Enhancing community sustainability through non-timber forest products (NTFPs)

The Araucarias del Alto Malleco Model Forest (Chile) includes a high concentration of Araucaria araucana trees, other significant native forest ecosystems, and a large indigenous population of Mapuche-Pehuenche peoples. The Araucaria and its fruit, the piñon, play an important role in the traditional culture of the Mapuche-Pehuenche.
 
In response to many community leaders who have emphasized the need for research to better understand the socio-cultural importance of the Araucaria and the piñon, work by the Model Forest has focused on the Araucaria forests and its use by the Pehuenche. Early Model Forest activities focused on inventorying the Araucaria forest and assessing its condition. A key result of the work was highlighting cattle grazing as a major factor in poor regeneration. Other activities focused on identifying the physicochemical properties of the piñon, including its nutritional value. It was found that the nut has a low fat content and high concentration of starch. This information was used to develop standards for products such as flour and cookies.
 
The Model Forest also facilitated the involvement of various actors, particularly piñon collectors. In addition to transferring research results to the collectors, cultural information from the Pehuenche communities on piñon collection and use was acquired. This was primarily accomplished through the use of Mapuche "trawunes", or traditional meetings. A final component was the identification and development of market opportunities for piñon products, including establishing value chains and distribution outlets. In 2005, the project won the Bicentennial award awarded by the Chilean government for initiatives notable for their originality, contribution to local communities and participation.
 
Building on these successes, the Model Forest recently implemented a project focused on broader NTFP development, including mushrooms and rosehips. Funded by the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation, the project has enabled local enterprises to access technical information, equipment and materials to improve the processing of NTFPs. The project is enhancing the capacity of local producers to create new products and bring them to regional, national and international markets. A book, From the Forests of Alto Malleco to the Tables of the World, was produced highlighting the development, diversification and production of the three NTFPs. The NTFP activities supported by the Model Forest are part of a long-term initiative aimed at improving the livelihoods of local community members, including youth and women, through alternative income generation while contribution to the sustainable management of the larger landscape and the natural resources found there.