Cloud Forest Organics — Restorative Approach to Agribusiness: Part II

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This project is about white spectacled bears. And pure high Amazon water. And about Porotón: a protein rich leguminous tree that is native to Andes cloud forests and thrives in agroforestry systems. What if, together with cattle ranchers and farmers, we could create an income-generating regenerative agroforestry system that actively restores disappearing cloud forests, rebuilds the home of at-risk wildlife, and offers a viable income opportunity for the families that depend on these lands for their livelihood?

Location of Craig Leon’s land situated in the corridor between three national reserves.

Evolving from Andean Organics, a pioneer organically certified vegetable company in Ecuador co-founded in the early 1990s by Harvard Business School graduate Craig Leon, today Cloud Forest Organics is a conceptual eco-agribusiness model that aims to rewild forests while providing a wholly new range of superfoods to improve local nutrition and as an integral part of Ecuador’s future high-end agro-exports. Our R&D project radiates from a 150-acre land site in Baeza, Ecuador, where the Andes mountains slope into the Amazon basin. Our experimental agroforestry systems are on previously degraded lands adjacent to Cayambe Coca National Park and within strategic proximity of the Sumaco and Antisana national parks.

The vision: convert these deforested lands back into forest, including a range of fruit, nut and bean-producing trees endemic to the forest whose diversity is enhanced by other native species at risk of global extinction and critical to the ecosystem, including Motilón (Hieronyma macrocarpa (V), a berry-bearing fruit tree), wax palm (Ceroxylon echinulatum (V) and white cedar (Cedrela odorata (V).)

Craig Leon
Craig Leon holds a harvest of Porotón

To this end, we have chosen Tocte (Junglans neotropica, an Andean walnut), Porotón (Erythrina edulis, a tree legume) and Lucuma (Pouteria lucuma, an exotic native fruit) as our primary three food tree crops because of their environmental importance and vast culinary applications.

This model, to be improved upon as our learning progresses together with local experience and collaboration with local farmers and the Cayambe Coca National Park (PNCC), aims to be replicable for expanding the forest. The ideal outcome would be a multi-functional ecological corridor that improves habitat for at-risk species such as Andean eagles, tapirs and bears. The idea is to curtail further encroachment into the existing forests by providing new and sustainable economic pathways for local communities. Imagine expanding beyond organic and fair-trade to wild-safe, forest-safe and water-safe foods at scale!

No illusions here. Developing a carbon-negative, regenerative agroforestry food system that protects wildlife cannot be done overnight. Maybe we cannot fix all problems created by years of underestimating our environment.

But we can certainly try to FICZ it. Our development model is about Food Security with forest-based ancient nutritious foods, Income Generation alternatives for ranchers and forest-based communities, Climate Crisis reversal, and Zoonotic Pandemic mitigation by monitoring endangered wildlife habitats.

Cloud Forest Organics is partnering with Los Aliados to incorporate community of practice experience to launch an agroforestry paradigm that saves bears. And many other wildlife species!

Mardoqueo Vásconez, a neighboring 81-year-old cattle farmer, sums it up: “before we chopped the forest, now we have to use the vegetation of the forest itself for survival.”

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