June, 2014 – This June, the Palo Santo project was awarded the United Nations Development Programme’s 2014 Equator Prize alongside 25 innovative projects from around the globe. Awarded biennially, the Equator Prize recognizes outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity. This September, our Coordinator of Community Development, Bruno Paladines, will be attending the ceremony in New York to accept the prize alongside community members.
Situated within the newly created Bosque Seco Biosphere Reserve, the Palo Santo project is linking conservation, research and economic development to create jobs and improve local livelihoods while conserving biodiversity. Local people who are part of the Bolivar Tello Cano Community Association extract essential oils from the fruit of the palo santo tree, a species common in the unique but highly threatened dry forest, and sell them to cosmetic companies for use in perfume and other products. Community members harvest the palo santo fruit in a sustainable manner (collecting only 10% of the fruit from each tree), enabling them to benefit economically while preserving natural resources.
Since 2010, we have worked closely with the communities of Malvas, Chaquito, Paletillas de Malvas, and Totumos and the Technical University of Loja (UTPL) to develop this project. Previously, the community would cut down the entire palo santo tree in order to harvest the essential oils. However, after biologists from UTPL discovered the oil could be harvested directly from the fruit, we were able to advise the communities, which readily implemented this sustainable method. We have also helped the communities determine markets for the oil. Their biggest buyer is Natura, a Brazilian cosmetics company that sells Amor America perfume made from the oil of the palo santo fruit. With the resent designation of the biosphere reserve, we are continuing to build the capacity of local people to manage the dry forest’s natural resources.