A Brazilian nut tree has many uses. It is used by animals for food, such as the agouti, which gnaws on the capsules and eats some of the seeds within. Other seeds are stored for later use. Other seeds can germinate to grow new Brazil nut trees. Young saplings sit in the shade, waiting for sunlight.

Zoro

Indigenous Zoro have struck a balance between income generation and forest preservation by harvesting Brazil nuts and selling them through a farmers’ cooperative, COOPAVAM. The cooperative ensures that farmers receive fair prices for their products, which are far superior to the price offered by the traditional network of middlemen. In fact, the Zoro renounced ties with illegal loggers in 2018 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased the threat to their forests. Besides illegal logging, other threats to the forest include cattle ranching and illegal mining.

During the pandemic period, deforestation caused the disappearance of many Indigenous people, including the Zoro. The isolated Indigenous people were believed to be the last of the Piripkura people, a group that is now down to two individuals. The Piripkura Indigenous Territory is a few kilometers to the north. Another incident of this kind is expected to happen in November 2020.

Castanheiros

The Brazilian nut tree is native to the rain forests of South America, including the Amazon. It can grow up to 50 meters tall and has a trunk diameter of one to two meters (3.3 to 6.6 feet). The Brazil nut tree bears a large, woody capsule, similar in shape to a grapefruit. A single pod can weigh up to 2.2 kilograms. In the Amazon, the nut tree is so large that it can damage cars.

The Brazil nut is harvested directly from the trees by collectors who use machetes and walk many kilometres through the jungle to reach the nuts, where they pack them in a woven basket. One mature Brazil nut tree produces 250 pounds of nuts a year, but scientists cannot figure out what animal breaks open the shell. Biologists were puzzled by the fact that Brazil nut trees only grow in tropical forests.

Brazil nut trees

The Brazilian nut tree is one of the largest trees in the Amazon rainforest, growing up to 50 m (160 ft) tall. Its trunk is around 1 to 2 m in diameter. The tree is also known to live for 500 or more years and often exceeds a thousand years. Its stem is relatively straight and without branches for over half of its height. Branches grow off the stem in an emergent crown.

The Brazilian nut has become a very valuable commodity for local people and has helped conserve millions of hectares of Amazonian rainforest. The nut industry is also responsible for many indigenous communities’ livelihoods and forest-based development. But it is also a relic of past centuries and remains an integral part of their culture. The Brazil nut tree is also the only species whose seed is traded globally.

Bees

The Brazil nut tree is a native of tropical rain forests in South America. The tree, Bertholletia excels, can grow up to 50 meters tall. It is a good source of hardwood lumber and is a favorite nesting site for harpy eagles. The Brazil nut is composed of 8-25 seed, each of which is comprised of an endosperm. Its pale yellow flowers admit only female orchid bees.

Euglossine bees are the only insects that regularly gain access to the flowers of the Brazil nut tree. Not only do they feed on nectar from the flowers, but they also pollinate the plants, ensuring that they produce nuts. These insects must visit the Brazil nut tree to pollinate it and reproduce. They also eat the seeds of the tree. Bees rely directly on the Brazil nut as a source of food and nectar.

Plantations

The Brazil nut is a source of food and nutrition for people living on plantations in central Brazil. The fruit matures approximately 14 months after pollination. It is a large, leathery capsule with a hard, woody shell, containing eight to twenty-four wedge-shaped seeds ranging from 4.5 to 5 cm in length. Plantations rely on the Brazil nut for food, and the low yields of this crop make it an insignificant source of volume and market share.

The first phase of the Brazil nut economy emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century. Early investors established vast forest estates in order to harvest the nut, also known as seringais (Portuguese), which was harvested by using a process of coercion. As the demand for this product increased, these estate owners relied on indentured labor from indigenous people. As a result, labor shortages and indentured labor became rampant during the rubber boom.