By Amanda Hartt
I have an academic background in food system analysis and armed with theories and policies surrounding supply chain issues, I stepped out of my books and ventured to the Ecuadorian Amazon to volunteer with a social enterprise. My curiosity to see on-the-ground policies of where the supply chain begins is what brought me to Runa.
Runa means "fully alive" in the language of indigenous Kichwa farmers, which have been growing guayusa, a tea-like leaf for generations. It is also the philosophy adopted by the young entrepreneurs and philanthropists behind this new enterprise to embrace and share guayusa and its Amazonian Kichwa traditions with the U.S. market, while building economic stability for its farmers. This goal transitions guayusa farmers from traditional subsistence and barter systems into a market economy where education in a typical family rarely surpasses middle school. However, it is a brave and exciting undertaking to try and change community systems to bring a new unknown product to the international market in hopes to improve economic status of poorer farming regions.
As a crop only grown through indigenous practices passed down from generation to generation, it's now at the intersection of traditional practices combined with new scientific research to understand modern issues surrounding ecosystem relationships, preservation of the rainforest and other environmental concerns. Social and economic change as well as environmental issues requires a lot of forethought and consideration for long-term sustainable development, which has not escaped the core values of Runa and its founders. This team of Americans, their Ecuadorian counterparts, farmers, scientists and behavioral consultants are aiming to develop a social enterprise that tackle various issues from the beginning:
- Food Security: Educate the development of guayusa as a cash crop while enforcing commitment towards cultivation of subsistence crops, which are often neglected once a cash crop is introduced.
- Genetic Diversity: Research varietal diversity. It's understood that because guayusa trees are clones made from trimmings of parent trees, there is no known genetic variation. The company is searching for other guayusa varieties with little luck. This could lead into breeding research and potential plant breeding techniques to create diversity.
- Fair Wages/Labor: Runa is on a six-year plan to achieve all the necessary processes for Fair Trade USA certification. This requires educational seminars to learn what Fair Trade certification means, to understand the social premium, how the democratic process works to elect cooperative presidents and determine how social premium funds are used.
- Environmental: Runa is certified USDA Organic. Research is continually being done on various agroforestry systems to determine the best fit for the guayusa plant to thrive with high yield, resilience to environmental changes and role in over-all wellbeing of the ecosystem.
To monitor and implement these programs, Fundación Runa was established. The foundation acts as a watchdog to guide and teach the for-profit company how to maintain the principles of Runa as a social enterprise. The foundation is always looking for interns, so improve your Spanish and visit their websites to learn how you too can feel “fully alive."
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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