Ernesto Morón: cultivating timber trees in the Peruvian Amazon

High altitude Polylepis remnant forest near Huancayo, Junín, Peru. Photo: World Agroforestry

Recently, researchers of the FuenteS project visited the farm of Ernesto Morón, who is producing seed of various native Amazonian species. Here we report on his experiences and opinions about growing timber trees.

Stopping at the highest point of his farm in Alto Yanayacu, Huánuco Region, in the Peruvian Amazon lowlands, Ernesto Morón points out some of the trees he has planted over the years, such as mahogany and its close relative, cedar; ‘marupa’ (Simarouba amara)with its lustrous composite leaves and olive-like fruits; colourful-barked ‘capirona’ (Calycophyllum spruceanum); ‘shihuahuaco’ (Dipteryxsp), loved by industry for its heavy and durable wood and by parrots for its large, nutritious seeds.

Ernesto Morón explains how he manages his agroforestry plots. Photo: World Agroforestry

But Ernesto’s farm, his ‘chacra’, is an exception: although all the neighbouring properties have trees or forests, most of the high-quality timber has long gone and has not been replaced.

‘Some others around here also planted at the same time,’ he explained, ‘when the Reforestation Committee came around with seedlings, but for the farmer it’s a sacrifice.’

‘A sacrifice? In what way?’ we asked him.

He laughed and gently patted the trunk of a papery-barked ‘ishpingo’ (Amburana acreanatree.

‘When they came, they told me that the shihuahuaco would be ready for cutting in 50 years, and that’s too much for most people.’

‘But not for you?’

‘You need a source of income while the trees are growing. At the start, the agronomists told me that I couldn’t combine those…’ he said, pointing at his cocoa and fruit trees, ‘with timber trees, but they’re growing well. People from the Pucallpa market come to buy my oranges and mandarins. There’s always a market for cocoa, too.’

Ernesto Morón with World Agroforestry’s Róger Pinedo with seed trees of marupa (Simarouba amara) in the background. Photo: World Agroforestry

After almost two decades, some of Ernesto’s timber trees could already be harvested but he prefers to wait and not fell them before their prime. He already sells some tree seeds and is also looking at other options, such as eco-tourism and the carbon market.

We start walking downhill, towards a large ‘pashaco’ (Schizolobium amazonicum) tree, which dwarfs a mahogany sapling of the same age.

‘The Amazon is the lungs of the world,’ he says. ‘It’s important to conserve it, but no one helps the farmer.’

Later, we sit around the table in the front room of his house, which doubles as a store selling basic provisions. Ernesto’s daughter-in-law places a generous jug of ‘cocona’ (Solanum sessiliflorum) juice on the table while, in a corner, his grand-daughter plays with a pet rabbit.

He tells us something of his personal story: his arrival in the lowland Amazon in 1998 after fleeing political violence in his native Tocache, his struggles to settle hundreds of miles from home and family.

‘The problem is the lack of capital,’ he says. ‘It’s hard to start and difficult to prosper without capital. For example, the long dry season here affects the cacao production: with irrigation we could harvest all year round.’

As we drive away, back to the city of Pucallpa, we reflect that there will always be individuals like Ernesto who will plant and care for trees, whether or not all the benefits flow to them. But restoring the natural capital of the Amazonian forest margins will require more than the sacrifices of far-sighted individuals.

The world should share more of the burden.

Read the Spanish version of the blog here


Further reading

Agroforestry Seed Sources for Restoration and Genetic Conservation (FuenteS)

World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of science and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Leveraging the world’s largest repository of agroforestry science and information, we develop knowledge practices, from farmers’ fields to the global sphere, to ensure food security and environmental sustainability. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

Jonathan Cornelius

Jonathan Cornelius specializes in agroforestry genetic resources, counting more than 25 years of experience in research, education and research management in Latin American and the Pacific. He became regional director for ICRAF Latin America in 2012, coming from James Cook University in Australia, where he led the Agroforestry and Novel Crops Unit. He previously worked for ICRAF as country coordinator in Peru and held positions at CATIE in Costa Rica and the UK Overseas Development Administration (now DFID) in both Honduras and Costa Rica. Born in the United Kingdom, he received his PhD in forest biology and management from the University of Alberta, Canada.

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