Sustainable management: Indigenous group launches its own brand of açaí

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced villages at the Rio Branco indigenous land, in the Amazon, to introduce a number of adaptations to their daily lives. In spite of many challenges, a group formed mainly by young people and women have managed to move forward with a new project. In early 2021, they launched a new brand named “DoAçaí” to sell their products in the municipality of Alta Floresta d'Oeste, in the state of Rondônia.

Their achievement results from a number of activities developed by them since 2018, with support from the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB). The initiative was delayed last year due to measures limiting access to local villages, as a way to avoid contamination by the new coronavirus. However, thanks to the early vaccination of Indigenous people and the adoption of health and personal hygiene measures – including the use of personal protective equipment – they were finally able to move forward with their plans. 

The Açaí Initiative aims to structure the açaí production chain, including training the people involved, providing logistical support, and implementing a processing unit in São Luiz, a local village. Conducted by the Doá Txatô Indigenous Association, it is co-managed by the Water Pact, and supported by USAID/Brazil, the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Brazilian Education Institute (IEB) through their value chain project. 

Açaí is the most widely extracted non-timber forest product in the Amazon region, and plays an important role in generating sustainable income for indigenous families and traditional communities living in the forest. Across the Amazon, the extraction of this fruit has reached 215,000 tons annually, according to the latest IBGE study – a 113 percent growth if compared to 2006 (learn more about it here).

“The project has benefited all people involved. It has empowered women, and has also encouraged young people to take a leadership role and become more mature. In addition, they have developed a more mature management style, which is evident in their decision to develop a specific business model for their project,” says Keli Réggias Dias, implementing officer of the Açaí Initiative.

Aruá Grazielly Neireika Gomes is a young Indigenous leader who has developed her professional skills thanks to the açaí project. She claims she is already reaping the fruits of her engagement at the project. “I have realized how important it is to promote sustainable production. The açaí value chain has offered us a growth opportunity, and has helped us to recognize the value of our land. I hope young people from other Indigenous communities will also join our efforts”, she says. 

Goals – In addition to guaranteeing income generation for indigenous families during the Brazil nut off-season, the açaí project has managed to engage young people in the activities, thus reducing migration to the cities; and has been helping to preserve natural resources through sustainable management and production techniques.

Açaí grows on a palm tree. The berries have a high calorie density and are rich in vitamins (A, E, D, K, B1, and B2), minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron), antioxidants and essential oils. Its harvest is based on ancient indigenous practices, which are now being strengthened by new technologies.

At Rio Branco, Indigenous people use geotechnology as a tool to understand the dynamics of species distribution, and structure the açaí chain in protected areas. Based on that, they can map the location of the açaí palms. Harvesting normally takes place between November and March in floodplain areas, and from April to August on the mainland. Once harvested, the purple berries are processed, and the pulp is commercialized. 

The time between harvesting and processing has to be short so as to preserve the quality of the product. Before the project was launched, it was difficult for indigenous people themselves to commercialize their açaí, as they would be engaged in the harvest but were unable to do the processing of the açaí.