The last four years, since raising the flag of the Richard Evans Schultes Center for Amazonian Ethnobotanical Research (RESCAER) in 2019, have been challenging in more ways than one. I have been traveling to Peru and Brasil regularly for over twenty years, bringing with me my lifelong interest in rural economic development and ethnobotany.. Enthusiasm for RESCAER really began with my introduction to a former medical clinic facility at Nina Rumi, an hour by road outside Iquitos and adjacent to the Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana (UNAP), with its sprawling and largely undeveloped rural science campus, as shown in our website at www.schultescenter.org. The well-constructed (by Amazonian standards) facility with a dock on the Rio Nanay was built in the nearly 2000s by evangelical Christians from the US as a rural health care center, with an accompanying floating hospital ship, in the village of Nina Rumi. In 2015 they closed the center and sold it to a Peruvian hotelier. It was in full operation when I first visited Nina Rumi in 2011 with my Peruvian fiancée Yasodara Arellano. She has relatives who live in the village, and her brother Jarlin directs the forest products research laboratory at the nearby UNAP school of forestry. My RESCAER co-founder, Juan Ruiz, is also a UNAP faculty and has a great network there. It wasn’t until later, in 2018, that I was able to tour the decommissioned medical facility. I got excited about the potential for establishing a research institute adjacent to the university, with their standing offer of 20-year lease of virtually any amount of additional undeveloped land we might choose within the forested 70,000 acre rural science campus itself (part of which can be seen from drone view at our website), which was/is further enticing. The name of our non-profit, the Schultes Center, implies a location, a central point of operations, connection, education and demonstration, and thus the search for a physical home. This location meets nearly all the needs for a residential education and research center.
My friend and colleague Dennis McKenna subsequently introduced me to some prospective investors with shared interests, and I began the slow dance of real estate negotiation with the Peruvian fellow who had acquired the property from the departing American evangelists. However, seeing me as a gringo and potential financial score, he held firm at a price around US$1 million, way too much money, particularly considering deferred maintenance and upgrades needed. After three years of off-and-on negotiation (Covid intervening didn’t encourage him to bring the price down reasonably), and with the repeated thumbs-down of investors, I finally gave up, and wished him good luck. The facility still sits idle, still has great potential, but the time has come to look elsewhere for a base of operations.
Turning next to an offer from my ex-pat British friend Angus Morrison to co-invest with him in a 5 hectare property, also outside of the city, and adjacent to the scientific research center of the Peruvian government-funded Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP), I learned even more about the complexity of Peruvian real estate dealings. Although Angus has spent several years and a lot of money on legal fees, a completely clear title- and thus a green light to begin site development- remains elusive, and may require a couple more years in litigation. Meanwhile, the arrival and collapse of the Castillo presidential administration didn’t help matters. Under national adverse possession laws, the advent of the socialist president encouraged widespread squatting by poor people, known as invasores, on unoccupied land, resulting in the creation of numerous instant barrios, and the consequent need to establish armed guard to keep Angus’ property from being occupied. [As I write this, it becomes apparent that documentary coverage of this whole scene would be worthwhile, and I promise to do a better job of doing so.]
Angus already has a fruit pulp processing operation in Iquitos. Shown below his crew is processing cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum). The tangy juice of cocona fruit is able to balance triglycerides in the blood and research at IIAP and elsewhere indicates it’s an effective pre-diabetic nutraceutical. This is one ready-for-market natural product that we’d like to advance. IIAP has done a genetic survey and initial cultivar selection of this tropical fruit, as well as promising clinical studies. I am eager to advance this nutraceutical crop, now grown only informally.
A little further insight: I was in Iquitos last year (2022), at the Belen public market with my colleague Jasper Anda, when a hubbub broke out there, and Angus called to tell us to watch live TV as Peru’s President Castillo, his hands shaking, announced his dismissal of the National Assembly and Supreme Court, an imminent revision of the Constitution; essentially a coup d’etat and a desperate measure on his part, with motions to impeach on his heels. Fortunately this was a very short-lived play, . Castillo was in handcuffs within the hour, his attempted coup a failure, but the initiation of a cascade of further political unrest across the country. Things are still in a political uproar in Peru (as elsewhere!) and the search has continued for a home for our Amazonian work, perhaps a bit farther out from the clamorous city of Iquitos and its nearly half million residents, who keep arriving from the poorer river communities -along with numerous Venezuelano refugees- seeking a slightly better life for their families in the city. Intelligent, sustainable rural development has never been needed more.
