Amazonian biodiversity protects health, livelihoods

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Barbara Fraser – Twenty-five years of living and traveling in Latin America have taught Barbara Fraser how closely people’s lives are intertwined with their environment and how climate and “development” are changing that relationship for better or for worse. She has told stories from communities high in the Andes Mountains, up remote Amazonian rivers and on an island at the very southern tip of South America. You can see more of her work at

Striding along an overgrown path in the woods, Micaela Fachín stops beside an ishpingo tree (Amburana cearensis), strokes the bark and squints up the tall, straight trunk. “I planted this years ago,” she says. “I won’t see it grow to maturity, but it will be here for my children or their children.”

Her grove of banana trees — for family consumption and for sale — is not far away, and there are some papaya trees here and there. But all around are forest species that have particular and, in some cases, peculiar uses. Some sprouted naturally, while others grew from seedlings she planted.

Fachin-1. Micaela Fachín stands in a grove of bolaina trees that have grown up in a fallow field near her home in the Shipibo community of Roya, in Peru’s Ucayali region. (Photo by Barbara Fraser)

Bolaina (Guazuma crinita), which is one of the first species to grow in a field left fallow, will be ready to be used for building in a few years. The red and black seeds of the huayruro (Ormosia coccinea) are prized for making jewelry and other handcrafts. There is slow-growing cedar, along with a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis) and a woody vine, Banisteriopsis caapi. Shamans mix these last two to make ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew used in rituals.

Like countless generations of Amazonian people before her, Fachín relies —> Read More