The Secret of the Monkey Pot (Vol 1)

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
 “Monkey pot” is a common name for many tropical trees belonging to the Lecythis genus found in the north-eastern part of South America. The name “Monkey pot” refers to the pot-shaped fruit containing the seeds as well as the eagerness of monkeys to get them.

The fruit itself is the size of a coconut, round and wooden with a cap, like a little cooking pot. When the fruit is ripe, it loses its cap, leaving the fruit open with the nuts inside stuck with the mucilage. This is when monkeys do their appearance. The primates like to eat the mucilage of the fruit, so when they do it, the seeds/nuts fall out of the fruit to the floor.

The plant, with its oil-rich seeds, was first taxonomised by Jean-Baptiste Christophore Fusée Aublet (1720-1778) in the mid-18th century.

Alvaro Viloria explains: 20 years ago a German doctor discovered the medicinal properties of this tree and its fruit. Before, people along the river used to cut down these trees for their good wood, but now we are nurturing and protecting these trees and getting good harvests. This amazing fruit’s harvest provides the basis of our community’s livelihood and enables its economic and social development. The tree grows wild, so it is ecologically important in preserving the ecological balance of our ecosystem.

Manuel Ricardo Saenz: I am the professional in charge of communities component of the "Magdalena river nuts" project. If we talk about how nut collection affects our local society, we have seen that various families are joining together to work, and this helps strengthen our social bonds, engendering trust in one another, making it possible to implement an economic project at the community level. This has strengthened the community spirit here in the village of Champetona.

During the harvest season, which lasts four to six months, the collector groups earn a solid income. No other crops can be planted during the dry season. Therefore it is necessary to stay with this project and work very hard, for it is a source of income that helps the communities in this region to generate income. The people here are very poor and have few opportunities to make a living.

Given it is a wild tree, all harvesting and processing is done manually. Only the village communities know where the trees grow and when the fruit will be ripe to pick. We collect the fruit, after which we classify them according to quality, and then open them manually. The families from this region participate in the entire process.

This tree can grow up to 40 meters. It is a long-living tree that begins producing after 10 years. It prefers rich, deep soils and sunshine. Its roots can be even longer than the tree itself.

As opposed to the Brazil nut, where the fruit only grows at the top of the tree, this species produces fruit all along its branches as well.

The seeds need 18 months after flowering to ripen. Another notable difference with Brazil nuts is that the seeds are not immediately edible, so their high selenium content can only be enjoyed after a complicated process that allows this element to be extracted for human consumption.

Keneth Viloria: Yes, before we paid no attention to the tree because we had no idea that is was useful for anything. We paid it no mind at all. But now that we know that it is hugely important, we try to care for these trees. For some time now our community has been benefiting greatly from these trees. It’s another form of employment, for the formal employment rate is very low. Previously we worked as fishermen and farmers, but these sectors are only seasonal.

I am Euklides Pino. I am from Chimi, Bolivar, a small town near San Martín de Loba. So I like planting local crops here: corn, yucca, ‘pan de coger’, and more. When the nut harvest time comes, then I also go and collect the ‘coquillo’. I live here in the town of Chapetona and work on my sister’s farm. I’ve been here now for two years. I was on my way to Venezuela but I came back. The situation there was terrible.

I didn’t know the nut is so valuable. So now somebody says “right!” and we have listened and already begun working because we can see the positive results.

The harvest of this wonderful fruit is a means of subsistence for the communities in the area, contributing to their economic and social development, additionally prevents deforestation, with high ecological impact, allowing the balance of the ecosystem.

The project is one of the three projects of Natural Ingredients for Cosmetics, where the initiatives search to improve the value chain of cosmetics that involve natural ingredients and that have the potential to enter the international market, with finished products or supplies while they are generating opportunities for communities involved.

The project “Magdalena River Nuts” is part of the programme Colombia + Competitiva in a component that supports the strengthening regional competitiveness, as a complement to the prioritization of solutions to critical problems that affect national competitiveness.

The Programme Colombia + Competitiva is a joint initiative of the Swiss Embassy in Colombia, Economic Cooperation and Development (SECO) and the National Government, it aims to contribute to the country's efforts, focused at improving its competitiveness and diversifying its economy , through the strengthening of its productive sector and the creation of a more favorable environment for business. Swisscontact is the facilitator of the program.

El Banco, Magdalena, Colombia