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Aguaje Fruit's Popularity Strains Amazon Forests

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Aguaje Fruit's Popularity Strains Amazon Forests

Latin America

Aguaje Fruit's Popularity Strains Amazon Forests

Aguaje Fruit's Popularity Strains Amazon Forests

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The Amazon rain forest is home to hundreds of exotic fruits, including aguaje. The small, highly nutritious fruit is central to diets and daily life in the rain forest. Ecologists say its popularity can put a strain on forests, as people cut down the aguaje palms faster than they're naturally replaced.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We're going to hear now about one part of the bounty of the Amazon rainforest, which is home to hundreds of exotic fruits. One of the most important is the aguaje. The nutritious fruit and the tree it comes from are central to daily life in the rainforest. The fruit is eaten by just about everyone, and the tree it comes from is used for building material and in the making of wine. It is so popular, it's raised concerns that people are chopping down the trees faster than they can grow. Reporter Annie Murphy has our story.

ANNIE MURPHY: The city of Iquitos, Peru is home to about 400,000 people, and each day, they eat more than 20 tons of aguaje: a small, scaly, brown fruit with bright orange flesh that tastes something like a carrot. And it's almost all sold by small vendors like Olivia Sosa(ph). Olivia stands on a busy corner and peels buckets of the fruit with a paring knife.

Ms. OLIVIA SOSA (Aguaje Vendor): (Foreign language spoken)

MURPHY: Olivia says that the fruit arrives each day by the boatload, brought by people who live far up river. According to the Institute of Amazon Research, aguaje is rich in vitamin A, providing five times as much as carrots. It also contains protein and oils. In the Amazon, where many families are poor and struggle to stay healthy, aguaje helps keep children from becoming malnourished. And it's also a popular treat.

The Shambo(ph) Popsicle Store is lit by florescent bulbs with a big Shambo logo: a popsicle in a grass skirt. Popsicles are one of the most popular ways to eat aguaje.

Amir Flores(ph) comes here every day after work. He's setting up a natural supplement company, and he wants to make an aguaje pill. In the jungle, it's widely believed that aguaje makes women more beautiful.

Mr. AMIR FLORES: (Through translator) It depends on the sort of beauty. There's beauty of the soul and spirit, and then there's physical beauty. But the women here in Iquitos are really beautiful. It must be the climate and the aguaje.

MURPHY: When mixed with sugar and frozen, aguaje tastes like pumpkin pie and caramel with a lemony tang. On a regular day, Amir eats about 10 of these popsicles. But that's nothing, says Luis Betparez(ph), who's worked at Shambo for two years.

Ms. LUIS BETPAREZ: (Through translator) The other day, I saw a girl eat 15 popsicles of the biggest size. I asked her: Doesn't your throat burn? And she said no. I actually think I need more. People will take aguaje in any form they can get it.

MURPHY: But Amazonian ecologist Juan Ruiz says the fruit's popularity can put a strain on aguaje forests. People cut down the tall aguaje palms faster than they're naturally replaced to get at the coveted fruit.

Mr. JUAN RUIZ (Amazonian Ecologist): (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: Ruiz says a 2006 report said that more than 10,000 trees were getting cut down each month. But since then, people have been starting to climb up to harvest the fruit, which bodes well for the future. The Institute of Amazon Research says aguaje palms store three to five times more carbon than any other tropical ecosystem.

For NPR News, this is Annie Murphy, in Peru.

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