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The Tungla Community

A look at how an aboriginal community in the RAAN, Nicaragua is sustainably harvesting cocobolo.

We have a series of pictures showing how a small, isolated community in the RAAN, Nicaragua is sustainably harvesting rare and valuable cocobolo and is selling the wood themselves.

The Tungla are a small community of about 750 people who live near Prinzapolka, on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. It is a 12 hour dive (170 km, BAD roads) and then a 6 to 8 hour walk to get there from Puerto Cabezas, the closest town with an airport in the RAAN.

November, 2019

The Tungla are a small community of about 750 people who live near Prinzapolka, on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. It is a 12 hour dive (170 km, BAD roads) and then a 6 to 8 hour walk to get there from Puerto Cabezas, the closest town with an airport in the RAAN.

Despite their isolation, they are being invaded by settlers from western Nicaragua who are illegally squatting on their territory. The settlers have violently staked their claim, even murdering a local judge and her husband a few years ago. These communities need to develop sustainable projects to generate income as part of their efforts to protect their territory and their people.

Grown Forward is helping them sell direct to a US Company that sells to guitar companies. As part of the process, the guitar companies who purchase the wood will help support our efforts to plant endangered species. This is unusual as most for the lumber industry in the RAAN has traditionally been outside companies buying trees from communities and hiring some for harvesting and then leaving. And a lack of infrastructure in the region makes it unprofitable for most lumber companies to operate in the region. For those that celebrate that thinking they are saving the rainforest, let me disillusion you.

The Tungla Community

The extraction of lumber in the RAAN requires expensive permits to log their properties. Since they do not have the money for the permits or the equipment required to extract logs from the jungle, they make deals with a lumber company to take out about 4 to 8 trees per hectare in a restricted area. The area is inspected by a government forestry official and the trees are marked based on size and species. Logging can only be done from January to May, as the rest of the year is too wet to operate the equipment. After the area is selectively logged, they will not go back to that area for 10-20 years. They will harvest other areas in between. With a proper management plan, the forests can be sustainable and the local communities can leave the forests standing and use them for hunting, gathering other foods and supplies, and help keep the lungs of the earth functioning. HOWEVER, when there is no lumber company to buy the trees and they have no other income, they usually resort to clear cut farming. They take a section of forest, cut it all down and burn the trees, and then use the land to plant crops or raise cattle. When this happens, the soil quickly degrades and erodes as tropical top soil layers are pretty thin, so in 5 years or so they just move on. There is no government regulation to prevent this, but there are government regulations that prevent them from selling the timber without the permits. We cannot blame these people, they are poor and have to feed their families.

These loggers can only afford to cut down Cocobolo due to its high value, adding to its endangerment

What is needed is not a logging ban, but rather help for the local communities so that they can have their own sustainable lumber company that preserves more forest than cattle farming. These communities want to preserve their forests and their way of life, and want to have more control over their own destinies. If we can support them in this manner, then we help the planets’ struggle to have an ecological balance. Grown Forward can help them sell their lumber direct and we can help them reduce waste and become more efficient. We will help them develop plantations of local species for their children to harvest on farms where the soil has been exhausted. We need other people and NGO’s to participate in this process, help them finance this, to help them develop some needed infrastructure. We can also learn from them as they have a lot of knowledge about their forests that can be useful to us also. We can learn from those who live closer to nature in order to live in better harmony with the environment. They are already collecting seeds from cocobolo trees so that they can replant. And we will purchase seeds from them to plant in other locations. Their area is very wet, with rainfall over 4000 mm per year. Our first location in Nicaragua is dry tropical forest with around 1500 mm per year. The cocobolo in that region is probably slightly different genetically, so this helps us with our research into this species also.

We will be posting more pictures and details as we continue on this journey.

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