• Home
  • Revisiting the ‘cornerstone of Amazonian conservation’: a socioecological assessment of Brazil nut exploitation

Revisiting the ‘cornerstone of Amazonian conservation’: a socioecological assessment of Brazil nut exploitation

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

The Brazil nut (the seeds of the rainforest tree Bertholletia excelsa) is the only globally traded seed collected from the wild by forest-based harvesters across the Amazon basin.

The large geographic scale of Brazil nut exploitation and the significant contributions to local livelihoods, national economies, and forest-based development over the last decades, merit a review of the “conservation-through-use” paradigm. We use Elinor Ostrom’s framework for assessing sustainability in socioecological systems: (1) resource unit, (2) users, (3) governance system, and (4) resource system, to determine how different contexts and external developments generate specific conservation and development outcomes.

We find that the resource unit reacts robustly to the type and level of extraction currently practiced; that resource users have built on a self-organized system that had defined boundaries and access to the resource; that linked production chains, market networks and informal financing work to supply global markets; and that local harvesters have used supporting alliances with NGOs and conservationists to formalize and secure their endogenous governance system and make it more equitable.

As a result, the Brazil nut model represents a socioecological system that may not require major changes to sustain productivity. Yet since long-term Brazil nut production seems inextricably tied to a continuous forest cover, and because planted Brazil nut trees currently provide a minimal contribution to total nut production basin-wide, we call to preserve, diversify and intensify production in Brazil nut-rich forests that will inevitably become ever more integrated within human-modified landscapes over time.

  • Home
  • Challenges and opportunities for the restoration of Andean forests

Challenges and opportunities for the restoration of Andean forests

In some parts of Ecuador, communities have started to change the landscape by clearing small patches of forest for crops and to feed their animals. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

The Andes mountain range as viewed from Ecuador. Restoration efforts are underway in Andean forests across the region. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR

Views on ecological restoration in the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

The tropical forests of the Andes in Latin America are key global ecosystems that make an extraordinary contribution to the world’s biodiversity and livelihoods. Andean forests are the source of huge rivers, and have more varied and unique species than the Amazon. But they are now are threatened by increasing demographic pressures, and by harvesting and production practices.

In the past decade, ecological restoration has become a vital strategy to recover the integrity and functionality of degraded ecosystems, to promote sustainable development, and to mitigate climate change.

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia — the countries hosting tropical Andean ecosystems — have each set quantitative restoration targets. But what has been the real progress in these countries? And what is happening to their Andean forests?

To understand developments in tropical Andean forest restoration, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Andean Forests Program — a regional initiative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), facilitated by a partnership between Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Condesan — undertook a comparative analysis to look at the progress, challenges and future prospects of Andean forest restoration in these four countries.

Over a period of 14 months, researchers examined academic, legal and policy documents and conducted more than 40 interviews. Their aim was to identify challenges and opportunities to guide the next steps in restoration policy and practice for Andean forests. The resulting analysis will prove essential in making the most of “unprecedented” levels of international attention and funds, says Manuel Guariguata, co-author of the study and leader of CIFOR’s Forest Management and Restoration Team.

“It is now essential to start the restoration process,” says Carolina Murcia, a senior researcher affiliated with the Pontifical Xavierian University in Colombia and lead author on the study. “We can’t afford to lose more natural capital; rather, it is time to start recovering it.”

Read more: Lessons from Latin America for forest landscape restoration

A peatland landscape is seen in Peru. Photo by R. Bhomia/CIFOR

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

A key finding of the study is heterogeneity among Andean forests. “Each of the four study countries has its own history, geography and socioeconomic situation, which determine its relationship with Andean forests and the restoration approach,” says Murcia.

Colombia is leading the movement, with 50 years’ experience in restoration and a historical focus on these forests: the Andes are home to 75% of country’s population, but are also fertile lands and a major source of its water. In addition, 70% of Colombia’s electricity is generated by water flowing through these forests.

The National Plan for Forest Restoration of Ecuador, for its part, identifies two priority criteria for fertile Andean areas: landslide prevention and water resource protection.

Meanwhile, the relationship of Peru and Bolivia to Andean forests is completely different. In Peru, these ecosystems, known as yungas, or “high rainforests”, originally covered 15% of the nation’s territory. With steep slopes and high moisture levels, they are seen as an area of passage to the Amazon. “In this region, all forests are often seen as ‘rainforests’ and are considered for harvesting purposes as a source of timber. Thus, restoration has also played a very discreet role,” says Murcia.

