Picture the tyres on your car or the sneakers on your feet. Where did they come from? No doubt some factory, somewhere; but before they rolled off the assembly line, an essential component came from a “manufacturing plant” of a different sort. The natural latex produced by shiringa trees in Peru ends up in all sorts of everyday products, from the gloves your doctor wears to the rubber backing on your living room rug.
As the foreman of his particular parcel of forest factory, Eduardo Escompani Viñas makes the rounds each day. Before dawn, he sets out to walk a specific route from tree to tree, stopping at each one to make a diagonal scratch in the bark. Milky white latex rises instantly to the surface and flows down the new channel into a rusty can wedged into the bark. Above the can, the tree looks like a patch of corduroy – a new wale added each day.
After visiting each of his 200 trees, Eduardo returns home to eat and rest before walking the same path to collect the latex. Now in his 70s, Eduardo has been a shiringuero for some six decades. He is the child and grandchild of shiringueros, and he knows his forest like the back of his hand. He and the other members of ECOMUSA, a cooperative of natural rubber producers, feel duty-bound to protect their natural resources and their way of life.
“Shiringueros never cut trees,” Eduardo says. “We are defenders of the forest. You start cutting, and the whole forest is degraded. We have always lived with the animals in a natural balance. If we cut trees, we lose the animals and all the knowledge of the natural world.”
Peru’s chunk of the Amazon is second only to Brazil, which helps make Peru one of the 10 most biodiverse countries in the world. But the Amazon is among WWF’s top deforestation fronts – the places expected to see the most forest loss in the coming 15 years.
Currently about 1,100 square miles (284,898 hectares) of Peru’s forests are cut down every year – around 80 per cent of them illegally. This hurts Peru’s amazing wildlife, accounts for nearly half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and limits options for sustainable livelihoods for people like Eduardo.
Too often, using forest resources means the destruction or degradation of those resources. But as Eduardo and his community of shiringueros demonstrate each day, there are ways to reap the value and benefit of forests without harming them.
WWF is working to make these livelihoods more secure and lucrative, so people aren’t driven to unsustainable alternatives. Our team in Peru has assisted ECOMUSA in improving the quality and consistency of their product, which allows them to command a higher price.
Together, we’re securing a future for their time-honored tradition of living in harmony with nature.