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A LOFTY INGREDIENT

Despite its name, Peru Balsam actually comes from a tree native to Central America, Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae. This balm, cultivated and produced in the mountainous region of El Salvador’s La Libertad department, is known for its medicinal, cosmetic, aromatic, and gastronomic properties. To produce the substance, balsameros (the harvesters) must respect a lengthy and sometimes dangerous resin-extraction process. They climb up the tree to several meters off the ground, heat the bark with a burning torch, then collect the precious balsam that flows from the wound.

AN ENDANGERED SUPPLY CHAIN

The Peru Balsam supply chain is fettered by a multitude of challenges that have generated a negative dynamic: production in decline since the mid-1990s, a lack of innovation, market instability, harsh production conditions. The younger generations are turning their backs on balsamero work, seen as unstable, high-risk employment. Local communities are gradually losing their primary source of income, and there is significant environmental impact, as well: Diversification has become essential to survival and is leading to deforestation in areas formerly reserved for balsam trees and natural forest.

SUPPORTING CHANGE

An on-the-ground evaluation of the supply chain was conducted in 2013 and revealed two major concerns:

Balsamero earnings do not cover their production costs
• The traditional technique for collecting resin, expertise that has been passed down from generation to generation, is rudimentary and dangerous. The workers use no safety equipment to prevent the most common hazards.

The first steps to be taken involved alerting international buyers to the balsameros’ situation. A guide to best practices and commitments at all levels of the supply chain was shared with supply-chain stakeholders.
It is essential to implement change in the resin extraction process. Awareness-raising campaigns and technical training workshops to improve balsamero safety on production sites are underway, indispensable initiatives to ensuring a sustainable and more prosperous future.