Summer Research Conclusions

As my raw data would take up many pages, I have simply included my conclusions based on the interviews I conducted:

Conclusions of Facet 1: Health

After asking a series of questions regarding healthcare, the group found that ACA aid has not significantly influenced access to healthcare.  For example, the majority of ACA beneficiaries and non-ACA harvesters pay out of pocket for their health services.  This indicates that no direct aid has been provided regarding healthcare.  ACA beneficiaries have not been able to use a potential increase in their income to cover the expenses associated with medical insurance. While the distance and time it takes to seek medical care has improved for both groups, this is due to the completion of a new intercontinental highway.  One person, however, specifically indicated that the travel time has decreased to seek medical aid, because they were able to buy a motorcycle with the increased income ACA services have yielded.

While 27% percent of ACA beneficiaries rated their healthcare a 5 (on a 0-5 scale), only 14% of non-ACA beneficiaries rated theirs a 5.  This may indicate that while in an interview the harvesters are unable to directly connect their healthcare with the aid they receive from ACA, they are in general more satisfied with their position.  That being said, however, a higher percentage of ACA beneficiaries rated their healthcare in the 0-2 range than their non-ACA peers. In general, it is inconclusive if ACA’s aid (in the form of increased income to harvesters) has directly affected their access to healthcare.  In fact, a chi square test indicated that the health ratings were not significant. The only indicators that lead me to believe that ACA does positively affect healthcare access are the specific examples that I received through interviews, such as the harvester’s ability to purchase a motorcycle due to increased income.

Conclusions of Facet 2: Education

When comparing the education levels of the ACA and non-ACA interviewees, similar percentages of ACA and non-ACA harvesters completed the same amount of education.  For example, 62% of ACA beneficiaries at least began primary school, while 60% of non-ACA beneficiaries began primary school.  Slightly more non-ACA harvesters at least began secondary school than ACA harvesters. Of course education level has little to do with ACA aid, but this provided useful information regarding tailoring the questions to the average interviewee education level.  The average interviewee did not understand concepts such as percentages or ratings.

Because I wanted to evaluate how necessary specifically ACA’s aid is to the harvesters, the group asked the harvesters about their use of other institutions similar to ACA.  53% of ACA beneficiary answers indicated that only ACA aid was used.  24% of ACA answers indicated that harvesters used the prominent organizations called Rainforest Alliance and Candela.  Similarly, 24% of ACA harvesters used other organizations. Non-ACA answers also specifically referenced ACA, Candela and Rainforest Alliance, among others. Among non-ACA responses, there was an equal distribution among the previously mentioned organizations, as well as responses indicating no use of any organization. No organization was more or less represented in non-ACA answers.

To investigate particularly the education the harvesters receive from ACA programs, the harvesters were asked what they would rate their ACA training. 50%  gave education the highest rating (5), while those providing lower ratings usually provided more comprehensive explanations as to why this rating was given.  That being said, I received no ratings of 0 or 1, indicating that they are relatively pleased with the education ACA directly provides.

Conclusions of Facet 3: Perception

I designed the questions in the 3rd facet to get a general feeling for how the harvesters viewed the ways in which ACA influenced their lives, and how the harvesters viewed their current position in life.  First the group asked if the ACA harvesters thought ACA services were effective or not.  13 of the 16 responses indicated that the harvesters did feel that the services were effective overall.  3 responses indicated that depending on the services, some ACA services are effective.  Here, it is easy to acknowledge that the vast majority of the responses viewed ACA services positively.

When the group asked specifically which services were the most helpful to the harvesters, numerous answers were received.  The harvesters indicated that ACA’s services that aid with harvesting equipment and harvesting techniques were the most beneficial.  The harvesters mentioned these equipment and harvesting techniques 22 times.  Next, the harvesters indicated that ACA’s help with organic certification is very helpful.  After organic certification aid, I received 5 or more responses that related to ACA’s education on forest care and form completion.  5 or more responses also indicated that ACA aided the harvesters with workshop coordination and transportation, as well as with generally faster or better harvests overall.

