Nick Ovenden
2023

Nick Ovenden

Advocate/Regeneration Biologist

A nutritional revolution rooted in the Amazon

meet nick

Concerned about climate change whilst working as a teacher in Madrid, Nick Ovenden moved to Ecuador in 2018 to learn about tropical forest peoples and reforestation. He founded YAKUM in 2019, an organisation devoted to regenerating Amazonian forests, foods and cultures, whilst revitalising crucial plant knowledge and community nutrition. Reforesting with indigenous Cofan, Kichwa, Siekopai and Shuar communities, YAKUM aims to plant 1,000,000 trees by 2030, representing over 250 high-nutrient fruit and nut tree species. With his background in molecular biology and education, Nick wishes to investigate and publish profiles of little-studied, wild Amazonian fruits in a series of educational materials to target specific nutrients to pockets of malnutrition.

A nutritional revolution rooted in the Amazon
Nominated by: Martin Kraus MR'15
Class of 2023 Location United Kingdom
Group photo after Nick finished the Sachawaysa community reforestation, started in 2018
Group photo after Nick finished the Sachawaysa community reforestation, started in 2018

Despite obscured identity resulting from centuries of intentional cultural degradation by colonisers, indigenous people in the Amazon have incredibly rich and vibrant cultures, foods, medicines, forests and lives, at home with the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet. Yet many groups in modern Amazonia have been found to be malnourished. As forests are felled and territories lost, access to these foods has become more difficult, with many in danger of being lost or forgotten. Offering transparency around the history of foreign aid and coercion, YAKUM seeks to strengthen these groups’ agency, largely with food sovereignty: the control over, and access to, culturally relevant and highly nutritious foods.

“Prioritizing nutritional significance, we have planted 50,000 trees, mostly fruits, including great varieties of each and around 20 extremely rare species.”

- Nick Ovenden

Successful reforestation requires rigorous planning of which tree species to plant, with what objectives, together with the landowners. The work must be in collaboration with local community, inspiring excitement about reforesting their land and follow-through with tough maintenance, keeping saplings free of weeds every two months for at least three years. Prioritizing nutritional significance, we have planted 50,000 trees, mostly fruits, including great varieties of each and around 20 extremely rare species. A great deal of carbon will be sequestered by our work, and using biochar and bokashi inoculates all our plots with mycorrhizal fungi, restoring the Wood Wide Web, improving ecosystem function from the soil up. The animal population also feeds from community forest gardens, boosting local biodiversity.

The value of restoring knowledge about, and consumption of, more abundant, varied and nutritious traditional foods otherwise displaced by white rice, instant coffee and tinned tuna is so important to cultural identity. Supporting youth interest in and continuing to speak their native tongue, we hire local indigenous staff to ensure 80% of the work is in their own languages. By accessing improved health, these communities can make better decisions, conserve their forests and spend less money on healthcare — and buying food! YAKUM is proud to focus on nutrition as a priority.

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