20 for 20: Açaí Safety Harnesses, a Practical Conservation Tool

Acai harness as a part of the sustainable forest products program by Amazon Conservation,part of 20 for 20 Years of Conservation Wins by Amazon ConservationDue to a misstep coming down the tree with a heavy branch of açaí in hand, Omar Espinoza, an açaí harvester, fell from a height of about 40 feet head first. He was gathering fruits to support his family and like many açaí harvesters, was climbing 10-15 açaí trees a day with heights reaching up to 65 feet to bring down bundles of açaí weighing dozens of pounds.

Thanks to one of the features in our newly developed safety harnesses distributed earlier in the year, Omar’s misstep was not fatal and due to the harness’s aptly named “life line”, he was stopped from hitting the ground. Instead Omar just dangled from the harness, his head a few feet above the forest floor. Using the harness he had before this project would have meant a certain fall. Had it not been for this new equipment, he would have faced severe and debilitating injuries or possibly, death.

These harnesses are a practical conservation tool because they promote (and improve the safety of) forest-friendly livelihoods such as the sustainable gathering of brazil nuts and acai berries. These activities are safer, more profitable, and encourage conservation of standing forests compared to activities such as gold mining, logging, or agriculture, which results in forest habitats being cleared.

For many years now, we have been working with açaí and Brazil nut harvesters who depend on the Santa Rosa de Abuná conservation area and have helped improve how harvesters locate, gather, and process the forest goods they sustainably harvest. This is a key conservation and community development strategy for providing local people with the incentive to keep forests standing, as many of the globally in-demand fruits and nuts they harvest can only grow in healthy forests – not in large-scale plantations. With this strategy in mind, we help families improve their income by growing their local economies through instituting ecologically sustainable activities that protect the forests they call home.

This story is part of a series commemorating our 20th anniversary protecting the Amazon. We’re celebrating this milestone with a look back at our 20 biggest conservation wins over the past 20 years. Click here to help create more life saving tools that help local harvesters in the Amazon.

Building a sustainable forest-based economy for the Amazon

By strengthening community-based enterprises and improving safety through innovation, we help grow local economies and advance conservation.

acai berriesThe Amazon’s ecosystems provide an array of vital services to the region and the world as a whole, and they are home to millions of people who rely on the forest for their livelihoods. In Bolivia, we have been working closely with communities in and around the 420,000-acre Santa Rosa del Abuná conservation area who rely on harvesting Brazil nuts and açaí from their forests. Through improving their capacity to sustainably manage these highly productive forests and building the business side of their harvesting activities, we are helping the people of Santa Rosa and nature thrive.

For the last few years we have helped Santa Rosa communities grow their sustainable production to 3 tons of açaí berries. These communities derive income from the açaí berry, the popular “super food” often found in juices and smoothies. Açaí is harvested each year from April to November, complementing the harvest of Brazil nuts that takes place from December to March. Mario Aguada, one of our local experts, heeds the economic importance of harvesting both products: “If one of the two has a poor season, families don’t lose their income for the year. It will be a harder year, but they can still earn some income harvesting the other.”

harvesting acai berriesThis year, we helped improve the processing and storage of açaí, which is increasing incomes and giving these small producers more control in the market. By improving the capacity to efficiently and sanitarily process the berries and then freeze them, they are able to sell directly to buyers instead of middle-men, leaving more money with the community.  

This achievement has required innovation. To make harvesting safer and more efficient, in 2019, we provided 100 new climbing safety harnesses to five Santa Rosa communities. These were based on a prototype that we invented, tested and patented with community members to meet the rigorous needs in the field. To harvest açaí, harvesters need to climb up to 65 feet, scaling 10 to 15 trees daily to gather bundles of fruit weighing 20 to 30 pounds. Carefully balancing the heavy fruit laden branches while safely lowering themselves to the ground, makes this a difficult and dangerous job. 

These harnesses have already proved their value. Omar Espinoza was using the new harness  when he made a misstep coming down a tree with a heavy branch of açaí in hand, falling from a height of over 40 feet, head first. Thanks to our safety harness he was stopped from hitting the ground where he would have faced severe injuries or possibly, death without it.

Our progress this year has reinforced our hope that we can take this system to production across millions of acres across the Bolivian and Peruvian, and that it’s possible to build a true forest-based economy for the Amazon. This forest-friendly enterprise provides families an alternative to clearing and burning forests, instead working to improve their quality of life through sustainable means.

This was a story from our 2019 Impact Report. Click here to read about other conservation successes from 2019.