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Maya nut: The life-saving tree

Production and value additions

French NGO, Biomimicry Europa, selected the Maya nut as the ‘life-saving tree’ for its reforestation programme in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Around 100,000 Maya nut trees have been planted over the last 5 years and the first blooms appeared in 2015/16. The Maya nut is a hardy tree that grows well in degraded soil. The majority of the trees have been planted in private gardens where they help to boost water retention in the soil, restore nutrients and enrich the soil through the humus produced by their evergreen leaves.

Daniel Rodary, head of Biomimicry’s Life-Saving Tree programme, was attracted to the species by one particular property. The Maya nut is an oxalogenic tree that absorbs carbon from the air and sequesters it as calcium carbonate (limestone), through a process of bacterial and fungal symbiosis. This property is particularly important as a mitigation strategy against climate change. According to Rodary, ongoing research also indicates that limestone helps to boost soil quality, acting as a natural fertiliser.

As well as boasting restorative properties, the Maya nut is highly prized as a source of food in its native regions (Central America and the Caribbean). Its seeds contain high concentrations of vitamins and minerals, with a nutritional value similar to soya or quinoa. “The seeds are dried in the sun, like coffee beans, and can then be stored for up to 5 years,” explains Rodary. The dried seeds are ground into a flour, which can then be added to traditional Haitian dishes such as sauces, porridge and fried or sweet doughs. Roasted seeds are also used to make a traditional drink. These seeds are therefore extremely valuable in a country that has no infrastructure to process or preserve food. In addition, the leaves are an excellent fodder crop for cattle and help to promote milk production.

Biomimicry supplies Maya nut seeds to local partner NGOs in Haiti and to the international NGO Sadhana Forest, which then plant the seeds. Once the seedlings have formed, they are distributed to programme volunteers (between three to five trees per family, on average). The NGOs also provide training sessions, including how to look after saplings and how to use the seeds.

The seeds produced by the trees planted in 2011 have therefore created the very first ‘100% made in Haiti’ seedlings. “For local Haitian populations, these outcomes provide ‘grassroots’ proof that the tree is suited to the local environment.”

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