In Bolivia, there are large forest areas with low population density. According to the study, this “has resulted in a culture of abundance, where the notion of restoration does not even fit.” The current philosophy of the state, for example, “does not allow forest restoration outside a production scheme,” Murcia says.

Strangely, local people who have occupied the Bolivian highlands for decades are not aware of the disappearance of their forests. The study reveals that “the scarcity they may experience in periods of drought is not associated with loss or, therefore, restoration.” According to Murcia, all this shows why restoration is still in the early stages in Bolivia and Peru.

This heterogeneity in approaches to restoration is reflected in aspects such as policy frameworks, implementation mechanisms, and the links between decision-makers, biological resource managers, academia and civil society.

COMMON CHALLENGES

In spite of the differences, the four countries also face common challenges. The first is to integrate a new, holistic discipline such as ecological restoration into government policies ranging from natural resource management to development. Restoration, says Murcia, means much more than increasing forest cover and capturing carbon.

An additional challenge is to comply with international restoration commitments through national programs but with local implementation — something difficult when technical capacity, technology and information are limited.

Other challenges? One is the lack of a common definition. “What restoration means for one sector may not mean the same to another,” says Guariguata, mentioning the tasks of assessing the success or failure of programs, and meeting international targets such as the Bonn Challenge. In his view, there is also a need to develop a unified vision of the discipline, which is currently fragmented into sectors such as environment, agriculture and indigenous peoples.

Restoration is a long-term process, which can take from six to ten decades to consolidate. Success, says Murcia, cannot be achieved without community commitment, and structures for management and budgetary administration that go beyond presidential terms and “protect initiatives against political whims.”

Read more: Learning from women’s and men’s perspectives on agroforestry to enhance climate change strategies and actions in Latin America

In some parts of Ecuador, communities have started to change the landscape by clearing small patches of forest for crops and to feed their animals. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR

NEXT STEPS

Although one of the international targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as Aichi #15, is to restore 15% of the ecosystems degraded by 2020, the study sets a more realistic objective: each country should start from this commitment, ensuring that in 50 years these ecosystems will be on an appropriate path of restoration for biodiversity. This means recovering the variety of species, not recovering the land for production purposes, says Murcia.

To achieve community commitment, she considers it essential to secure land tenure and to report both the effects of degradation of forest landscapes and the benefits of their recovery.

“Restoration works! What needs to be done is to guide communities and understand the social and economic drivers of degradation,” she says.

In addition, the participation of the academic sector and NGOs in program design needs to be strengthened. Verónica Gálmez, Andean Forests Program incidence coordinator, explains that “NGOs act as hinges between local and national actors and provide an overall view of territorial and sectoral levels.”

According to Gálmez, the study can help prioritize interventions and investments and determine baselines. Thus, dissemination actions are planned for the various countries.

Murcia, like Gálmez, views the future with optimism. The reason? Communities’ growing interest in recovering their forested landscapes. “In the end, restoration is much more than planting trees. It is about turning the relationship between people and nature into something positive.”

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Guariguata at [email protected] or Carolina Murcia at [email protected].


 This research was prepared by CIFOR and the Andean Forests Program, facilitated by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Condesan and financially supported by CIFOR through the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors, and by the Department for International Development (DFID) through the KNOWFOR program. The Andean Forests Program is part of the Global Programme on Climate Change of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

  • Home
  • Are Brazil nuts the saviors of the Amazon basin?

Are Brazil nuts the saviors of the Amazon basin?

Brazil nut fruits are piled up, ready to be hacked open to extract the nuts. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A worker processes Brazil nuts in Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

Study reexamines the Amazon region’s ‘cornerstone of conservation’.

Want to invest directly in the preservation of the Amazon? Buying Brazil nuts might well be your simplest strategy, says Peter Cronkleton, coauthor of a new study that assesses Brazil nut exploitation from a socioecological perspective.

The weighty, nutritious nuts seem something of a poster child for the concept of ‘conservation through use’. The trees they grow on are Amazonian forest giants that can reach over 50 meters in height and live up to 400 years.

The softball-sized fruit – each containing around 20 nuts – are collected from the forest floor in rainy months by forest-based harvesters, who maintain customary rights to the resource in many areas.

As coauthor Amy Duchelle confirms, “it’s something that’s sustaining thousands of families in that region, while essentially giving value to standing forest.” It’s a relatively sustainable system, she says – but one that’s under threat.

