How Everyone Can Help To Save The Amazon Rainforest
By Tony Ayre
Paragon Chocolates Ltd
Our story starts in the year AD722. A time when people who you have probably never heard of were fighting over places that have been forgotten in the mists of history and indifference.
We are in South America. Christopher Columbus will discover this continent in Another 770 years time.
A sapling gets its chance and starts its spindly growth spurt towards the sky.
Pushing into the canopy of the Amazon rain forest, the magnificent tree spreads itself over a wide area and lives a long, noble, fruitful and yet fairly insignificant life.
Many, many years later a large rodent called Agouti hears a familiar crashing sound accompanied by a slight tremor underfoot. Following the sound she finds a heavy wooden ball shaped object. It is quite large. Our guinea pig-like friend would not know because the metric system will only be incepted 429 years later, but the diameter of this object is more than 20cm and the weight exceeds 2 kilos.
Using her uniquely evolved incisor teeth and powerful jaw muscles, she slices into the pod wall and finds the triangular segmented hard shelled seeds within.
There are too many to eat in one sitting so she takes the nut tree seeds into the nearby jungle and, squirrel-like, buries them into the damp, rich and fertile soil.
As she furtively goes about her work, the agouti is being observed by one of the top predators in the jungle, a Jaguar who quickly pounces on our unfortunate creature quickly severs her neck and becomes yet another, albeit indirect, recipient of the Brazil nut tree’s largesse.
After a short while another lucky sapling sprouts from the ground. Aided by the overhead space afforded by the demise of our first tree which is now more than 650 years old. Termites, ants, rot, fungi and age get the better of our wonderful progenitor and she surrenders her place in the sun to the next generation.
Our new hero reaches for the sky and over a period of many years claims her space as one of the tallest trees in the 150m high jungle canopy. The year is 1372 and it is still 120 years before Columbus discovers America, yet this tree, which is still bearing fruit in 2021, continues feeding agoutis and humans alike, fixing C02, releasing oxygen and keeping the forest fertile and pristine.
Every year, when the snows melt in the Andes mountains, the rainy season begins in December and the river begins to rise, our tree is visited by indigenous hunter – gatherers who wait for the dampness to help rot through the stem of the pod, sending it crashing to the jungle floor where they release the nuts from the outer casing. The kernels are relished for their delicious nutrition and also used for candles during the night. This is possible due to their very high oil content.
The first Brazil nuts were exported in 1633, the year that Galileo was forced by the Catholic church to recant his assertion that the Earth revolves around the Sun. (To be fair, they did finally concede that the famous Italian scientist was in fact correct, but not until 31st October 1992!)
The vessel would have looked like the Mayflower and the nuts were shipped from the Eastern side of the Amazon Basin at the end of the river with the same name.
It is likely that many of the inshell brazils from this first journey were inedible on arrival as they are high in moisture and very susceptible to rot throughout the 10 week journey through the tropics and onward to Europe.
Subsequently and right up until the inception of containerised freight, exporters would supply workers on the exporting ships. It was their job to stay in the dusty, damp, hot and dark ships hold, continuously shovelling the nuts from the bottom of the pile to the top in order to keep them aired and free from moulds and fungus. Needless to say, this was not a pleasant job, yet to this day you will find people employed in the industry doing this same disagreeable task in the raw material warehouses of shelling factories, but without the additional pain of sea sickness .
Today, 17/3/21 our featured tree is visited as usual by the same group of indigenous people who have been in attendance every single year for the past 250 years. (Well, every year apart from 2017 when there was a total failure of the crop in a sickening portent of what may be to come for foolish mankind)
The pods are collected, opened by machete on the ground and the triangular brazil nuts in shell are removed from under the husk where they are arranged in a very similar way to that of orange segments.
Next, they are packed into baskets and loaded into small boats for transport to the nearest village or trading hub. Here the produce is typically traded to a middle man who will also buy from other collectors and make up a larger boat load for delivery direct to a specialist shelling company situated, in all probability, in a town in Bolivia which owes its whole existence to the processing of brazil nuts.
The name of the town is Riberalta and no self-respecting tale of the brazil nut business would be complete without mentioning this place. There are 100,000 souls living in this neat and happy place, although many do not have much of a maceta to urinate in. They are hard-working and industrious and enjoy nothing more than to parade around and around the central square on a Friday night on their motorbikes or 4x4s, checking each other out. On their time off they may go to the local lake for a party or a picnic and there is always the jungle that surrounds them in every direction for hundreds of kilometres, or the rivers to explore and enjoy.
