Pulling ‘magic tree’ back from near extinction in Colombia

DIBULLA, COLOMBIA: The guaimaro, a highly prized tree bearing nutritious fruit, once abundant throughout South America, is slowly being coaxed back from near extinction in Colombia.

Deforestation has decimated the tree. But in Colombia's north-eastern Guajira region, new life is being breathed back into stocks of the beloved tree.

More than 900km away, in Medellin, hundreds of global experts are gathered around the planet's sickbed this week.

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services will make its diagnosis this month on the health of the world's fauna, flora and soil.

"The guaimaro is a magic tree," said Ms Daisy Tarrier, the 39-year-old director of non-governmental organisation Envol Vert, which is running the reforestation programme.

She said:"The fruit contains as much protein as milk, four times more potassium than banana, as much iron as spinach, four times more magnesium than kidney beans."

Biologists have discovered the evergreen tree balances acidic soils and secretes the greenhouse gas carbon monoxide into the soil. Unlike most trees when they die, it never releases it into the atmosphere.

It can grow to a height of 50m, and its taproot sinks just as deep into the earth. That makes it resistant to both drought and hurricanes. It can even regrow after a fire.

Working with nearly 200 families, Envol Vert has helped plant more than 30,000 trees across some 20 species, including 6,000 guaimaros, since 2011.

A guaimaro will produce 180kgof fruit a year across a lifespan of some 100 years. The fruit is consumed raw and in juice, soup or mashed.

Indigenous communities use guaimaro sap for medicinal purposes: for asthma in Central America, anaemia in Mexico, and rheumatism in Peru. - AFP