SAME FOREST, DIFFERENT FRAMEWORKS

The southwestern Amazon region in which most Brazil nuts grow spans three countries: Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. Prior to the 20th century, the area was not clearly defined by national boundaries, but was held by rubber barons and populated by their laborers, Cronkleton explains.

When boundaries were established, different political frameworks affected how people defined access, what types of rights they had in the forest, and how well they were linked to national markets, he says. “So to a certain extent it’s a natural experiment showing how people adapt under different forest governance contexts in each country.”

Freshly harvested Brazil nuts await processing in Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

As Duchelle adds, “it’s really interesting: you’ve got a similar forest ecosystem, but the way it’s being used is totally different just by crossing the border. We’re talking about 30 kilometers [between some study sites] and it’s a completely different world.”

On the Brazilian side of the border, in the state of Acre, Brazil nuts are “just one component of a much more diverse livelihood portfolio,” says Duchelle. The recent construction of new roads and infrastructure, coupled with a strong cattle culture, is increasing the temptation for locals to clear forested land for cattle ranching at the expense of Brazil nut-rich forest.

In neighboring Pando, Bolivia, communities are much more reliant on the Brazil nut harvest, as it’s “really one of the main livelihood activities they’ve got going on,” she says. There, a more pressing issue is contested and incomplete titles to Brazil nut tree stands, which make it difficult for residents to claim and defend their resources, adds Cronkleton.

Read more: What’s in a land title?

Similarly, he explains, in the adjacent Madre de Dios region of Peru, the complex concession system poses challenges, because concession areas for Brazil nut harvesting are not always well-defined, and often overlap with those for agriculture and mining, all of which can drive deforestation. On top of this, regulations for Brazil nut extraction and other forest products such as timber often generate conflict of use within the same concession forest.

Lead author Manuel Guariguata, a Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), adds that “our study is so far the only one drawing together a comprehensive set of literature representing the three countries which produce all of the Brazil nut consumed globally. Although there have been many studies that examined different aspects of Brazil nuts across the Amazon basin, these usually have taken a more narrow focus.”

Brazil nut fruits are piled up, ready to be hacked open to extract the nuts. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

THREATS AND OPPORTUNITIES

While Brazil nut trees are protected from logging by law in all three countries, intensive deforestation in surrounding areas can affect the productivity of the trees, explains ecologist Pieter Zuidema, another coauthor of the study. It can also affects harvesters’ ability to cope with the high natural variation in Brazil nut tree productivity from year to year.

Usually, in low-yield years, “what Brazil nut harvesters do is go deeper into the forest [to look for nuts]. With increasing deforestation, that potential is not there anymore. So it reduces the resilience of the whole system,” says Zuidema.

However, he adds, defending Brazil nut-rich forest does not necessarily mean preventing people from doing anything else there. If done well, integrated management of multiple forest uses, such as low-intensity timber harvest and ecotourism, combined with Brazil nut harvesting, could prove both profitable and sustainable.

Read more: Moving past tree planting, expanding our definition of forests and restoration

The UN-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme also offers an opportunity to make Brazil nut-rich forest preservation more financially viable, through initiatives that compensate locals for keeping forests standing. This will likely require more clarity about people’s rights to land and trees, as well as how benefits are distributed, agree Duchelle and Cronkleton.

Stabilizing international prices for the nuts may also help the system remain viable. Often seen as the ‘poor cousin’ of high-end products such as hazelnuts, Brazil nut prices rise and fall erratically around the fortunes of other nut types, says Cronkleton. Enhancing state and private-sector support for the resource system, and broadening Brazil nut consumption through building consumer awareness of their health benefits, seem important pieces of the puzzle.

AN ETHICAL, EDIBLE INVESTMENT

So back to those heavy, dense nuts in the mixed-nuts packs and the health-food shops. It’s true, they’re inconveniently bigger than bite-size, admits Cronkleton, and they may not have the sweetness of almonds, or the creaminess of cashews.

But they’re high in selenium (a trace element with antioxidant properties that is deficient in many soils) and the fatty acids that help reduce heart disease. And what other Amazonian forest product could you buy with such confidence in the social and environmental ethics of your purchase?

Duchelle confesses that she doesn’t really like the taste of them any more, after eating far too many, fresh off the forest floor, during her fieldwork in the region. “But I eat them anyway!” she proclaims with laughter and conviction, “Because it’s a way to support Amazonian livelihoods.”

By Monica Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Guariguata at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID)


Back to top

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Connect with us