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September 12, 2014

Harvest of Little-Known Amazon Fruit Threatens Global Environment
JICA works to change local practices for gathering the aguaje as it begins to draw international attention as a health food


The harvest of a little-known fruit from the Amazon is a threat to the global environment, and changing the way it is gathered holds the potential to help slow global warming.

Iquitos, Peru, is a gateway to the northern Amazon rainforest. And in Iquitos, there is a ping-pong-ball-sized fruit of the palm family called an aguaje that is popular with all ages and genders. It is a precious source of vitamins for locals.

Iquitos locals eat the yellow, watery flesh between the the scaly, purplish red skin and the white seed. Aguaje fruits have a gentle texture and not much taste but a slight sourness and bitterness. The price is seven for one sol (40 yen).

Aguaje fruits also contain phytoestrogen, which has properties like those of female hormones, and tocopherol, which has anti-aging properties, and the oil taken from their fruit serves as a hair tonic. It is said that French cosmetics companies are showing an interest in aguaje fruits.

However the trees bearing that aguaje fruit are in decline. Aguaje trees can grow to be more than 20 meters tall, and they are customarily cut down to harvest the fruit in Peru. As a result, many of the aguaje trees near villages have been cut down.

Aguaje trees grow in peatlands and have excellent carbon accumulation capacity. For that reason, harvesting aguaje releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, which is linked to global warming.

Peru's Amazon rainforest area has more than 5 million hectares of peatland, and it is estimated to have the second largest peatlands in the world. They are almost all of the type aguaje trees grow on, and when aguaje trees are cut down, the peat loses its ability to hold water and moisture and CO2 begins to be released into the atmosphere.

As the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference approaches, JICA is also focusing on this problem. Preventing the deforestation and degradation of forests to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and prevent global warming (Reduction of Emission from Deforestation and Degradation: REDD+) is now being held up as an important theme, and in response to a request by the Peruvian government, which aims to promote REDD+, JICA has dispatched experts from Japan for a local survey to prevent the reckless deforestation of tropical rainforest by locals. As part of that, JICA is conducting a survey aimed at creating villages where local can live in harmony with nature through such methods as harvesting aguaje without felling their trees.

*The contents of this story is a summary of a story included in the below newsletter (in Japanese).


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