Community-Based Processing Plant Brings Sustainable Development to Amazonas

The Ministry of Agriculture certified the community-based Brazil nut processing plant

June, 2022 - Beruri, a municipality in the countryside of the state of Amazonas, is separated by 200 kilometers  from the state capital Manaus. It is home to the only community-based Brazil nut processing plant in the country and it takes a full day to arrive by boat. The Ministry of Agriculture certified the plant. 

After a substantial effort to raise the facilities to the required standard the Beruri Farmers Association (ASSOAB) was able to receive certification a few months ago. ASSOAB president Sandra Amud embraces hard work. She is the first woman to head the association, and was reelected in May for a third term. Her good-natured management style and careful feminine approach are cited by ASSOAB employees as the cause for their production growth and wider recognition.

Currently, ASSOAB employs 62 people and aids 365 extractive families registered in the region. The families supply Brazil nuts to the processing plant.The plant is the second largest employer in the municipality, after the local government. They have a huge impact in a region where a considerable share of the population rely on federal government assistance programs, such as Auxílio Brasil. 

The presence of ASSOAB has changed the relationship between extractive producers and the market. In the past, the only option for riverine families was to sell their production to intermediaries, also known as regatons. "I've heard of several extractive workers who never received cash in exchange for their products — only essential items such as food and clothing, and always at extremely high prices," explains Sandra. In addition to paying a fairer price, the association provides logistical support, offers training, and safety equipment to local workers. 

Pedro de Castro, known as seu Pedro, is a married 60 year old father of five. He lives 20 minutes by boat from Beruri and looks after a Brazil nut grove with his eldest son along the shores of Lake Beruri: "I'm a guardian of the forest," he says with a proud smile, as he describes how he recently chased away a group that was searching for wood near his land: "We don't let anyone touch the forest here. They never came back to retrieve their boat!” 

Standing forest -  The Brazil nut production chain is responsible for supporting thousands of families in the Amazon. Growing deforestation in the region poses a threat to the livelihoods of these families and to the forest. Brazil nut trees can reach up to five meters in diameter and 60 meters in height, and thus attract greedy illegal loggers. 

"Today, ASSOAB's main concern is precisely to keep the forest standing. That's why we only buy nuts from extractive producers themselves, and never from intermediaries. We visited many communities to deliver lectures on the importance of conserving the forest. We explained that it is more valuable to keep the forest standing than to knock it down, so that extractive families may keep their livelihoods," says Jaqueline Lima, forest engineer and technical manager at ASSOAB. 

This awareness is disseminated throughout the entire production chain, from seu Pedro, who collects nuts, to dona Maria das Graças, 44, who takes part in the manual selection, the final stage of processing: "I talk to my kids about nature. I tell them that a tree provides resources for many years, and that you must never knock down a Brazil nut tree. If the forest ends, our work will end too," says dona Maria das Graças, who, before joining ASSOAB, worked as a house cleaner and sold meat on a skewer on the streets to support her five children. 

Women's empowerment - "We must have our own money, otherwise we'll have to keep asking our husbands for money, and they'll want to know what it is for. It's annoying." Being able to provide for her children and gaining financial independence were the reasons dona Maria das Graças knocked on ASSOAB's door requesting a job. 

Her first position was cracking nuts, but now she works on final quality control. She has deep admiration and respect for the President of their association, whom she calls a "warrior". Women account for 60 percent of the workforce and their numbers are increasing. 

There are several stages in Brazil nut processing, and women are engaged throughout, including the more demanding tasks. According to Jaqueline, their work starts in the field, usually collecting, selecting, and washing nuts. Sometimes, they camp for 10 to 15 days in the woods with their whole family. In combination with extractive activities, they care for their children and feed other workers. At the processing stages, they crack the nuts, which requires technique as well as strength; and they also take part in the final selection process to conduct quality control. 

"Our President gives us strength, courage, and motivates us not to feel less important than anyone just for being women. Here at ASSOAB, there is no difference between the work conducted by men or women. The activities that women perform are no less valuable, or less important than those performed by men. We are working to recruit more women into the nut production chain," says Jaqueline. 

Gender equality in the workplace is still a challenge everywhere, and is a focus for USAID supported projects in Brazil. For Alex Araújo, USAID’s Environmental Project Manager, women's care for the community is a project asset. "They generate a positive impact, and we are making an effort to encourage the participation of more women in our projects," says Araújo. 

Partnerships - In order to expand activities and continue helping to protect 1.2 million hectares of native forests, ASSOAB works with a number of key partners. They are  part of the Value Chains project, implemented by the Brazilian Education Institute (IEB). "USAID believed in our work and helped us reach out to our communities. This partnership opened many doors and protected us during the pandemic," celebrates Sandra. 

The partnership enabled ASSOAB to build sheds in some communities when the processing plant halted activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. These sheds were essential to properly store the nuts.

"The results the Value Chains project achieved are great. Some are regulating legislation, access to markets, creating public policies, improving prices for products, and engaging communities and local leaders. Our partnership with ASSOAB dates to Formar Castanha, an initiative also funded by USAID. This partnership is highly appreciated by IEB", says André Tomasi, an environmental analyst at IEB.

NESsT - strategic partnership with USAID, Plataforma Parceiros pela Amazônia (PPA), Erol, Cisco Foundation and CLUA- is another supporter of ASSOAB's. They are helping the association improve its impact monitoring and tracking processes, and diversifying the product lines to reach new markets. Foreign students visited the plant last month to share international market analysis for importing local Brazil nuts. The plant will be refurbished this year to include the prospect of oil extraction from several Amazon seeds.