This interactive map can help preserve the Amazon rain forest. Here's how.

Chris Meyer

For centuries, indigenous peoples of the Amazon have harvested cacao, coffee, Brazil nuts, hearts of palm and other tropical forest products for their own consumption and for sale. But to this day, practical, commercial and organizational barriers prevent many Amazon producers from getting their goods to market, especially at scale.

Pressure on these communities to deforest their territories for short-term economic gain is also hampering the industry.

Result: Buyers interested in working closely with Amazon producers have difficulty identifying and evaluating such partners for investment – even as demand for responsible trade continues to grow in large markets such as the United States.

A new and increasingly populated interactive map is about to bridge this gap. The Putting Amazon Indigenous Producers on the Map project is the first geospatial database of indigenous residents or organizations in the Amazon that already do, or hope to, engage with broader national and international markets.

With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a five-year program, Environmental Defense Fund teamed with Forest Trends, EcoDecision and the Coordinating Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin to catalogue and develop the new site.

So far, 150 producers have been mapped, and more are being added every month.

Cacao farmers could soon earn 20% more

We recently used the new database to introduce the Peruvian cacao cooperative Kemito Ene to the Uncommon Cacao group, a Central American export company that planned a scouting trip to Peru.

The premiums that Uncommon Cacao group will pay to Kemito Ene’s indigenous farmers could boost their incomes by as much as 20 percent while also being able to continue to conserve their forests – the ultimate goal of this project.

Marketing of the database will be ramping up in coming months, supported by several Brazilian case studies that identified successes and challenges producer face as they try to grow their business.

These studies found, for example, that cumbersome permitting processes can slow expansion – but also that many of these enterprises are focusing on, and helping women earn a steady income to support their households.

Fair trade aligns with push to conserve forests

But there’s more to the new database than commerce.

Besides raising incomes in poor communities, responsible trade of forest products can help indigenous communities conserve their forests.

Because indigenous management of Amazon forests is critical to controlling and reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, responsible trade also aligns with the growing body of corporate commitments to deforestation-free sourcing.

We hope the new interactive map will help the indigenous enterprises expand faster, bringing more economic benefits to the producers and stronger support for forest conservation.