Maya Nut: Ancient food for a Healthy Future

Maya Nut: Ancient food for a Healthy Future

Chichigalpa, Chinandega, Leon, etc., NicaraguaCrested Butte, United States
Organization type: 
hybrid
Project Stage:
Idea
Budget: 
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Maya Nut is a natural, native and nutritious rainforest tree food which has potential to motivate rainforest conservation, improve health and nutrition in rural communities and stimulate local economies. Market-driven conservation can be achieved by Maya Nut marketing and sales.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Maya Nut forests have been decimated throughout their native range. Because Maya Nut is a keystone species for wildlife, loss of these forests reduces habitat for biodiversity. Loss of Maya Nut forests also reduces environmental services, such as CO2 sequestration, protection of soils and water, and biodiversity. Poverty and malnutrition are increasing in the region, where the splendid kingdom of the Maya once reigned supreme. This is in large part due to loss of Maya Nut forests, which once provided abundant quantities of high quality food, free for the collecting. In Latin America women and girls are marginalized and prevented from participating in economically productive activities and from getting adequate education. This is why we work with women and Maya Nut is a 100% women's product

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Maya Nut forests protect biodiversity, soils and water. They sequester CO2 and are highly drought resistant. Maya Nut is a women's product, and the Maya Nut agroindustry will create educational, job and income generating opportunities for rural and indigenous women and girls. Maya Nut is a healthy, high quality food and can help reduce chronic malnutrition and stunting in children and adults. Creating a market for Maya Nut will motivate governments, institutions, individuals, corporations and communities to plant and restore Maya Nut forests because they will generate income. Maya Nut forests are more lucrative than any annual crop and even more than oil palm, if we can create a market that is large and consistent, we can reduce the influx of oil palm in Central America. Maya Nut can be wild harvested, processed and sold by rural and indigenous women, thereby creating a healthy, dignified economy for rural communities to thrive and become independent of foreign food and aid.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We have worked for 12 years to develop the supply side of Maya Nut in Central America and Mexico. We have trained more than 18,000 women from 1000 communities in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, and Colombia to harvest and process Maya Nut. We still have a lot of work to do to refine quality and quantity of supply and establish standards and best practices, but meanwhile we realize the very pressing need to create a brand and a market for our product. Having a market that is willing to pay a fair price for women's wild harvested Maya Nut will create the economic incentives for communities to conserve and restore Maya Nut forests and will very quickly earn the attention of the governments of the countries where Maya Nut is produced, generating investment in Maya Nut reforestation to satisfy the growing demand. Our brand will be unique in that our Maya Nut is 100% sustainable (harvested under strict harvest plans), 100% women's product (100% of the board of directors and 70% of employees of all producer groups are female), 100% fair trade (minimum fair price is determined by producers, not buyers) and 100% organic (verified by laboratory exams). No other Maya Nut currently on the market (sold under the trade name "Ramon Nut") meets these standards. Our primary activity in this project is to create a brand and a marketing strategy by conducting surveys, designing and vetting logo and slogan options, selecting target markets (high paying niche markets), and marketing.
Sustainability

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are very few (3 or 4 maximum) other companies marketing Maya Nut (under the trade names Ramon Nut, Mojo, and Capomo. None are working to ensure their product is sustainably harvested, none work with women and none are paying fair trade prices to producers (by our criteria). We dont feel these companies challenge our market, rather we appreciate their help in educating consumers about Maya Nut because it is a new, unknown product and consumers still dont know what it is.
Team

Founding Story

I was working in Guatemala as a biologist and saw so much deforestation, poverty and malnutrition at the same time i was seeing hundreds of Maya Nut trees in the forest and the forest floor covered with a thick carpet of Maya Nut seeds. A local told me the Maya Nut was the staple food for his ancestors, the Maya. When i returned to the US i researched it and discovered that it's really really nutritious. I decided then to dedicate my life to "finding balance between people, food and forests" and started the Maya Nut Institute (formerly named, the Equilibrium Fund) to rescue lost indigenous knowledge about the Maya Nut for food and income. I decided to work exclusively with women, also a result of my time in Guatemala when i was planning a reforestation program with a community and when only women showed up for the first meeting, the program director (a Guatemalan man) told the women " you need to send your husbands to the next meeting, because you are women, you have no voice here".
About You
Organization:
Maya Nut Institute
About You
First Name

Erika

Last Name

Vohman

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Maya Nut Institute

Organization Country

, CO, Crested Butte, Gunnison County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, CD, Chichigalpa, Chinandega, Leon, etc.

Age of Innovator

Over 34

Gender of Innovator

Female

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Innovation
How long have you been in operation?

Still in idea phase, but looking to launch soon

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive in underserved communities? (select all applicable)

Access to financing, Access to supply chains, Access to technology, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

We are just starting up, but to date we have helped women increase their annual family income by between 15-25%. Women are learning to open bank accounts, illiterate women are learning to write so they can sign checks, women's husbands help more around the house so their wives can work, girls are participating and learning valuable skills for the future, more than 1,500,000 Maya Nut trees have been planted, we have conducted considerable research on the nutritional, antioxidant and vitamin content and genetics of Maya Nut (with our partner institutions), we have successfully grafted Maya Nut trees to reduce harvest time. Maya Nut is approved for consumption in Europe, the USA and Canada. More than 15 companies are currently conducting R&D on Maya Nut for inclusion in products such as smoothies, breads, cookies, gluten free products, energy bars, hot and cold beverage mixes and other things.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

We hope to increase demand for Maya Nut and thereby increase income for women producers. Our target is to incorporate at least 700 new producers from Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua in the next 3 years and increase their incomes and the incomes of current producers by at least 25%/year. We hope that our marketing program will motivate the planting of at least 2,000,000 new Maya Nut trees in the next 3 years.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Negative publicity about the quality, hygiene, sustainability or fair trade aspects of Maya Nut would hinder us as we start to "grow" our market. We must be extremely scrupulous about quality and hygiene, lab testing every lot of Maya Nut before bringing it to market.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Brand Maya Nut for Markets

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Identify target/niche markets (s)

Task 2

Create a brand/logo/slogan and test on target markets

Task 3

Create products and packaging, distribute samples to potential buyers

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Establish Maya Nut standards, fair trade cost structure and best manufacturing practices.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Publish the International Standard for Maya Nut on our website and on FDA and FAO websites

Task 2

Establish and publish minimum fair price for Maya Nut for each country where we work based on production costs

Task 3

Determine and publish "Best practices for Maya Nut manufacturing"

Sustainability
Tell us about your partnerships

we partner with more thank 200 local and international organizations and government institutions. These include large multinationals such as Heifer Project International, the GIZ German Development Agency and the United Nations Small Grants Programs, and smaller, local organizations such as AGAPE, El Salvador, Feed the Hungry, Nicaragua and others. We also partner with regional government such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Guatemala (MAGA) and the regional forestry department of Quintana Roo, Mexico. We have university partnerships as well, including the University of Guadalajara, Mexico an

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

We would love mentoring and ideas from others who have brought novel foods to market in the US and Europe. We have a lot of experience with the supply side, and we are more than willing to share that with others. We have no experience at all with marketing, quality control, and things like that...we need that.