The Story of Harvesting Brazil Nuts

The Story of Harvesting Brazil Nuts

brazil nutsThe harvest story of Brazil nuts is a beautiful one.

The Brazil nut is very special, as it is the only internationally-traded nut that comes from the wild, specifically from the Peruvian amazon.

It’s also one of the most important non-timber forest products for export that the people of Bolivia have.

The Brazil nut forests give concession holders the opportunity to make a sustainable living. This means they have access to funds to give their children a good education. Because these forests are their livelihood, the people there take great care of them. The residents believe that Brazil nuts are a wonderful product that yields a reward for them each year without fail.

Harvesting Brazil nuts and timber in the Peruvian Amazon

While harvesting Brazil nuts doesn’t take huge effort, it does take a lot of patience.

A producer (or harvester) of the nuts doesn’t need to climb the tree to collect the fruit, nor do they have to cut down the tree to collect it. He simply has to allow the fruit is mature, wait for it to fall from the tree and then collect it from the forest floor.

Brazil nut trees produce fruit every year, throughout the year. The fruit doesn’t all fall at once, but during the months of January, February, March and April, when the last few small ones fall to the forest floor.

The concession holders don’t just harvest the Brazil nuts, though. Many of them also harvest valuable timber that they can sell whenever they need extra income. Under current Peruvian law, this is allowed if the concession holder has a permit. And even then, the number of trees harvested are few – about one tree harvested per hectare.

Timber harvesting and Brazil nut conservation

Even though it seems that very little impact is being made on the forest environment, recent CIFOR (Centre for International Forestry Research) research has found that often, more timber is harvested in Brazil nut concessions than in dedicated timber concessions.

Conservation vs. Development

Naturally, this has raised concern among conservationists as to whether timber harvesting will affect the local ecosystem and sustainability of the Brazil nut trees.

The harvesting of timber is a controversial issue. On the one hand, concession stakeholders don’t want logging to take place at all, so there’s a conservation element to the harvesting of timber.

On the other hand, development groups say that as long as the timber harvesting is done correctly, these systems can still produce enough timber to satisfy the local needs.

CIFOR says it’s not that the forests are being cleared or massive deforestation is taking place, but there is always an effect when ecosystems are touched. This effect (if there is an effect at all) is now being investigated by a new CIFOR project, funded by USAID (United States Agency International Development).

What does the research project hope to discover?

One of the main objectives of this research project is to see whether selected timber harvesting has an effect on the production of Brazil nuts.

For instance, when trees are cleared from the forest floor, there are increased light levels on neighbouring vegetation. This could have a positive effect on the growth of the Brazil nut trees.

But CIFOR says that there’s always a trade-off when an ecosystem is interrupted. When timber is harvested, the amount of forest cover is reduced. This could limit pollen transfer between one individual plant and another. In the natural order, one tree is only able to produce fruit using pollen transferred from another tree – the tree itself can’t self-fertilise. So when one sees an isolated Brazil nut tree, what’s noticeable is that it hardly bears any fruit. This is because it’s nowhere near any neighbouring trees for pollination to take place.

So the overall aim of the CIFOR research project is to see, in great detail, the extent to which the production of the Brazil nut at an individual level is compromised when there are logging gaps nearby (areas where trees have been cut down).

The good thing about this study is that there is currently no sufficient data to inform local policy or best practices. Regardless of what they discover, the results will help CIFOR understand and promote a better use of the Brazil nut trees.

Potential effects of Brazil nut timber harvesting:

  • No effect: If there is no effect on the vegetation under the current logging intensities, then CIFOR can safely say that harvesting nuts and timber can be done, as long as it is done correctly and in line with best logging practices.
  • Negative effect: If there is a negative effect, it is then up to the local lawmakers to decide whether that logging should cease and concessioners should rather compensate with other activities.
  • Positive effect: If there is a positive effect, it is a win-win situation.

Sustainability of Brazil nut Trees

Brazil nut forests are mature forests: they have a well-established dynamic, where every tree and every animal has its role in the ecosystem.

Conservation groups believe that people begin to extract trees from this balanced ecosystem, this disturbs the interesting dynamic that exists there. They believe that if we want to have Brazil nut forests, not just today, but for the next 10, 20 or 50 years, then more time is needed to evaluate what is really happening there.

Development groups feel that the kind of logging (timber harvesting) that has been done up until now has simply been coexisting with Brazil nut harvesting for a long time, and hasn’t shown an effect on the sustainability of the Brazil nut trees.

The most important things that CIFOR research hopes to establish are best practice guidelines and policies that specifically outline what can be done in order to harvest timber inside a Brazil nut concession in a sustainable manner.

brazil nutsMontagu Brazil Nuts

Montagu’s premium quality Brazil nuts come from Bolivia, in South America. We indirectly support this community in Peru by sourcing all our Brazil nuts from Bolivia. We are extremely proud to be playing a small part in sustaining the livelihood of an entire community.