Harvesting the nuts is not an easy task. If the nuts fall from the trees, they are so heavy they could kill someone. The collectors gather the nuts, crack them, and then haul up to 110-pound loads out of the jungle.
The harvesting almost disappeared years ago because middlemen were taking all the profits and just paying farmers only pennies per ton. Harvesters needed to band together and cut out the middlemen. They were able to sell the nuts directly to factories, thus allowing for a profit.
Almost every other nut that you can buy from a grocery store comes from a huge plantation, with massive land areas dedicated to the production and growth of those specific types of nuts.
Brazil nuts can only be found in the wild and cannot be cultivated. Luckily this makes them organic by default. These towering trees grow across the rainforest and can be found in Brazil, Bolivia, and even Peru.
It is estimated that harvesting the nuts supports up to 60,000 families. During the harvest season, up to 95% of the residents of local villages are busy collecting nuts.
Every morning, workers load up their small dinghies with supplies. They commute up to 10 miles along the Rio Do Peixe, which is a tributary of the great Amazon River. After that, they will hike into the rainforest.
The Brazil nut trees are known for their very long life spans and can live up to 500 years. They are known to reach heights of up to 165 feet, which is as tall as a 15-story building. And their trunks are wider in diameter than 6 feet. They are so tall that they stick above the nearby trees in the canopies. The pods fall naturally between November and May.
Every tree is able to produce about 300 pods per year, and these can come down at speeds of 50 miles per hour. If you are underneath a pod when it falls, it could be fatal.
Once the collectors find the pods and collect them, it is time to crack them open. The pods are gathered in carrying bags weighing up to 100 pounds and are brought back to camp. Next, the pods are spread out on metal grates and are then dried in the sun.
Workers transport the dry nuts to a processing factory in the town of Juruena, which is situated in the state of Mato Grosso. The nuts are then moved to a dryer, where they will dry out for around 12 hours. At times they will be dried again for three or four days to try to increase the shelf life. To loosen the shell, they may be steamed.
Although harvesting them is a labor-intensive process, Brazil nuts are some of the cheapest nuts on the market, and as a result, they are used to fill space in bags of mixed nuts. The nuts will be packaged in a way that they are ready to be sold to customers and used in a variety of snacks, chocolate bars, and cakes. They are sold in raw form in various stores in the US, such as Trader Joe’s and Costco.
Now, the biggest threat to the industry is deforestation. This is a worrying trend that is causing concern among environmentalists and experts in the industry alike. Nearly five million acres of the Amazon Rainforest were cleared in 2021 due to the large-scale deforestation for cattle raising, soybean farming, palm oil, and corn production. They don’t have any interest in the wood from the trees; they just want to land.
The Brazilian government does protect the Brazilian nut tree, meaning it’s illegal to cut one down. For that reason, you may see single Brazil nut trees standing by themselves in a barren field. Brazilian nut trees heavily depend on an ecologically healthy forest. Nature provides a symbiotic relationship for these trees, which is beneficial for both the plant and the environment. They need the cooler temperatures of the rainforest canopy in addition to the particular bees that pollinate the trees.
Many are turning to making nut oil which can sell for twice the price of nuts. This also is an efficient way to save broken nuts from being thrown away. Nut oil is used in food as well as cosmetics.
Brazil nuts are also one of the most sustainable nuts, and growing this industry could give locals a reason to preserve their ecosystem. Because Brazil nuts are one of the most sustainable nuts, it gives the local villagers a reason to preserve the rainforest. Therefore everyone who consumes Brazil nuts is, in essence, protecting the forests and helping to save the Amazon.