By Katy Puga
Although it appears to be just another nut in every day party-mix, there is more to the delicious Brazil nut than meets the eye. Native to Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, the Guianas, and Colombia, the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) is among the tallest in the Amazon, growing up to 165 feet (50 meters). It is also one of the longest-living species in the region — Brazil nut trees found in the Peruvian Amazon have been estimated to be 800 to 1,200 years old. These nuts are also a source of important minerals and vitamins, have antioxidant properties, and can help to maintain a healthy nervous system.
Commercially harvested in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru, the Brazil nut is an important part of the region’s economy, producing a large number of jobs and a considerable source of income for rural communities. In Peru, Brazil nut production is mainly carried out through concessions and small businesses that extend throughout the entire production chain, from harvesting and processing the nut through selling the final product to international exporters.
As part of the Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon (ICAA) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Rainforest Alliance is working with forest concessionaires in Peru’s Madre de Dios department to provide training and technical support in sustainable forest management and to strengthen markets for non-timber forest products, such as the Brazil nut.
Brazil nut producers in Madre de Dios — an area known as the “biodiversity capital of Peru” for its rich and exuberant vegetation — are receiving support in how to conserve and sustainably use their natural resources while also earning a profit. The Rainforest Alliance and its local partner Comercio Alternativo de Productos No Tradicionales y Desarrollo para Latino América Perú (Candela Perú) are working together to train more than 60 Brazil nut producers in how to meet the certification requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for their harvested nuts.
Candela Perú was founded in 1989 with the goal of finding forest resources that could provide the residents of Madre de Dios with a steady income while not damaging the biodiversity-rich environment, thus assuaging many of the social and economic problems in the area. The organization currently works with 280 Brazil nut producers to process and export the nuts to international markets, mainly the United States and Europe.
Candela Perú’s organic production program involves 171 Brazil nut producers, including members of the Grupo Recolectores Orgánicos de Nuez Amazónica de Perú (RONAP), based in Madre de Dios. Nearly 70 of RONAP’s Brazil nut producers have achieved Fair Trade certification, making it easier for them to meet the requirements necessary to achieve FSC certification through the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood certification program — the world’s leading (FSC) certifier of forestlands.
Daniel Navarro, a director at Candela Perú comments, “It is extremely important to us to be involved in the whole production process, but in particular with harvesters who are usually at a disadvantage when they try to access markets — they are our best partners and the true guardians of the forest in Madre de Dios.” Candela is not only interested in developing the commercial side of Brazil nut production, but it also wants to find “alternatives that will ensure the conservation and long-term sustainability of this incredibly biodiverse region by improving the quality of life for local residents,” he adds.
Candela Perú plans to work with local indigenous communities such as Palma Real and Boca Parimanu, which are part of the Asociación Forestal Indígena (AFIMAD). AFIMAD is currently supported by the European Union through the Fortalecimiento del Manejo Forestal Sostenible en Territorios de Pueblos Indígenas en la Amazonía del Perú (FORIN) project, which is managed by the World Wildlife Fund, the Asociación Internética de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP), Cesvi, IBIS and other organizations.
Navarro believes that certification is a key tool to improve the Brazil nut production process and maintain the high level of quality that is needed to obtain a niche position in international markets and therefore increase the income of Brazil nut harvesters. He endorses SmartWood certification because of its comprehensive approach that takes into account social, environmental, economic, and quality issues. Additionally, many of the Forest Stewardship Council’s criteria are in line with the mission of Candela Perú. “Trees that are left standing generate the income needed to improve the quality of life of the harvesters in Madre de Dios,” he states.
As the number of socially responsible consumers continues to increase, Candela Perú has witnessed an upward trend in the sale of organic products. The group believes that the market for FSC-certified Brazil nuts will continue to grow and that certification is a value-added benefit that will help them in these difficult economic times.
There is a great deal yet to be done in Madre de Dios and many challenges to face. “The Brazil nut harvesters here need training in management and product quality, because to enter niche markets you need to meet stringent quality criteria that go beyond just better harvesting practices to integrated forest management,” says Katherine Pierront, manager of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Forestry Division in South America.
As part of a pilot project, Candela Perú’s pre-evaluation for Rainforest Alliance/FSC certification will also meet the criteria of the Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT) and will include marketing efforts to identify new buyers for the Brazil nut and its subproducts such as oils, soaps, and shampoos.
Pierront explains, “Our goal is to use this model and replicate the experience in other regions in Peru and with other products.” To date, the total of certified forests in Madre de Dios is 519,600 acres (210,280 hectares), of which 444,520 acres (179,894 hectares) is Rainforest Alliance/FSC certified. Through similar partnerships between the Rainforest Alliance and organizations such as Cesvi Peru and the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica, this number will continue to grow and help to ensure the conservation of Peru’s “biodiversity capital.”
Contacts: Katherine Pierront, Rainforest Alliance, Calle Manuel Ignacio Salvatierra 359, 2 piso, Santa Cruz Bolivia. Tel: +5913-332-5042, email@example.com, www.rainforest-alliance.org. Daniel Navarro Coquis, Candela Perú. Tel: +51-1-2873703 / 2875995 Anexo 102, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.candelaperu.net.