Which has led us to the river town of Tamshiyacu, a peaceful Amazon river community of around 8000 souls 50 kilometers from Iquitos, which translates to about an hour by numerous swift-moving aluminum passenger ferries, called rápidos. I first visited Tamshiyacu in 2006, really got a good feeling about it, and slowly began to familiarize myself with the nearly invisible and informal ex-pat community from around the world that lives in the area. There, as happens most anywhere these days, the “small world syndrome” immediately set in, and some great connections have been made. Too many synchronistic events to go into right now, but it seems to be leading to establishing our base there. One of the remarkable people with whom I have become friends is a Croat named Zeljko Birin, who acquired a lovely property that I first visited in 2006, and which he is now planning on making into an Amazonian Medicinal Plant research center very much along the same lines as RESCAER, as I learned quite recently. You can view his project proposal at: https://dmtinstitute.weebly.com/. Zeljko readily offered to join forces with us, and having known him for a number of years, I believe that we can integrate our efforts quite successfully. Moving away from the university into a more tranquilo location has a lot of appeal, and our values and goals are quite simpatico. The next months we’ll be talking and planning more.
Also in Tamshiyacu is a retreat center operated principally for Germans and Austrians by Angelika Kotzur for the last 13 years. In Germany Angelika is a psychologist and counselor specializing in Grof Holotropic Breathwork and other modalities; in Tamshiyacu her center has for over a decade been an ayahuasca retreat center catering to Germans and Austrians, as well as a Biodynamic “pineapple permaculture”. Angelika got stuck in Germany during the pandemic, but has recently returned with a shift of intention from ayahuasca-centered work to more personal retreat use of her lovely camp, as well as involvement with Iquitos-born Ruth Delgado in educational and rural economic development work with youth in the area, especially involving horticulture and plant knowledge, with their start-up Empowerment Project for the Development of Amazonian Communities (https://go fund me/f47400ae; ). This is also in alignment with our RESCAER goals of “Bioprospecting and Talent Scouting,” identifying and teaching the next generation of leaders and researchers in medicinal and nutraceutical plant science. We have begun discussing ways we might more actively work together. Angelika and her German investment group have over the last decade acquired a considerable land base, and intend on further developing some of it for biodynamic agriculture. But times have changed and further investment capital is now quite scarce. Meanwhile ayahuasca tourism is returning, and the remarkable melange of characters from around the globe coming to the dozens of aya retreat centers in the Iquitos area alone. While we are not involved in this this in any direct way, I can steer interested folks to reputable centers and help them land in Iquitos, and am glad to do so. Drop me a line.
So there is underway a shift in focus, but not in objectives. Working with local youth, indigenous and mestizo, is a first step toward guiding them to the university for scientific training and eventually international collaboration. For this there are other opportunities to be developed: NGO’s, mentorship, and academic guidance. Integrating botanical research, education, and rural economic development are at the core of our mission. This is all in the spirit of “pay it forward” and rural development that is my passion. Right now I have an offer from a simpatico American digital marketing expert to set up, pro bono, an effective social media and marketing program for the Schultes Center. For this we need USD$950 to open YouTube and other channels. Once up and running this year, my responsibility will be for providing content, which I am glad- and overdue!- to make the Amazonian ethnobotanical world more accessible, and thus inform and entertain interested folks.
Meanwhile, the McKenna Academy has continued its Amazon-related work, most recently with the release of a short, very well done documentary called Biognosis: (https://www.Dropbox.com/s/fuqrzexpo5mfl1c/biognosis%20%28Original29.mp4?dl=0).
