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Venezuela: Conserving the forest to secure the future of the tonka bean

Venezuela is the source of the world’s finest tonka beans, and the extract is a key natural ingredient in many of our customers’ most popular and well-known fragrances. 

Tonka beans

Tonka grows wild in the forests of the Caura Basin, a rich and largely pristine natural environment of high biodiversity. However, the demand for agricultural land, as well as illegal hunting and fishing, puts pressure on the area and has a negative impact on the indigenous communities who gather the beans from the forest floor.

“The future of tonka is bound up with the survival of the forest itself. Since 2007, we have an ongoing partnership with Conservation International to run a biodiversity preservation project in the region. We realised that we had to support the harvesting communities in an effort to protect and conserve their natural environment and revenue.”

Olivier, Head of Origination

The team began by working with one of the Caura Basin communities to select an area of 80,000 hectares. “Our approach,” says Olivier, “is to make what we call a conservation agreement. In return for guaranteeing an outlet for their tonka beans, the community takes responsibility for looking after their part of the forest.” 

Today, 92 families benefit from conservation agreements protecting 149,400 hectares of forest. Under the agreement, the local people maintain the trails through the forest and monitor changes in biodiversity; they can earn extra income by carrying out species counts and keeping watch for signs of logging.

Juliette, Conservation International’s Private Sector Engagement Manager, says the goal is to change the fortunes of the area for the long term. “We assist the teachers in designing lessons in conservation to engage the younger generations, because this is not a one-shot project. It will take time, but we want to enable the people of the Caura Basin to continue to conserve their environment and make a fair and sustainable living for years to come.” The results are already visible as more of the locals are joining the conservation effort, says Juliette. “Since we began in 2007, I have seen people really take ownership of this project. More and more people come to the meetings and are taking back their forest.” Givaudan is determined to support Conservation International in its effort to preserve the biodiversity of the Caura Basin, says Olivier.

“By working in partnership with the local people, the Company can better understand its supply chain and improve traceability of the tonka.”

The Company has also been able to help the community to develop capacity and organise itself to fulfil the agreement. “With our help, the people of the Caura Basin are not only contributing to the protection of their environment but really managing their business and working as an association, all of which is essential to the steady supply of tonka.”