protects the forest – the source of higher quality native wild sarrapia – which will meet the demands of the new market.
This project not only positions the sarrapia as a commercially attractive product, but it also revives a traditional way of life and promotes family interaction during harvesting, says Patricia Zurita, senior director of CI’s Conservation Stewards program.
“Conservation is about preserving the health of the planet,” she adds.
Securing local livelihoods while keeping forests intact gives the woody, vanilla-like Tonka bean the sweet smell of success. For Givaudan, it is a pillar of their Innovative Naturals global sourcing program.
Says Givaudan perfumer Guillaume Flavigny, “It’s a long chain of respect for nature that we share.”
READ MORE: Many companies are making smarter choices when they source their materials.