Finding balance between People, Food

Finding Balance Between People, Food and Forests


Maya Nut Institute is a nonprofit 501(c)3 public charity founded in 2001. While our mission remains the same, we changed our name from The Equilibrium Fund to The Maya Nut Institute in 2010. Our mission is to "find balance between people, food and forests" by teaching rural communities about the value of Maya Nut for food, fodder, ecosystem services and income.

We maintain an "open access" policy with our documents, materials, photos, manuals and other information. This is in keeping with our goal of sharing any and all knowledge about Maya Nut with as many people as possible as quickly as possible. If you are visiting this website and use information from it, please be considerate and cite as the source. This will help inform more people about us and our work with the end result being increased conservation and reforestation of Maya Nut for the future.

Our organization works as a horizontal hierarchy, with individual country programs having as much autonomy as possible regarding program planning, partners, administration, spending and staff. Our goal is for each country staff, participants and/or partners to eventually spin-off and form an organization that can continue the work we started together. We believe that this is the best way to ensure program continuity and empowers them with a powerful tool to solve their own problems.

So far we have been successful:
  • Guatemalans have formed four national organizations:  CODEMUR (Commitee for Rural Women's Development), AMUL (Asociacion Muralla de Leon), ADEMIX (Asociacion de Mujeres de Ixlu) and Ramon Femenino. These groups produce and sell Maya Nut locally and internationally. They make all their own decisions about their work.
  • El Salvadoran women have formed several microenterprises. PrOjushte, MannaOjushte and El Ojushte are all rural women's Maya Nut enterprises. They make all their own decisions about their work. They sell all their products locally.
  • In Nicaragua there are currently 3 women's Maya Nut enterprises in Nicaragua, Flor de Ojoche, Ojoche Producers of San Pedro and Ojoche Cooperative of Versailles. They make all their own decisions about their work and market all their products locally. In some cases, Nicaraguan women producers have increased their annual income by up to 24%.
  • Honduran producers have formed an independent producer group in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve and two of our former staff have formed a business, Nuez Maya, Honduras. They distribute Maya Nut produced by rural producers, who often have trouble accessing market opportunities and also provide consulting services for institutions seeking to incorporate Maya Nut into their programming.


Maya Nut (Brosimum alicastrum) is in the fig family (Moraceae). It was the staple food for prehispanic cultures throughout the neotropics, who probably ate it boiled and protected it as a source of food which attracted their favorite game species (deer, wild pigs, large forest rodents). In recent history thousands of villages survived drought, war and famine by eating Maya Nut when no other food was available. It is truly a "lifesaving" tree. Today, however, the food value of the Maya Nut is largely forgotten and rural people cut it for fuel and to plant corn and other annual crops. The Maya Nut Institute works to rescue the lost indigenous knowledge about the Maya Nut for food, fodder and ecosystem services in rural communities throughout the historic range of the Maya Nut tree.

"My grandparents ate Maya Nut, they told me about it, but they never cooked it for me. I never had it until you came and taught us recipes. Im really glad to know about it, its really good food, really nutritious.." - Lucia Rodriguez de Flores, Guatemala

"We had a drought here that lasted 7 years. The corn just withered and died. Even the platanos (bananas) dried up and did not produce. We went to the forests and gathered Maya Nut and we ate that, some weeks it was all we had, just boiled Maya Nut and maybe some corn. Without Maya Nut we all would have died." Jose Lira, Cosiguina Nicaragua

"During the war my father couldnt plant the corn or anything. He couldnt even go outside, none of us could, it was too dangerous. My grandmother went out at night and collected Maya Nut seed from beneath the big trees by the river. We had to eat them raw because a fire was not possible. We survived almost a month on the Maya Nut and other things my grandmother scavenged at night. She saved our lives, Maya Nut saved our lives." Elvia Sanchez, Morazan, El Salvador


Since we started work in 2001, more than 600 rural and indigenous women have formed 25 different autonomous businesses to produce and market Maya Nut products and to teach workshops to other women.

Women are the primary beneficiaries of our programs. We work with women because they are a critical link between the family and the environment, and because they are responsible for the health of the family. We have found that healthy famiies are better able to care for the environment because they can make sound decisions based on logic, rather than desperate decisions based on immediate need for food, medicine or school materials.

Children benefit directly from our programs as well. We work in some of the most acutely malnourished communities in the world, where developmental delays in children are distressingly common. We work to educate parents about the nutritional value of Maya Nut so they can include it in the family diet. We also work in schools and are implementing the Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests, Maya Nut School Lunch program in several schools in Nicaragua and Honduras in 2013

These women enjoy improved incomes and an opportunity to contribute to the family economy. More important, however, is the impact on their self-esteem and status in the family and the community. These are the changes that we seek at the Maya Nut Institute. The empowerment of women means that lasting change is happening and that these women can now take charge of their lives and work productively and effectively to improve the wellbeing, health and incomes of their families.