While the group asked ACA harvesters which services they felt were the most beneficial, they were also asked which ACA services could be improved.  I received 7 responses indicating that ACA could improve the education on technical and harvesting skills.  5 or more responses indicated that ACA could improve upon the clarity of their teaching methods and their communication.  Though the most numerous responses to both questions (which ACA services are most beneficial and which could be improved) indicated harvesting equipment and techniques, this might be because while this service is the most overwhelmingly helpful to the harvesters, it is the service that should be given the most attention.  While ACA should certainly continue this effective service, the harvesters can always further benefit from improvements and additions to this service.

Next, the group asked both ACA harvesters and non-ACA harvesters if they perceived an increase in their income after improving their harvesting skills (non ACA) or improving their harvesting skills with ACA aid.  Because few of the non-ACA participants understood the question, only one response indicated that the harvester perceived an increased income, and one harvester indicated that they received a stable income.  However, 13 ACA responses indicated an increased income since ACA aid.  Only 1 response indicated no change in income since ACA aid.

Because I wanted to know if the harvesters found that it was necessary to supplement their Brazil nut harvesting income with additional occupations, the group asked them if they had alternative ways of gaining an income.  Both the non-ACA harvesters and the ACA harvesters said that they gain additional income through agriculture and selling forest items.  Though Brazil nut harvesting does provide a solid income, harvesters definitely find it necessary to seek other means of earning money.

One question that the group asked only the non-ACA participants was whether or not they were interested in receiving ACA aid.  Of the 9 responses, 8 said yes and only 1 said no.  The reason the one person said that they were not interested in ACA aid, is because ACA restricts their harvesters from doing certain things on the concessions.  For example, ACA prohibits growing crops on the concessions, because this practice diminishes the rain forest.

Both groups were asked if they thought their overall well-being was better, worse, or the same as their neighbors or peers.  All of the ACA harvesters that understood and answered the question said that they were comparatively better off than their neighbors.  However, only 56% of the non-ACA harvesters responded that they were better off than their peers.  33% said their well-being was equivalent to their neighbors, and 10% said they were worse off than their peers.  It can be concluded that harvesters working with ACA at least believe that they are better off than their peers.  This can be directly attributed to ACA aid, because the only difference between ACA harvesters and non-ACA harvesters, of course, is their affiliation and connection with ACA.  Finally, of the 9 ACA harvesters who rated their well being on a scale of 0-5, all 9 rated 3 and above.  A chi square test indicated that the results from this facet were significant.

VI. Significance to the broader field of inquiry

My experience and research opened up the door for future researchers or interns to be welcome in ACA’s Puerto Maldonado office. Due to its remote location, it is not one of the more visited offices—the surrounding city is hardly ever visited for more than one night before tourists embark on an eco-tour. Despite this, I found the organization, city, and resources to be very accommodating and welcoming to my research. Being immersed in the city for an extended period enabled me to truly get to know this Amazon region and its inhabitants.  I hope that my visit inspires others to take interest in sustainable livelihoods and the Brazil nut harvesters in the Madre de Dios region.

Additionally this evaluation of ACA’s Brazil nut program could easily be repeated on an annual or biannual basis to ensure that the program stays routed in its most beneficial aspects in terms of conservation and aid to the harvesters.  This would be particularly helpful to ACA as an organization, because they rarely have the resources to conduct such research. This research also can provide organizations that are similar to ACA with guidance on how to best promote sustainable livelihoods.  The research indicates what types of aid the recipients value the most.  Relying on donations and grants to execute their projects, organizations are consistently trying to determine those that are most beneficial. Studies involving endangered species and widespread conservation generally generate more attention, but Brazil nut harvesting is truly a sustainable practice that supports a large quantity of the regional population. I hope that this project increases awareness and generates support for these people.  Hopefully this research will allow more inhabitants of the Amazon basin to turn away from destructive livelihoods and towards sustainable methods.  This research aims to provide ACA, and other similar organizations, with the means to make this occur.