The Secret of the Monkey Pot (Vol 2)

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Aside of the value chain objectives, Protécnica Ingeniería, the company that executes the "Magdalena River Nuts" project, is focused on helping the community, strengthening the economic role of women as a direct path to gender equality, poverty reduction, and broad-based economic growth.
The Magdalena river delta is in northern Colombia. This river flows through most of the country and supplies thousands of farmers living in its vicinity. It is here where Lecythis minor, the monkey pot, grows. Thanks to the local combination of soil, geographic location, and geological conditions, the fruit of these trees contain a unique characteristic, which is a high concentration of natural selenium.

Low-income village communities in these far-flung and difficult-to-reach areas are tied to this nut value chain and supported in their efforts to gain sustenance from it. On the one hand, preservation of this tree species is important from an ecological standpoint as it constitutes part of the region’s unique biodiversity, while on the other people are given technical and organisational support in harvesting, processing, and subsequent production of fruit by-products. The high-quality raw ingredients undergo further processing by the cosmetics industry nationwide and across the globe.

It is a highly valuable and promising product as it generates additional income for these low-income communities beyond the planting season. Furthermore, the project supports women’s empowerment. Special project components have been developed for this purpose to increase their economic independence.

Support for gender equality and women’s empowerment contribute substantially to poverty reduction, economic growth, and social development.

Swisscontact supports women in their efforts to determine their own lives and make independent decisions. They are encouraged to stand up for their own interests and become more active in political, economic, and social affairs. It’s not just about women, but about sensitising the community, as marginalisation is often deeply rooted in social traditions. In this project, developing and strengthening the potential of the individual and supporting their decision-making ability are paramount. Women’s access to economic rights and resources combined with adequate education and social services play a key role in poverty reduction.

We are now in Santa Marta, an up-and-coming tourism spot along the Caribbean coast of northern Colombia. Women’s groups process the nuts harvested in the Magdalena river valley. First, the women dry the nuts in the sun and then crack them open to extract the valuable seeds.

Ericena Terán: Now, normally we dry the nuts under the sun to soften them, then we open and clean them, setting the bad ones aside, after which we check the quality, for the seeds must not be damaged when we crack open the nuts. After this, they are weighed and transported to the factory.   

So what I’ve understood is that these nuts are used in the production of cosmetics, shampoos, creams, and massage oils, right? They’re able to extract this from the seed oil in Cali. Nice, so the products are sold even internationally. That makes us happy. We are proud of our nuts.

Clara Ramirez: I come from Sincelejo, Sucre, where I’ve spent my entire childhood. These trees are found in that area. We never would have thought that the nuts are used for the things from what we are now doing [sic]; aren’t they used in cosmetics? Not even my father knew how useful they were, then I met the father of my children here in Santa Marta. He knew all about the nuts, I had never thought to crack these nuts, we had never collected anything. Yes, it’s important for us, we can say important for everyone to collect them now.

Our work starts in January and lasts through May, during the harvest. By opening the nuts I can stay close to my children. It’s also a kind of relaxing activity, we have fun doing it and it’s a pleasant activity. We talk to each other, for example my mother also cracks open the nuts and here we sit gabbing, talking, and laughing and everything is cool and fun.

My name is Yuselfi Carolina Vargas Bravo. It’s lovely that we have gotten additional training. Mr. Manuel came to us and guided us through the various training modules. We have learned how to handle food products very differently. Now we know how to prepare meals hygienically. How to store our food and clean utensils and pots. To wear gloves, especially when preparing meats and chicken. We have learned a lot about preparing and handling foodstuffs. This is important for us, because beyond the nut harvest we work in food service businesses or sell meals that we prepare directly.

For me this work is very important and I’ve been doing it for a few years now. It allows me to send my children to school and buy uniforms and school supplies. Now we have the opportunity to earn money beyond the harvest, and it helps us so much to get by and lead normal lives. And I want my children to get a good education.


The project is one of the three projects of Natural Ingredients for Cosmetics, where the initiatives search to improve the value chain of cosmetics that involve natural ingredients and that have the potential to enter the international market, with finished products or supplies while they are generating opportunities for communities involved.

The project “Magdalena River Nuts” is part of the programme Colombia + Competitiva in a component that supports the strengthening regional competitiveness, as a complement to the prioritization of solutions to critical problems that affect national competitiveness.

The Programme Colombia + Competitiva is a joint initiative of the Swiss Embassy in Colombia, Economic Cooperation and Development (SECO) and the National Government, it aims to contribute to the country's efforts, focused at improving its competitiveness and diversifying its economy , through the strengthening of its productive sector and the creation of a more favorable environment for business. Swisscontact is the facilitator of the program.


Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia