The state of Pará is the largest Brazilian producer of açaí, accounting for around 90% of national production. In the municipality of Curralinho, located on the island of Marajó, the fruit is the main source of family income for the local population. It is so remarkable that an event was created to demonstrate its importance: the Açaí Festival.
Miss açaí, a competition to see who drinks the most açaí, a proof of climbing quickly on the palm tree and collecting the greatest quantity of the fruit are just some of the attractions of the Festival, which takes place every year. The event receives visitors from neighboring cities and other states, offering typical foods, valuing traditions and contributing to the sustainable management of açaí and the maintenance of the standing forest.
Curralinho also houses the Cooperative of Ribeirinhos and Extractivists Agroindustrial do Marajó Ltda – Sementes do Marajó, created in 2014. It brings together 103 registered riverside dwellers and has become an important instrument in the marketing of açaí, improving the prices paid to extractivists.
In seven years of existence, the partnership with Conexsus was fundamental for the cooperative to organize itself and be able to walk on its own legs, as explained by the president of the organization, Carlos Baratinha. "The role of Conexsus as a partner and facilitator opened doors for the cooperative, making us grow a lot as an institution."
Offering support and technical guidance, Conexsus enabled the cooperative to organize its production, improve processes, in addition to promoting the articulation of partnerships with institutions and government. One of the cooperative's main initiatives was to create shipping ports, where a coordinator is responsible for receiving the production of each member, in addition to weighing and checking the quality of production.
The routine at the açaí palms
The collection work starts early, with riverside dwellers leaving for the açaí trees many times before sunrise. Equipped with a machete to cut the bunches at about 10 meters high, the peconheiros need to enjoy the morning period, while the sun is not very strong and it is still possible to climb the palm trees. The average temperature in the region is above 30 degrees Celsius and even with the use of peconhas, a kind of foot support made with açaí leaves to help climbing palm trees – with the very strong heat, the trunks get very hot.
The activity requires a lot of physical effort. With practice, the average time to climb the tree reaches 4 minutes and collectors often jump to another palm tree in the same clump without descending to the ground. An açaí clump has about 5 palm trees. Each man can collect up to 140 kilos of açaí a day, but to have this production it is necessary to increase it about 20 times. While the men cut the bunches, the women threshed the fruits and place them in baskets.
The açaí harvest takes place between the months of August and December and the collection takes place along the 50 km long Canaticu River, which is also the main route for transporting the fruit. By speedboat, it takes three hours to travel the entire length of the river. The açaí palm is typical of the lowland region, where the soil is wetter, sometimes even flooded.
The partnership with Conexsus, which in previous years had already yielded good results, in 2020 gave breath to the Cooperative to be able to face the impacts and restrictions caused by the coronavirus crisis. The emergency line offered management training and presented opportunities, as well as resources for repairing a boat. “Thanks to the guidelines, we were able to estimate a 2021 crop that is about 5 times larger than the 2020 crop”, clarifies Carlos Baratinha. While in 2020 112 thousand tons of raw açaí were sold, the expectation for 2021 is to reach 600 thousand tons.
About 98% of Sementes do Marajá's açaí production is delivered to industries that export in the form of pulp, cream and powder. The rest is destined to public notices for the supply of food in schools, day care centers and hospitals.
Offering credit suited to the context of cooperatives and associations, the emergency credit line is part of the Social and Environmental Response Plan to Covid-19, a program created in April 2020 by Conexsus to reduce the impacts of the crisis caused by the pandemic on community production organizations rural and forestry throughout Brazil.
The Plan was built in partnership with UNICAFES (National Union of Family Agriculture and Solidarity Economy Cooperatives), the CNS (National Council of Extractive Populations) and the Vale Fund. And it has the support of the Pão de Açúcar supermarket chain, through the GPA Institute, the Arymax Foundation, the Good Energies Foundation, CLUA, the Humanize Institute, B3, USAID, NPI Expand, through Palladium, PPA and SITAWI.
The financing, carried out until December 2020, benefited 82 community businesses with a socio-environmental impact, with the disbursement of more than R$ 6.4 million – reaching 15.3 thousand family farmers in more than 33.4 thousand hectares. The main chains benefited by the line were açaí, nut, cocoa, fruit and vegetable pulps.