It centers around RESCAER co-founder Juan Ruiz and the Herbarium Amazonense at UNAP, of which Juan is the curator, and who’s been a friend of Dennis since their graduate field work together at UNAP in the 1980’s. I owe a lot of my Amazonian-related connections to Dennis’ seemingly bottomless and always generously proffered Rolodex, and I cherish our friendship and shared values. In fact, I have all along seen my activities as a “boots on the ground” part of the McKenna Academy mission, which is Dennis’ legacy project and which I support whole-heartedly. As for Juan, he’s a generous treasure chest himself, one of the most knowledgeable plant people in Amazonia. I look forward to continuing to assist in what ways I can to help advance contemporary Amazonian ethnobotany, and documenting Juan’s and others’ knowledge. As Dennis emphasizes in Biognosis, and in our clip on Juan at the Upsurgent.org website (https://www.Upsurgent.org), knowledgeable experts like Juan are like human libraries, as fragile as the lives and shelves of the librarians themselves, unless conscientious efforts are made to document and preserve their knowledge. 2024 is our year to take action!
While I have personally drawn no salary so far, I am pleased that this last year Juan has been able to begin receiving regular stipends from the McKenna Academy, just as he is about to retire from the university. I hope to return to Iquitos in February, but now everything for me is contingent on funds. Any contributions would be more than welcome at this time, and IRS tax deductions can be had through our 501(c)3 fiscal agent and friends at Upsurgent.org.
Before my life changed precipitously in late 2011 with my arrest for cultivation and distribution of psilocybin mushrooms, and a subsequent three years in Federal prison, I was able to fund some Amazonian nutraceutical feasibility studies, host travel and expenses for others, and generally operate philanthropically. Things are completely different now, and I currently live and advance my goals on the very thinnest of margins. But we persevere, with a little help from our friends!
There’s a theme here: At this beginning of 2024 I am reaching out to my existing network and beyond, asking you to help RESCAER and connect us with folks of means both great and modest. It feels like after getting out, then four years of “getting ready”. A great network has been built and strengthened over the previous years, but without grants or an endowment, it’s been “a wing and a prayer” all the way so far. it’s now time to get underway!
So this is a low-key but urgent pitch for support going into 2024. We have partnered with a new NGO, Upsurgent, which is serving as fiscal agent for tax-deductible donations. See their website at www.Upsurgent.org (which includes a nice clip of Juan put together by Upsurgent co-founder Paul Lisy).
Below please find the payment links that you can choose from:
US address: PO Box 96, Hoquiam, WA 98550
My cellular is 360-259-3962, also used for WhatsApp communication
My email: email@example.com, used for PayPal
Venmo: Michael Maki (photo of me in a rain poncho)@Michael-Maki-8
The model that I have long had in mind is to create for-profit company sister enterprises with the not-for-profit, two wings of a social purpose enterprise. Somewhere in the mix are carbon credits, and while that may or may not be a truly economically viable part of it, my parallel interest and experience with biochar over the last dozen years can be applied to honest and functional carbon accounting.
My enterprise perspective is to do “proof of concept” and then scale up with the right partners. For this we have started a for-profit Peruvian venture, Pharmazonia SAC, to do product development and identify markets for Amazonian medicinal and nutraceutical plants and extracts, the eventual profits to support our non-profit research and educational work. We’re just at the beginning, the road to market is long and requires capital, but we know the way forward. We have some ethnobotanical offerings that we believe will be well-accepted and profitable in the marketplace, which increasingly includes the domestic Peruvian market. Peru is awakening to its great plant medicine and indigenous food heritage, and goodness knows the people could use a nutritional upgrade. The domestic Peruvian natural products market is growing, while the world market for effective plant medicines and nutraceuticals continues to grow. But it takes money to make money, and our ethical insistence is only to partner with people and companies of the highest integrity. We invite the opportunity to present some of these products to the right investors and development partners.
A final personal note: I have a strong feeling of readiness to take things to the next level, including Zeljko reaching out to me just a few weeks ago, as mentioned above. Now we need all the help we can get from friends and supporters to help build this new center for Amazonian ethnobotanical research. Your contributions are deeply appreciated, large or small, as are your ideas as to where we might turn to fund our 2024 re-launch. And we welcome your direct help, a chance to be part of the founding of a great program. Talk with me about coming down for a visit.
Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, 1+ (360) 259-3962
Blessings and Happy New Year!!