Empowering women through sustainable crafts

Incomes have doubled in the communities where we’re working with indigenous women to produce sustainable handcrafts, while illegal and unsustainable forest activities have fallen dramatically.

In Peru’s Loreto region, communities with limited resources are turning to their natural environment for a sustainable source of income. The chambira artisanry project began in 2006 when we partnered with the regional government of Loreto to create the 1,050,201 acre Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area.

The chambira palm is abundant in the Peruvian Amazon, and its fiber can be used in a host of products, including the baskets that are designed and handmade by these local artisans. The fiber is carefully harvested, leaving the tree intact. We knew that by improving the local people’s ability to earn a living through the sustainable use of natural resources like chambira, they would protect the rainforest to ensure their livelihood.

In less than five years we worked with over 100 female artisans in seven communities and witnessed incomes double. Previously, the estimated income of one of these women was about $83 per month. But if she produces just a few baskets, like Dona Delilah Lopez of the El Chino community, she can earn $200 a month. In addition to the hundreds of acres reforested with chambira palm trees for sustainable development activities, we saw destructive and unsustainable practices such as illegal hunting and logging fall by nearly 80% in the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo RCA through the vigilance of volunteer park guards and management committees.

In 2009, after facilitating the creation of an independent company called “Mi Esperanza”, NCI’s U.S. office played a crucial role in the success of this program by helping the artisans market their baskets in the U.S., most notably at the San Diego Natural History Museum and the San Diego Zoo. Meanwhile, NCI’s regional office in Loreto trained the local artisans on the sustainable management of chambira, development of high quality products, and business management. Now, the seven artisan committees are being overseen by our in-country partner PROCREL (Program for the Conservation, Management and Sustainable Use of the Biodiversity of the Region of Loreto).

Read more about this program in its New York Times feature, “For Peruvians, Baskets for the U.S. Market Bring a New Way of Life”.