The Maya Nut (Brosimum alicastrum), a long forgotten staple food of the ancient Mayan people, is now being tapped as a valuable resource for poor rural communities in Central America. The Maya Nut comes from one of the largest trees in the rainforests of Central America and was once found in abundance throughout the region. The seeds of the Maya Nut tree used to be a staple food of the Mayan civilization, and the leaves, pulp, and seeds also sustain a variety of forest birds and animals, such as deer. Due to endemic deforestation, the distribution of Maya nut trees have declined drastically, and in some regions the tree is now extinct. The Equilibrium Fund, an innovative nonprofit organization founded by Erika Vohman, is endeavoring to bring back the Maya Nut and use it as a solution for rainforest conservation, poverty alleviation, and entrepreneurship.
The Equilibrium Fund’s aims to improve rainforest conservation, food security, women’s income, status and self-esteem through production, consumption and sales of Maya Nut. The Equilibrium Fund operates in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and their programs teach women, communities, NGO’s, governments, landowners and other stakeholders about the uses, recipes and processing of the Maya Nut. Since 2001 The Equilibrium Fund and its partners have trained more than 10,000 women from more than 700 rural communities about Maya Nut for food and income.
History of the Maya Nut
In order to fully appreciate the potential of the Maya Nut, it might be a good idea to look into its history. The Maya Nut has always been an essential food source during ancient Maya times. The Maya Nut is also highly nutritious and can be stored for up to five years. For rural communities, the Maya Nut is a stable drought and climate change-resistant food source. During times of famine, when other crops failed due to drought and other weather-related problems, villagers turn to the Maya Nut as a life-saving food resource. According to the New Agriculturalist, “Entire villages have survived by eating Maya nut; the flour was used as a valued emergency food in Guatemala after Hurricane Stan (October 2005) and after Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua (September 2007). But in many areas, the nut is considered only as a ‘famine food’ and consumption has dropped to less than five per cent of local diets.”
Because the Maya Nut also has a high nutritional value, it is an excellent food staple that can address the chronic malnutrition that plagues Central American communities. Like other nuts, the Maya Nut is protein rich, and also an excellent source of Vitamin A, C, E, several B vitamins, iron, and calcium. The Maya Nut is also highly versatile and can be incorporated into a number of delicious recipes. It can be mixed with corn to create tortillas or it can be cooked on its own. One notable dish that can be produced with this ingredient is the Maya nut soup. People looking for alternatives to caffeinated coffee may also have stumbled on a solution. The Maya Nut can be used as base for caffeine-free coffee. Several women’s cooperatives, with the help of Equilibrium Fund, have already begun exporting the commodity in countries where demand for these drinks exists.
Healthy Kids Healthy Forests from the Equilibrium Fund
The Equilibrium Fund is finding creative ways to encourage rural communities to cultivate Maya Nut trees and to incorporate the Maya Nut into their daily diets. The Equilibrium Fund’s Healthy Kids Healthy Forests Program is aimed at providing lunch based on Maya Nut recipes to school children. The meals became very popular among the kids and their parents. Children loved the taste of their food while parents were happy that their children are being fed. The Guatemalan government planted 250,000 seeds and the project is fast becoming fully run by Guatemalans.
The benefits of The Equilibrium Fund’s initiatives are threefold: their programs saves rainforests, feeds the poor, and creates women entrepreneurs. A native Maya Nut tree rainforest can alleviate poverty and provide a stable food source for the rural population. The Maya Nut trees have the capability to provide hundreds of pounds of food each year. Nutritious and delicious nuts can be made available to the people who need it most. By combining the needs of the local population with a native nature-based solution, the Equilibrium Fund’s Maya Nut programs provide long-term benefits to the environment and to the local population.