Women business owners and their families are much more concerned with rainforest conservation and reforestation of available land with Maya Nut.

Starting in 2013 we will be developing our Maya Nut Certified! certification program. This is a self-certification that will be affordable for Maya Nut producers  and will guarantee that Maya Nut sold by certified producer groups is produced without chemicals (organic), Sustainably harvested, Produced by women, and that all participants in the value chain are paid a fair price for their products.

The Maya Nut Institute provides a new paradigm of community based conservation which focuses on women as the caretakers of the family and the environment. By providing women with the skills they need to earn income and feed their children, we improve women's lives and the lives of their families.

Our program is unique because it addresses key factors for sustainable livelihoods in one program: Sociocultural, Environmental and Economic

Our methodology is based on the principles of active learning and suitable technology. Through one-day workshops in rural communities, we train women about the recipes, nutrition, processing, and marketing of the Maya Nut. In these workshops, women gather to cook together, exchange stories and experiences with the Maya Nut, and listen to short presentations on the health content of the Maya Nut, including how it compares to common food sources such as beans and corn. Some of the delicious foods they learn to prepare with the Maya Nut in these workshops include tamales, tortillas, salad, cakes, cookies, tortas, ice cream, and beverages. This knowledge of the Maya Nut as a free and nutritious food source motivates them to conserve rainforests, plant Maya Nut trees, and get organized to produce and market Maya Nut products so that they can earn income.

The Maya Nut program has demonstrated positive and lasting impacts on:
  • Rainforest conservation
  • Reforestation
  • Health and nutrition
  • Food security
  • Women’s incomes, self-esteem and status
  • Maternal health and infant birth weights

    Since 2002 we have trained over 18,000 women from 1200 communities about Maya Nut for food and income


Erika Vohman, Founder and Executive Director, USA
Erika Barrera, Consultant, Guatemala program
Alejandra Osorto, Consultant, Honduras program
Christine Woda, Coordinator, Honduras Program Northeastern region
Nidia Lara, Consultant, El Salvador Program
Zorayda Leiva, Coordinator, Nicaragua Program
Henry Gonzales, Coordinator, Peru Program
Hebert Pierre, Coordinator, Haiti Program

Maya Nut Certified!

We are developing our Maya Nut certification program, which is a very big step toward guaranteeing consumers that their purchase creates the desired benefits for the planet and for people.
Our main criteria are:


 Additional criteria include:

We are in the process of developing the certification criteria and means of verification. Once these are developed, we will start to seek funding to publish training materials and help train certifiers.

Our Partners:


EnvolVert, Columbia
El Salvador:
CATIE, El Salvador
CONFRAS, El Salvador
FONAGRO, Guatemala
Ministry of Agriculture, Guatemala
Instituto Nacional de Bosques (INAB), Guatemala
Programa Reverdecer, Guatemala
Municipality of Flores, Peten, Guatemala
Article 29 Organization, Haiti

Food Security:
United Nations Development Programme, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala
El Salvador:
CALMA, El Salvador
FIAES, El Salvador
INTERVIDA, El Salvador
Catholic Relief Services, El Salvador
Ministry of Education, Guatemala
World Neighbors, Honduras
Heifer Project International, Honduras
University of Guadalajara, Mexico
University of Central America, Nicaragua
Feed the Hungry, Nicaragua
Municipalities of Chinandega, Cinco Pinos and San Pedro del Norte, Nicaragua
URKU Estudios Amazonicos, Peru

Sustainable Resource Management:
El Salvador:

Ministry of Natural Resources, El Salvador
Fundacion AGAPE, El Salvador
Parque Nacional Plan de Amayo, El Salvador
National Park Service (CONAP)
Proyecto Reserva Biosfera Rio Platano, Honduras
Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources, Nicaragua
Darwin Initiative, London

Economic Opportunities for Women and Girls:
El Salvador:

Fundacion Gaia, El Salvador
Alimentos Nutri-Naturales, S.A. Guatemela
Fundacion Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemala
Empresa Comunitaria Alimentos Nutri-Naturales, Flores, Peten, Guatemala
LIDER, Nicaragua
Asociacion de Productoras "Flor de Ojoche", Nicaragua
Asociacion de Productoras PROJOCHE Cinco Pinos y San Pedro Nicaragua
United States:
Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products

Biodiversity Conservation:

Fundacion Nativa, Columbia
Lancetilla Botanic Garden, Honduras
Defensores de la Naturaleza, Guatemala

Other Partners:
BANRURAL, Guatemala
Embassy of the Republic of Germany
Embassy of the Republic of Luxemburgh
Rotary Club, Flores, Peten
Arrocera los Corrales, Guatemala
Agenda Forestal, Honduras

restoration of ancient agricultural systems, traditional forest foods, indigenous food, indigenous forest food, economic opportunities for women, rural women income opportunities