In 2017, a Kaxarari leader was shot while it was suspected that the crime had been committed by people involved in the illegal timber trade. Last year an army raid find timber illegally cut inside indigenous territory. The irregular activity has since cooled, according to Edivan: “There were frequent inspections, so the situation calmed down.”
Along the BR-364 highway, which connects the capitals of Rio Branco and Porto Velho, tall Brazil nut trees stand alone among the low-grass pastures. Cattle producers keep the species intact to avoid environmental fines. But that only lengthens their death. âThe tree needs a flow of water and nutrients that the deforested environment cannot provide,â says Wadt. The Brazilian walnut languishes, producing less and less leaves and fruit. Lightning often strikes specimens without the protection of the dense rainforest.
There have been occasional attempts to domesticate it, but they didn’t take off. One of the main reasons is that it takes about two decades for the tree to start producing fruit – an unattractive long-term investment for farmers.
âThe market for nuts has only gotten worse because the price is high and supply cannot meet demand. If they don’t plant, it will get worse and worse, âexplains agronomist Alfredo Homma, also a researcher at Embrapa.
Experts such as Wadt and Coslovsky disagree. They see other barriers to large-scale production. One of these problems is that public policies ignore the traditional economic activities of the Amazon rainforest. To get an idea, of the R $ 2 billion (US $ 368 million) of rural credit granted by the federal government to the Brazilian Amazon states between 2019 and 2020, R $ 55 million ($ 10 million) – i.e. less than 3% – have been invested. in sustainable activities, according to a survey by the Sustainable Connections Institute (Conexsus), presented at the bioeconomy conference. Of this total, only 8.4 million reais ($ 1.5 million) was spent on collecting Brazil nuts.
The result is an unstructured supply chain, according to Conexsus. Informal intermediaries represent more than 70%, and they pay little to collectors. âWe don’t have a market to sell to. Every year, we sell our production to intermediaries who buy at very low prices, âexplains Edivan Kaxarari. This year, native collectors could sell a box containing 13 kilos of nuts for an average of R $ 50 (US $ 9).
Edivaldo Kaxarari is a schoolteacher and supplements his income with a small improvised grocery store in a room of his wooden house (as is customary in local architecture), located near the exit of the village of Pedreira in Kaxarari territory. In front of his house, he also stacks bags full of Brazil nuts from collectors in the village. âThere are a lot of Brazil nuts here, but the buyer only comes to this area when there is a lot of them, so I buy them and put them together,â he says.
Today, the walnut is already valued for the health benefits it brings – it is rich in selenium, an antioxidant mineral – but it is not yet valued for the benefits it brings to the forest.
Edivaldo sells his production to Rosenilson Ferreira, known as Louro, who, when harvesting nuts, often goes to the area to load his truck. Ferreira is the son of farmers who migrated in the 1970s from the state of Mato Grosso to Extrema – a village which is the closest urban center to the indigenous territory, 30 kilometers on a dirt road. He has four children, but no land. âI have no other choice. There is no work, I have no education. The way is to fight for it, âhe says.
From there, production goes through several hands, according to Ferreira, even crossing national borders: âI sell to other intermediaries. They buy from us, process and ship the nuts, which go to many companies. Several mills are in Bolivia.
Amazon for export
Brazil nut was exported since the time of colonization. In the early 2000s, Europeans rejected the product due to health concerns. Since then, other countries have entered the market. The three neighbors of Brazil, Bolivia and Peru have tried to form partnerships for promote the sustainable product in foreign markets, but today they are customers – and competitors – of each other.
Disorganized supply chain still leads to health problems, as evidenced by salmonella epidemic caused by Bolivian lots bought by the UK two years ago. But instead of removing Brazil nuts from the import list, the UK government recently announced investments in capacity building for communities to boost their exports on a large scale. âThe bioeconomy is an important driver of economic, social and environmental development,â said British Ambassador Peter Wilson. Economic Value newspaper in July.