Brazil nut projects in the Amazon adapt to new reality imposed by COVID-19

To adapt to the new reality of the pandemic, organizations working with the Brazil nut value chain in the Amazon made a series of adaptations to their projects for the 2020–21 harvest. In particular, entities supported by the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB) resorted to new technologies and diverse forms of communication to ensure that their projects would not be interrupted. 

Actions included the installation of communitary internet points in indigenous lands and isolated regions, and the distribution of communication equipment (such as cell phones) and hygiene kits (face masks and hand sanitizer). In addition, new communication channels were created to keep traditional populations informed and to provide continuous training. 

One of the initiatives launched to support Brazil nut producers during the pandemic was a podcast named #BoraSEMEAR! (Let's SOW!, listen here), focused on 14 territories (including protected areas and Indigenous Lands) in two Brazilian states (Amazonas and Rondônia). The audio content was developed last year, and was initially distributed through WhatsApp and later made available on social media channels. 

The podcast was created by the International Education Institute of Brazil (IEB), a PCAB implementing partner, together with its network of partners under the SEMEAR Castanha project. Its goal is to disseminate knowledge on best practices in the Brazil nut distribution chain in times of pandemic. 

The target audience is formed by 13 organizations, totaling over 1,000 nut collectors. Tips range from harvest planning to commercialization, including collection, transportation, and other steps for delivering a high-quality product.

In addition to the podcast, Brazil nut producers have access to other materials on good practices, including videos, folders, and posters. IEB has also installed new internet points in local communities.

"The challenge was immense for both Brazil nut producers and our staff. Everyone had to learn how to work remotely and how to engage in virtual education programs," says André Tomasi, IEB project adviser.

According to Tomasi, 13 work plans have also been produced, totaling 57 activities. These include disseminating a technology package; monitoring the use of the Castanhadora app (an online calculator that helps extractive producers to estimate their production costs); and sharing good practices. 

As Brazil nuts are an important source of income for several communities in the Amazon, the organizations also launched campaigns to donate food baskets so as to ensure their food security and enable them to remain in their villages. Since February, these organizations have been encouraging vaccination against COVID-19 through awareness-raising campaigns targeting mainly Indigenous and Quilombolas, who are priority groups in Brazil.

Dialogue – Another initiative launched during the pandemic to help Brazil nut producers was the Brazil Nut Observatory (OCA, in the Portuguese acronym), which relies on the work of institutions, projects and collectives that are already involved with this value chain. OCA brings together several PCAB implementing partners, such as the IEB, IPÊ (Ecological Research Institute), and the United States Forest Service, among others. It aims to consolidate and strengthen Brazil nut collectives, promote knowledge, disseminate information, and become a forum for discussions and experience sharing.

To this end, the Brazil Nut Dialogue project was resumed in early March, with two days of online discussions involving actors in the production chain to draw an overview of the 2020–21 harvest and analyze the impacts of the pandemic (watch the videos here).

Brazil nut production is an important extractive activity under the umbrella of sustainable forest management, and one that helps to preserve biodiversity. It brings together people from all age groups – elders, adults, and young people – who, during the harvest season, spend days on end in the forest collecting, washing, and storing the nuts. Their livelihood was heavily affected by the pandemic due to the need for social isolation. For 2021, the harvest is expected to fall, although no-one knows yet by how much. 

Challenges - During one of the meetings, Paulo César Nunes, project coordinator of the Vale do Amanhecer Small Farmers' Cooperative (COOPAVAM), said that the crisis generated by the pandemic was very serious. Operating with six organizations in four indigenous lands, COOPAVAM is one of the cooperatives that buys Brazil nuts from indigenous people. "Many communities closed access to their land and interrupted all activities and sales. This had an impact on their economy, and these groups were deprived of the most basic resources to buy inputs and food," said Nunes. 

In order to face this challenge, Nunes says that a range of actions were developed to ensure food security, including diversifying traditional vegetable gardens and involving young people in food production. He also highlighted the importance of access to communication. "It is essential that communities have access to communication, and now, through the support of our partners, they are getting faster internet access, which enables us to hold meetings and capacity building sessions."