Bunches of bananas line the fairground as families and friends from across the Manu region gather to sell their produce, swap gossip, and dance the night away.
The fair is a cultural mix of indigenous groups and Andean colonists, who started moving from the mountains to the Amazon about 50 years when there were government grants to buy cheap land.
People set up homes here to take advantage of the rainforest’s wealth of natural resources – mining for gold and gas, logging for timber, converting the forest into agricultural land for crops and cattle rearing.
Bananas are the most exported crop in the region and they form the economic backbone of many communities. Selling bananas is the main way that many people feed their families but sadly this causes a huge environmental problem.
Our stall in the centre of the fair aimed to inform and inspire people about our scientific research and environmental education programmes, as well as our community work supporting organic vegetable gardens and agroforestry plots.
By helping local producers establish agroforestry plots, here at the Crees Foundation we’re finding solutions to reducing the environmental impact of the most important crop in the region.
But why is growing bananas so environmentally damaging? Based on their Andean farming traditions, many people use slash and burn, a hugely damaging agricultural practice of clear cutting and burning the land. This destroys all the nutrients in the soil so after a few seasons the producers are forced to move to a new plot of land and further into the rainforest. This is contributing to the massive deforestation problem that we have here in the Manu Biosphere Reserve
We provide loans and technical support for producers who want to move away from this practice and set up agroforestry plots, whereby they grow banana plants among a variety of hard and soft wood trees.
This provides a more complex habitat for wildlife, keeps the nutrients in the soil, as well as providing the community with quick financial gain through selling bananas and long term financial gain through selling timber.
The concept was the brainchild of local man, Reynaldo Ochoa, who works for Crees to help more people in his community farm sustainability.
“We are in the process of improving the quality of life of farmers, with systems like agroforestry”, said Reynaldo. “The motivation is to generate more income for producers while putting a higher value on what the forest can give us.”
Reynaldo would like to see his community move away from environmentally destructive agricultural practices so that both nature and people can thrive.
“Nature can teach us a lot of interesting things”, said Reynaldo. “Human beings don’t know how to observe and value these things in a way that allows us to progress.”
The Banana Fair was an opportunity to share this vision with communities across the Manu Biosphere Reserve so that together we can work towards a sustainable Amazon.