The Ramón Tree: Providing Food, Forest Habitat and Finance
The ramón tree can grow upwards of 120 feet. Once found throughout Central America, the tree's population has dwindled in recent years. (Photo by BRASS/El Pilar Project)
Communities throughout Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve have found an incentive to protect the ancient trees: the ramón nut.
Packed with protein, calcium, fiber and potassium, the ramón nut is a valuable and inexpensive source of nourishment for rural and indigenous children, faced with alarming rates of malnutrition.
Through a program called Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests -- operated by the Rainforest Alliance and a number of other groups -- communities within the reserve are capitalizing on the nut's nutritious properties, and earning a sustainable income from their forest resources.
Children throughout Guatemala's Petén region participate in the program by collecting ramón nuts from the forest.
The energetic kids deliver their hauls to the local bakery, where they receive one quetzal (about 12 cents) for every pound of ramón gathered.
An all-female staff removes the skin from the nuts.
I am happy that my daughter works [in the Ixlu bakery] as before she had no work and no source of income," says Dona Gladis Rodriquez (pictured), president of the Association for the Development of the Women of the Ixlú.
After the skin has been peeled off, the nuts are spread out in the sun to dry, and, later, roasted in ovens.
The roasted ramón nuts are ground into fine flour. With a chocolaty-flavor, the flour is the perfect base for a variety of foods, including flan, cookies and a cool beverage (ideal refreshment in the muggy heat of the Petén).
The flour is bagged and distributed to teachers and school boards in 46 rural communities throughout the region.
From this wholesome flour comes food for school lunches, like these whimsical heart and star –shaped cookies.
The Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture is donating 300,000 ramón seedlings to reserve communities. Trees from these seedlings will eventually serve as a valuable source of food, employment, shade, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat.