Apple of my eye: Riverines in the deep Amazonas state launch their own brand of andiroba oil

Members of remote communities alongside the Medium Juruá living over a thousand km from the capital Manaus, set up a company to market their product directly to consumers. 

“Menino dos Óleos” is produced by a community-based company (EBC) called Bauana, set up in 2016 with the support of the Uacari Association of Agro-Extractivists (AMARU), together with Sustainable Amazonas Foundation (FAS), the State Environment Department (SEMA) and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity (ICMBio), which are part of the Médio Juruá Territory Program (PTMJ), supported by USAID. It was born from the hard work and perseverance of three extractive entrepreneurs from the Uacari Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS) – Reginaldo Oliveira, Manoel de Jesus and Vagner Menezes.

The seeds are harvested by 32 communities in the region. For the past three years, Bauana has supplied andiroba oil and murumuru butter to Natura, a well-known Brazilian cosmetics company. 

“We used to collect andiroba oil for a cooperative that processed it and sold it to Natura. There was a lot of demand and plenty of raw material in the region, but that contract alone was not enough to support everyone in our communities. We knew we could work only with the raw oil, but having a new product that adds value to our production is much better. This is what we had always wanted, but it was hard to get here,” said Vagner Menezes. 

The name of the processed oil is a pun with the expression ‘menino dos olhos’ - a popular name for pupils, that literally means ‘the boy of the eyes’. The expression is used for things or people that are considered special and deserve to be taken care of, as in English, “the apple of my eye”. ‘Óleos’ (oils) and ‘olhos’ (eyes) sound just the same in Portuguese, but “as the business is run by three men”, the expression changed sex and the girl of the eyes became the boy of the oils.  

In addition to AMARU and FAS, their business also received support from the Médio Juruá Territory Program (PTMJ), which promotes entrepreneurship. The trio benefited from mentoring, workshops, discussions on product quality and exchanges on good production practices, as well as market access and financing support for the purchase and installation of new machinery to increase their production.

The creation of their new product was also part of the project. “The idea was to have something beyond our in natura product, with added value, so that we could reach other markets and increase our income. We are very happy to have a product that can show Brazil what our land can offer. It is made by traditional communities, and benefits them directly, both in terms of income generation, and territorial protection, while keeping the forest standing,” explained Felipe Pires fro SITAWI, who coordinates the PTMJ locally. 

Amazon logistics

It was not easy to get where they are today with Menino dos Óleos;. From Carauari, the municipality’s town and main hub in the region, it takes two days by boat to reach Bauana. And from there to Manaus, the state capital, another three days. In the opposite direction, to reach some of the even more remote communities, a boat can take another two days. 

There are no roads – just an airstrip for small planes. Electricity comes from generators, and without telephone signal, short wave radios are still a lifeline. “Local entrepreneurs face logistical difficulties, especially in this area, known as the deep Amazon. We were only able to succeed thanks to our partnerships, and a lot of willpower,” explained Vagner. 

He finished high school in 2009 and, at the age of 30, after spending three years without studying due to the lack of opportunities in the region he took a technical course on sustainable production. His final paper was a business plan for the vegetable oil chain. With the support of AMARU and FAS, Vagner and his colleagues set up Bauana. 

“The support we got from SITAWI, along with USAID, Natura and Coca-Cola, came at the right time. When everything seemed to be going wrong, and we were about to give up, things started to work out. We had reached that point. Without equipment or research, we could not take large contracts, nor could we supply what Natura requested. Our new machinery has meant a lot to us,” he says. 

The new equipment purchased with project funds helped reduce costs and increase production efficiency. In the past, it would take them all year to process one ton of andiroba oil. Now, they can produce three tons in just 16 days. By 2020, the goal is to deliver 15 tons of forest products – 10 tons of andiroba oil and five tons of murumuru butter.

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