For decades, if not centuries, the Amazon dwellers of southern Colombia didn’t make too much of the cacay nut.
They fed it to their livestock, used it to treat wounds and chopped down its trees for firewood.
But then, a few years ago, the global jet-setting crowd found out what the yellow-ish oil from the protein-rich nut could do for their skin. And suddenly, the cacay (pronounced kahk-ai) has become a red-hot commodity, providing the key ingredient to anti-aging facial creams that can fetch $200 an ounce in beauty shops in Los Angeles and London.
While most of the nuts come from wild trees in remote areas, new plantations are popping up in impoverished parts of Colombia that were better known for cocaine and anti-government rebel groups. Vitaliano Ordonez, a farmer who used to give the nuts to his cows, sold eight of the animals to buy 120 saplings. Because only a few are mature enough to produce this year, he’s scavenging every kernel from two old trees on his small dairy farm in Puerto Rico, Colombia, 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of Bogota.