There is a dark side however. As these folk very much rely on one product, so hardship and social problems can occur when the industry is under pressure from low prices or crop failure like in 2017.
A point of commercial conflict often takes place at the ‘port’ where the collectors cooperatives and middlemen understandably demand the highest price possible for their labours, yet the factories who process and export the nuts are tied by the international commodity price and, again understandably, require prices which are often much lower than the sellers’ expectations.
To expand on this a little, on one side we have the people who are or represent those who risk their life in the jungle, collecting nuts under extreme privation. They could be hit by a falling brazil pod or branch, bitten or worse by a snake or caiman or spider. This is home to piranhas. And diseases like malaria, which is rife. And there are no effective medical facilities anywhere nearby.
It is also very hot, the humidity is set to max and it rains – a lot. This is a rain forest after all. So you’re going to be continuously damp, sticky and uncomfortable.
This side of the business is literally blood, sweat and tears. Various types of people are involved, from the indigenous people who live in the jungle full time to those who go into the jungle specifically to collect nuts on a seasonal basis and find work elsewhere for the rest of the year - maybe in a nut shelling factory. Together these groups form a vast web reaching deep into the rainforest.
If prices are too low, many from this group will consider collection and movement of the nuts not worthwhile and the crop will remain uncollected on the jungle floor.
This is likely to create a shortage in the next few months and prices will surely rise and keep rising because there is a time lag of several months between collection and delivery at buyers’ warehouse. End users, who do not like to have stock unsold on falling markets, will rush to refill stocks before the price rises any further. When corporate buyers in the west see prices turn, they pile in and start to buy up supplies to refill their warehouses, further pressurising levels higher.
Prices increase until we are into the following years crop collection time when, because of the high prices, huge quantities will be collected, the jungle floor will be scoured of nuts and arrivals at the port will be at a high volume, overwhelming the buying interest and pressing prices downward.
This at a time that a peak has probably been reached on the international markets, shortages have been filled by now and many companies have decided to stop including brazil nuts in their recipes, packs, mixes or confectionery and remove mention of this nut from their packaging film.
This happened with bells on following the massive prices following the crop failure of 2017. So what happened that year ? In short, climate change. Rains failed in the rain forest and the brazil nut crop did not develop on the trees. Kernels looked like shrivelled peanuts, prices rocketed and buyers panicked. Following this disaster for the area, many corporations took the unhelpful decision to cut brazil nuts from their portfolio of packs.
Now prices will spiral downwards over a period of months or even a year or more until a new low is reached and again the collectors will not find it worthwhile and the whole process starts over again.
This would make pricing very predictable if it were not for all the other factors affecting supply and demand, which we will come to later.
These people, the collectors, with their difficult, impoverished and uncomfortable lives are the life blood of the brazil nut business and, by extension, the jungle itself.
These people should be appreciated, honoured, rewarded and awarded!
These people represent the last line between the pristine rain forest and the destroyers: The loggers, burners and cattle ranchers. They should be looked after and encouraged yet if we look at other tree nuts, brazils are priced very much on the low end of the scale for the main part and this industry is left to flounder. It is worthwhile at this stage to compare and contrast this business with Almonds.
Most almonds are grown in huge orchards in the Central Valley of California by extremely wealthy farmers. Mechanisation and irrigation allow them to make huge profits with relative ease. Whereas many almond growers may own a helicopter, which they have been known to use as a fan to keep frost off their trees, brazil collectors may own a shovel. The price of almonds is usually similar to, or higher than that of brazil nuts.
The brazil nut crop is tiny compared to that of almonds; 2,800 container loads compared to 70,000.
So why not grow plantations of brazil nut trees, put the whole production, shelling and shipping process in the hands of big business, like in the almonds are handled, and relieve the collectors of the need to do their difficult and uncomfortable business?
This is where we finally come to the complicated sex life of the brazil nut tree:
The complication is not because she is promiscuous, quite the opposite. Her yellow flowers are held tightly closed and can only be pushed open for fertilisation by certain beefy bees. Other, smaller pollinating insects can’t cut the mustard and get in. The problem is that the bees, in turn, rely on a particular type of orchid for their own life cycle.
