The humble ramón nut: a sustainable livelihood for the women of the Petén

Grecia Magdalena López, president of the Ramón Nut Value Chain Committee

Grecia Magdalena López, president of the Ramón Nut Value Chain Committee

By Laura Jamison, Rainforest Alliance

The ramón nut, a nutrient-rich tree seed, once grew in the rainforests of Petén, Guatemala, virtually unnoticed. “We didn’t place any value on the ramón nut; it grew in the forest and that’s where it stayed,” says Grecia Magdalena López, who lives in one of Petén’s rainforest communities. “But now we see that it’s a very important resource, one that brings employment to the women of our communities.”

The shift in the way local people view the ramón nut came as a result of the Rainforest Alliance, says López, who is now president of the Ramón Nut Value Chain Committee. She and other women from the seven communities in the region began attending Rainforest Alliance training in 2012, where they learned to process the ramón nut into a vitamin and protein-rich flour, which they now sell locally and export. It is most commonly used in beverages. Today, the women are sustainably harvesting and processing ramón nuts to bring in much-needed income for their families. Because of this, they have become fierce protectors of the forest ecosystem in which the ramón tree grows.

“The current market value of tropical forests is very low – this is ultimately why these forests are disappearing,” says Patricia Orantes, Rainforest Alliance director of the climate, nature and communities program in Guatemala. “Developing sustainable value chains for non-timber products like ramón nuts enables rural people to increase their incomes in a way that maintains their forests.”

Ramón nut tree

Ramón nut tree

Individual communities in the area had begun to harvest and sell raw, green ramón nuts some years ago, but it wasn’t until the Rainforest Alliance, with logistical support from the Association of Forest communities of Petén (ACOFOP) held training sessions in 2012 that the women learned to take full advantage of the nut’s value. “We learned to process it – to dry it and make it into ramón nut flour – and to make it into cakes, tamales, soups and hot and cold beverages,” López says. These products fetch much higher prices than the raw nuts. In the workshops, the women also learned about the ramón nut’s nutritional value: it is high in protein, vitamins A, B, C and E, as well as calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, folates, and fiber. Not only do the women use the nut to boost their household incomes, they also use it to feed their own families. “It’s a great supplement for pregnant women,” López says. “And it’s particularly good for women who are nursing, as it provides a lot of nutrients for their babies.”

Now the Ramón Nut Value Chain Committee, which is made up entirely of women, works as a group to boost incomes and share resources. “When we were selling the raw ramón nut individually, we were paid 1 Quetzal ($0.13) per pound. But once we came together as a committee, we started earning 3 Quetzales per pound. Last year we achieved an even better price of 3.50 Quetzales per pound, so we believe that this year we will attain an even better price,” López says. “Another reason we need to work together as a committee is that we know that’s the only way we can afford the machinery we need for processing.”

The Rainforest Alliance’s Patricia Orantes points out that the benefits of women working in these communities extend far beyond income. “When you have 60 women in a community of 170 families receiving a steady flow of income from the sustainable management of ramón nut, a wonderful virtuous cycle begins: greater economic independence brings increased women empowerment, and with it, greater investments in health, education, and women’s participation in decision-making. It is like doubling the community’s development efforts.”

The Ramón Nut Value Chain Committee is now reaching out to others in the region, sharing its expertise in hopes of building an even more extensive infrastructure. “One of our dreams is to create a headquarters, where we could have all the machinery and all the equipment, and that’s where all of our product would be processed,” López says. “There’s a great demand for it.”

Members of the Ramón Nut Value Chain Committee

Members of the Ramón Nut Value Chain Committee

For López, the best part about the ramón nut is what it allows the women of the member communities to do for their children. “Because of the training we received, we are able to use the ramón nut to feed our families and to sell. We can support our children – their education and their health – which is our priority.”

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