A critical part of Runa's mission in the Ecuadorian Amazon involves supporting the Kichwa people's traditional ways of living in harmony with nature. Central to the Kichwa people's way of life is the chagra, or forest garden.
A chagra is a small horticulture plot located in forested jungle used for subsistence farming for family needs. It is generally located near the family home in order to provide easy access to food, medicinal plants, and wood for construction and tools. The garden has a variety of food crops; including yucca, plantains, bananas, guayusa, beans, peanuts, and a variety of luscious local fruits; medicinal plants such as churiyuyu (used to heal cuts), shia (anesthetic, helps with toothaches), ayahuasca (sacred plant used for shamanic rituals), and bagarimandi (another sacred plant that provides good luck for fishing and helps men to attract females); and trees like cedar, balsa (used to make river rafts), and pilche (whose fruit is used to make gourde-like wooden bowls). The guayusa trees that Runa is currently harvesting from are growing in family chagras.
Women are typically in charge of the garden and have a series of rituals they carry out to ensure a bountiful harvest. While the men are out hunting, fishing, or working the family's fields, the women spend most of their day tending the chagra and watching over the children. When it is time to plant, an older woman in the family will transfer pajo, or female wisdom, to a younger woman by grabbing her wrist and passing her energy to the younger woman. Also during planting, the women will lightly pound the ground with leaves from the mandi panga tree to prepare the soil for a strong growing season.
This ancient tradition of agroforestry remains a vibrant aspect of Kichwa culture. The chagra provides food security for Kichwa families and helps to ensure a continued supply of plants needed for a successful life in the jungle. Runa supports the chagra system by applying the traditional organic agricultural techniques used in the chagra to the planting of guayusa in Kichwa family fields. By assisting in the creation of forested agricultural plots and providing incentives for families to grow guayusa, Runa helps to strengthen the "lungs of the world," the Amazon rainforest, and give new value to ancestral Kichwa knowledge and lifeways.
- Chris Jarrett