Amazon’s indigenous people live off income from Brazil nuts

Latin America

Amazon's indigenous people live off income from Brazil nuts

Many know them as “Brazil nuts”, but they also come from Bolivia and Peru. These seemingly simple seeds serve a greater purpose than just nutrition, providing an income for the indigenous people who collect them in the Amazon.

CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports from Peru’s southern Madre de Dios region.

At first glance they look like coconuts, and that’s what the local people call them: ‘Cocos.’ In fact, they are kind of wooden pods, containing more than a dozen Brazil nuts. In the region, the harvest season has just begun. Most of the cocos still hang in the trees.

Brazil nuts come from a huge tree, one of the tallest in the Amazon rainforest. In Peru, it’s illegal to cut them down. It takes 25 years for the tree to reach maturity and start producing nuts. That means it’s virtually impossible to farm it, and it only grows in a standing rainforest.

The trees are spread out across the Harakmbut indigenous lands, belonging to the tiny village of Masenawa. Between January and March, the Brazil nut harvest provides a welcome income for the village. However, this wild nut is a labor-intensive product. It’s gathered over a wide area and not produced in great volume.

The nut is sustainably-harvested and rich in minerals, including selenium. It’s a niche product for people into healthy eating.

“Selenium is found naturally in Brazil nuts. In fact it’s one of the most abundant natural sources of the mineral, which is said to have a positive influence on mental health,” explained Sofia Rubio, Founder of environmentally-friendly company Shiwi.

“In fact, it’s in a global list of foods which makes you happy. Furthermore, it’s good for cellular processes to prevent aging, and prostate and breast cancer.”

Rubio toasts nut slices with herbs as a healthy snack, but her company Shiwi also produces an anti-wrinkle oil and even a beer made from the nut.

Rubio grew up in the rainforest, and for her, this wild nut is more important as a forest protector.

“Right now in Madre de Dios, artisanal mining, logging, agriculture and livestock are the dominant economic activities,” she said. “Only tourism and the Brazil nut are relatively forest-friendly, which is why we’re working to give added value to the product and the activity so that we can have a healthy Amazon rainforest.”

Using new presentations, Rubio is finding new markets, especially in Asia.