Production and management of Jonote (Trema micrantha) for artisinal bark paper manufacture, Puebla, Mexico
Papel amate, bark paper, is an indigenous handicraft whose origins date back to pre-hispanic times and which currently provides a major source of income to hundreds of families in several communities in the state of Puebla- where bark is collected and paper manufactured- and the state of Guerrero, where the paper is ornately decorated. Several tons of bark paper, with a market value of about $230,000, is sourced annually from the jamaican nettle tree (Trema micrantha), or jonote as it is known in Mexico.
A fast-growing, species, jonote grows opportunistically in shaded coffee orchards, where farmers use them for some years as shade plants for coffee. Once the trees start growing too large and competing with the coffee plants, they must be cut down. Itinerant bark collectors make small payments to coffee farmers for the right to harvest the bark, which is then used to manufacture papel amate in the village of San Pablito.
While this arrangement provides a source of marginal and opportunistic income to both bark collectors and coffee farmers with no negative environmental outcomes, the environmental, social and economic potential of jonote and of bark collection in the region is both largely unrealized and considerable. The value of jonote for sustainable economic development and biodiversity conservation is due to the following factors, among others:
- current demands for bark paper, and hence bark, far exceeds supply;
- jonote is ideally suited for cultivation, ecological restoration and soil conservation, and thus for management as a non-wood forest product in managed forests, agroforestry plots, and degraded lands.
Citlalli López has been working with bark collectors and bark paper manufacturers in Puebla for many years. With support from the Overbrook Foundation and in collaboration with students and a colleague from CITRO and INIFOR (Universidad Veracruzana), she is currently working with families and organizations in both paper-manufacturing and bark-collecting villages, in order to realize the full environmental, social and economic potential of jonote.
(Above) Nañhu artisans making (left) and decorating (right) bark paper, San Pablito [Photo: C.López]
Propagation and reforestation with the jonote tree: We have been assisting bark paper producers and coffee farmers develop practical, simple and effective ways for propagating and reforesting with jonote. All protocols for collecting and germinating seeds and establishing cheap and viable seedling banks have been jointly developed with the local parties, and in response to their interest in the potential of jonote in reclaiming degraded lands and in improving the value of their existing productive and unproductive lands. Work teams have been organized according to local conditions: In the artisan village of San Pablito these have self-organized around ex- tended family groups while in the coffee-producing village of Xolotla we support a local coffee cooperative. Five hundred Trema seedlings have already been transplanted to coffee plantations and homegardens and abandoned plots close to the village. Seedling nurseries are currently being built close to the areas where they will be next planted during the next season (June-July); denuded and eroded slopes surrounding both villages.
Coffee farmers collecting Trema seeds (bottom, left) and conducting germination trials (top) and growth rate studies (bottom, right) [Photos: C.Vázquez]
Capacity-building, training and outreach: Training and outreach in villages aims to deliver important information on the environmental, social and economic potential of reforestation with jonote. Effective propagation protocols were developed jointly with farmers and students. Working with village secondary schools we are developing fun, dynamic, grounded and useful ways to promote learning on important matters relating to ecology, the environment, and the significance of local traditions and knowledge. We have also students produce a short community video to disseminate information on bark collection, bark manufacture, and to report on the experience of families working to propagate jonote, including the economic, social and environmental benefits of jonote, shaded coffee agroforestry plots and bark paper manufacture.
Developing new jonote-based products and income streams: Despite being a fast-growing species, the wood from jonote has good potential for use in carpentry and furniture-making. Through the production of manuals and in workshops PPI has been promoting the use of jonote wood in small-scale carpentry.Using the wood, and not just the bark, increases the efficiency and value of forest-based income streams, helping coffee farmers become more resilient in the face of fluctuating coffee prices and providing them with an added incentives to continue managing the biodiverse-rich shaded coffee groves. Working in an integrated fashion, at multiple levels and with multiple local social actors (farmers, artisans, men and women, students, teachers) we seek to revatilise and strengthen the effectiveness and reach of local institutions, skills and knowledge for effective, long-term use and conservation of shade-grown coffee agroforests. See also our cross-cutting project Supporting shade-grown coffee agroforestry and conservation.
Adolfo Rebolledo with high school students in Xolotla in the field and classroom (Photos:M.Torres)