No bee or no orchid then no fruit.
Brazil nut trees will only reproduce in the virgin rain forest where this particular flora and fauna live.
Brazil nut plantations do not work.
Brazil nuts are all ‘organic’ because they only grow in the wild where they can not be sprayed or doctored in any way. Only steam is applied in the shelling process.
Brazil nut trees will not reproduce if they are left standing whilst the rest of the jungle is destroyed.
Brazil nuts represent the largest gross value export from the Amazon basin.
Brazil nut trees, along with those people who collect their fruit, represent the last line in the protection and valuation of the Amazon rain forest.
On the other side of the port, the raw brazils from the jungle are sold to the individuals and companies who shell the nuts then process, pack and ship the product. These guys do not have an easy time of it either.
They are not billionaires like many almond growers and have some serious headwinds to overcome.
Firstly negotiating with the collectors for their raw material. Once a price has been agreed, the buyers are committed. If the international price goes down they must still honour their purchase agreements.
If the international price goes up, the collectors may decide to deliver their incoming raw material to a higher bidder.
In order to receive finance to buy the raw shelling stock for their factories, their banks may insist on sight of export contracts. This may force their hand into selling at an unattractive price.
Sometimes they may have contracted to ship a volume of material which they subsequently find impossible to fulfil because the incoming inshell stock is in a bad condition.
If, due to no fault of their own a shipment is late and the market falls, it is possible that the international buyer will refuse to take the goods.
Often factories will close because it is impossible for them to make ends meet in the extremely volatile trading conditions.
So we can now see that an industry that is on the front line in the battle against those who would seek to destroy the Amazon is floundering and in desperate need of assistance. The phrase ‘Eat a brazil nut and save the rain forest ‘ has been around for a long time but very few people have internalised this message.
If we can value the wild Amazon at a higher level than the flames and dust it could become, then the destruction would surely be slowed.
Supporting the brazil nut industry is a very direct way of achieving this.
It is a very small, some might say unimportant business but this makes it easier to assist. The bang for buck here is potentially very significant.
The total value of the annual crop is around $250,000,000.
The owner of Amazon, (the online company), is worth 196,000,000,000.
If he so wanted, Geoff Bezos could buy every brazil nut crop in its totality at current prices for the next 784 years! If the price were tripled he could still buy the next 261 years of crops
But he is not the only person who cares about saving the rain forest he chose to name his company after. Every right- minded person on the planet also strongly wishes to do something to help, in fact most of us feel helpless, despair and sadness when we see the Amazon fires raging on our nightly news.
If this information could be spread to everyone, people would feel better about themselves after purchasing some brazils, demand would increase and the price would rise. The collectors and custodians of the jungle would be prepared and encouraged to fight much harder to protect their birthright.
True, this flies in the face of the capitalist paradigm but in this instance capitalism is serving the planet and the Amazon Basin in particular very badly indeed.
Other tree nuts, like Macadamias, which are very similar to brazils, command a price which is at least 3x more than that of brazils. This is where we need to get to. At this level, the trees growing wild in the jungle would be valued much more than they are now, along with the life giving ecosystem which surrounds them.
Counter intuitive though it may sound, this message needs to get out and stay in the psyche of the whole population of the planet: Buy brazilnuts, keep buying brazil nuts, buy them and give them away as ecological gifts, buy them and cook with them, buy them to give to the birds, buy them if you love them, buy them if you hate them, buy them to put on the fire. Keep on buying brazils, feel good about what you are achieving and especially feel good when the price goes up. This means we are winning. Keep buying through the price increases and watch as the Amazon finally begins to realise its true value as the priceless jewel on the face of our beautiful planet.
Please take up this cause and spread the word to all the people that surround you who care about the future of the only planet we have.
If you are a consumer, remember how healthy this product can be for your body, If you are a retailer, please keep these golden nuggets in your store at all times and in multiple locations. If you are a manufacturer, do not give up on this product when prices rise…..
Make a difference today.
Be part of the story.
Be part of the change.
Save the Amazon
Save the planet.
Paragon Chocolates Ltd are proud to be helping by donating 20% of their nett profit to Charities which support the preservation of rain forests.
For more details on any of the above please contact us at email@example.com