I spent a week in the Brazilian Amazon to explore the Amazonian wild rubber industry as ambassador for Sky Rainforest Rescue - Sky's partnership with WWF to help save one billion trees. I have since created a jewellery collection from the natural material to demonstrate its versatility and beauty. The below is an excerpt from my diary...
One of the reasons I was excited to join this trip was to explore the rubber industry as a vehicle for green economics, which, if scaled, I see as offering real hope to the rainforest. Looking for sustainable revenue streams that can be established from products that depend on the rainforest standing (açaí berries, Brazil nuts, wild rubber) is a crucial part of Sky and WWF's approach here. It develops the idea of 'extractive reserves' that was promoted by Chico Mendes in the 1980s, gained wide support by 1987 and cost him his life on 22 December 1988. Following his assassination by a rancher, the Brazilian Government established The Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in his honour, to demarcate areas of the forest, which could be protected from deforestation, and used to develop sustainable rainforest products.
We walk two hours through the rainforest to reach the rubber tapper's house, exploring a day in his life. It's beautiful though exhausting. Jaguars hidden, the magic is in the detail. A tree lined by mushrooms. Butterfly shaped leaves. A tree wrapped around another, a lover's embrace. Patterns of holes in leaves like a design studio stencil. With the kindest face and a rifle on his back, the rubber tapper leads me into the forest to show me how he extracts rubber from Seringueira trees.
We approach a tree with diagonal scars like tribal markings across a face. He takes his chisel and draws a new line, perfectly straight, in parallel underneath. Shiny beads of white bubble up to the surface, collect along the crack and then at their tipping point run down and into a metal cup positioned at the end of the line. The tree is bleeding rubber. It's weeping, it's laughing. I'm laughing, because it's so absurd! It seems almost paradoxical that this ordinary looking tree, tough dry bark, scattered throughout the rainforest, weeps latex... a white liquid shiny material that is resilient, water resistant, and insulates against electricity. That this tree becomes gloves, tyres, toys... mad alchemy. The thought crosses my mind that even condoms can be made from trees, which considering overpopulation is considered one of the greatest challenges to the environment, strikes me as almost a cosmic joke. Someone is laughing.
Economics might be the most common language and religion of our world. Speak it and persuade everyone. Our political vote might not often allow us to give our opinions directly, but what of our consumer vote? The one we have and use everyday. What if the more sustainable products of the rainforest became more valuable to the farmers than products that depend on deforestation, such as cattle grazing? What can we do with Amazonian wild rubber?
On the last day I woke before dawn to drive out into the rainforest and film it. Standing on top of an open backed car, with my 8mm camera in hand, the road cut a long straight line into the horizon. Deep pink lines scarred the sky above us as we chased black trees. We turned into the forest. A house, a family - a girl brushing her teeth, eyes peering out at me. Chicks marching behind mum, a dog, a vulture reaching out his wings as if to hug the morning sun. We drove in deeper through the archways of the huge extraordinary trees. I left the car and walked alone into the forest, iPhone in hand to make a sound recording. Silence! Deep inside this green womb, my mind found silence in its screaming noise. Loneliness was suddenly impossible. The trees preached presence, and I prayed - to nothing and everything.
On the drive back we passed a group of wild horses. I approached them quietly and asked them, without words, to trust me. Animal handlers couldn't have achieved the response I met. They walked into the centre of the road as if they knew its frame and let me film them. Watching me, watching them. I skipped home cheeks burning with a smile, the Stones playing Wild Horses in my mind.
The Amazonian Wild Rubber Collection by Lily Cole for Sky Rainforest Rescue is available at stylistpick.com
For further information on Sky Rainforest Rescue, click here