Muritaro resident Loretta Fiedtkou replanting crabwood trees

By Alva Solomon

It is an initiative which has ignited the village of Muritaro, an Upper Demerara riverine community some 25 miles from Linden, Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice). Loretta Fiedtkou has said that, since she started replanting dozens of crabwood trees in that community, a marked sense of awareness and appreciation of the “vital tree” has been evolving among residents.

Loretta Fiedtkou is on a mission to replant dozens of crabwood trees in the village of Muritaro, an Upper Demerara riverine community where she resides

Loretta Feidtkou, one of five Guyanese women selected in 2021 by global entity Conservation International to support its work in Guyana and South America, has embraced this initiative as part of the Indigenous Women’s Fellowship. “So far, I have replanted more than 70 crabwood trees,” Fiedtkou recently told Guyana Times.
She said the project “lies close to her heart”, since she believes that every tree is essential to the residents mainly for the purpose of the crabwood oil it produces.
“The amount of qualities it has is important,” she said. The leaf is utilised as fertilizer, while the bark is used for medicinal purposes.
The seed is most important, since it is the source of the crab oil, used globally as a stimulant for healthy hair growth and for clear skin. In Guyana, the oil is almost always in demand by mothers of young babies, since it is seen as a cure for the skin condition known locally as ‘trush.’
Fiedtkou has said the seed is also used by villagers as bait for fishing – a practice which, she noted with a smile, may be a little-known fact in Guyana. According to Fiedtkou, although loggers target the tree, her project is focused extensively on conservation.

Four-year wait
She said farming the crabwood tree is a tradition which her forefathers had undertaken, and she wants to ensure that her children benefit from that knowledge. She said she has planted the crabwood tree on multiple occasions as a common practice in her community, and from her experience, it takes 4 years for the tree to produce the seeds.

A bottle of crab oil and the dough from which the oil is extracted are on display at the National Toshaos Council Secretariat, where Fiedtkou displayed her booth as part of her project undertaken by Conservation International-Guyana last week

“So, what happens is that it bears a pod, and it (pod) falls from the tree, and we gather the seeds,” she said.
The seeds are then boiled in a process which sees water being added to the pot repeatedly, as the water is reduced by evaporation while the seeds are being boiled.
The seeds are then left to dry for a three-week period, before their flesh is extracted and made into a dough in a manually-demanding process. The dough is then set aside on a flat metal surface such as a zinc sheet, and the oil emerging from the dough drips into a container. It can take an entire day for the oil to fill a container. The oil is then bottled and marketed.

Replanting process
Fiedtkou has said that, last September, she set out to undertake her project after Conservation International-Guyana had green-lighted her proposal. All the necessary project details were ironed out by that stage.

She said she started her project by building a small nursery of crabwood seedlings. “After it reach a certain size, I transplanted it to the area which was demarcated for the project,” she said, noting that a little over an acre of land is being utilised for the replanting process.

One of more than 70 crabwood plants which Loretta Fiedtkou planted last September at a patch of land at Muritaro, in the Upper Demerara

She said the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), which has been involved in the project, would be provided with an update, and that body would undertake evaluation of the plants. “So that is the next step I am taking now – further monitoring of the project,” she said. She said she also tried replanting the ‘hubadi’ tree, but soil conditions saw growth of this tree being curtailed.

Community involvement
Fiedtkou has said that, from the inception, she held several meetings on the crabwood replanting project with the villagers and with the Village Council of Muritaro. She said she also carried out capacity-building workshops with the villagers as part of the project’s objectives. According to Fiedtkou, the project is long-term in nature. She explained that when the trees begin to bear the pods, she intends to harvest them for the oil. This would have further long-term benefits for herself and others, since the crab oil would provide a means of securing an income.
“Everybody will be mostly involved at that stage, because that is when we will have people involved in gathering the seeds for the oil and other uses,” she said. “I see this as history. I see this as something where someone will talk about this project when I am gone,” Fiedtkou has confidently declared.
She has said that this project is the first of its kind being undertaken in her community. However, she noted that crabwood oil production has been an economic activity in the village over the years, but her project is the first initiative which involves a strategic plan that involves replanting the crabwood trees there.
“We have residents who make the crab oil to sell, but I won’t say it’s on a large scale. Someone would pick up three bags of the seed and someone else would do likewise, and we make a 5-gallon of oil to sell,” she said.
She added that the activity is undertaken at various times during the year, once the seeds can be sourced. She said, however, that there are persons whose main means of earning an income if from crab oil processing.
Since commencement of the project, Fiedtkou noted, she has observed a marked awareness of the importance of the crabwood tree among residents, including the youths. “One person was advising me on placing ribbons on the plants, so that no one could cut down the trees; and on another occasion, people were discussing the demands for the oil. So, it has this awareness that it sparked,” Fiedtkou has said of the replanting project.

Motivational factors
“What motivated me for this project is that, seven years or so ago, I planted crabwood trees, and they bear within four years,” Fiedtkou said. In addition, she noted that the major reasons she pours her energy into the project are the economic value of the trees to the residents, as well as the conservation process involved in the replanting process.