By Sarah Campbell
Since 1999, the Amazon Conservation Association’s “Conserving Brazil Nut Forests” program has supported more than 600 harvester families in the protection of nearly two million acres of rainforest in southeastern Peru and northern Bolivia. This part of the world, where the Andes Mountains meet the rainforest, has long been recognized as one of the most biologically rich regions on Earth.
Native to the Amazon basin, Brazil nut trees are some of the largest in the rainforest. They grow up to 165 feet tall and have a lifespan of several hundred years. Because these trees produce selenium-rich nuts only when growing in a healthy rainforest—they do not thrive except in the wild—the earnings from harvesting nuts serves as an incentive for forest protection.
The Bolivian Tacana people, who live in remote communities along the Madre de Dios River, harvest Brazil nuts as a primary source of income every year. The Tacana economy depends almost exclusively on the harvest of wild Brazil nuts, which takes place every January to March. More than 700 Tacana people rely on the Amazonian rainforest to support themselves, harvesting approximately 480 tons of nuts annually across a forest territory of more than 840,000 acres.
Their territory is so extensive that some nuts, collected from the most distant trees, must be stored for weeks or months at a time before they are sold to processors along the river, and poor storage and drying conditions can lead to mold and contamination. In years past, the Tacana would lose approximately 15 percent of the harvest to spoilage every year, representing a loss of about $130,000 in annual revenue—a tremendous loss for people who live on about $1 a day.
In 2013, ACA and partners helped the Tacana construct 72 payoles, Brazil nut drying sheds, to store their harvest while waiting for river transport. These simple drying and storage buildings provide an alternative to storing nuts on the ground and keep spoilage to a minimum. In 2014, the Tacana built 25 additional payoles for individual families, and earlier this year, they completed six communal payoles to function as Brazil nut warehouses, located in strategic places near major loading areas on the river.
What seems small can make such a difference.
“After working with [the Amazon Conservation Association] over a number of years, we believe that we can improve the management and conservation of our forests,” says Edgar Garcia, a Tacana leader. “We have faith that [the Amazon Conservation Association] will [continue to] help us in this.”
The Amazon Conservation Association envisions a thriving Amazon that sustains the full diversity of life—plant, animal, and human. With help from the Combined Federal Campaign and EarthShare, the Amazon Conservation Association (CFC#49371) and its partners on the ground are able to continue supporting sustainable livelihoods like Brazil nut harvesting, keeping forests standing and traditional practices alive.
Visit www.amazonconservation.org to learn more about ACA's work protecting habitat, supporting sustainable livelihoods, identifying and tracking threats to the Amazon, and promoting field research and education!