Only 200 kilometers separate Beruri, a municipality in the interior of Amazonas, from Manaus, the state capital. But to reach the municipality where the only community-based mill in Brazil with a certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture for exporting nuts is located, it is necessary to travel a whole day by boat. The certification for the Beruri Farmers Association (ASSOAB) arrived a few months ago, and it took a lot of work to get the processing to the necessary standard.
But a lot of work does not scare the president of ASSOAB, Sandra Amud, the first woman president of the association, who was reappointed at the end of last May for her third term. A welcoming management and a careful feminine look are pointed out by several ASSOAB employees as responsible for the growth of production and the institution's recognition.
Currently, ASSOB employs 62 employees and benefits 365 extractive families registered in the region, who supply nuts to the mill, which is already the second employer in the municipality, behind only the city hall, which makes a lot of difference in a region where a considerable portion of the population lives with assistance from federal government assistance programs, such as Bolsa Família.
The presence of ASSOB has also changed the relationship between extractivists and the market. Before, doing business with middlemen, also known as regatons, was the only option for riverside families. “I have heard from several extractivists who had never received cash in a transaction, only essential items such as food and clothing, always at exorbitant prices, in exchange for production”, explains Sandra. In addition to paying a fairer price for the nut, the association helps with logistics and offers training and safety equipment to extractivists.
This is the case of Pedro de Castro, 60 years old. Known as Seu Pedro, married, father of five children, he lives 20 minutes by boat from Beruri and, together with his eldest son, takes great care of a chestnut grove that occupies a 10 km trail on the shores of Lake Beruri: “I I'm a defender of the forest”, he says with a proud smile when he tells that he recently expelled a group of people looking for wood near his lands: “There's no one who gets his hands on it, I won't let him. They didn't even come back to get the canoe.”
The Brazil nut production chain is responsible for supporting thousands of families in the Amazon. The growing deforestation in the region, however, is a threat to the livelihoods of these families and to the forest. With a trunk that can reach up to five meters in diameter and 60 meters in height, the chestnut tree arouses the greed of illegal loggers.
“Today, ASSOAB's concern is precisely to keep the forest standing. That's why we buy nuts only from extractivists, never from middlemen. We took many lectures to the communities to talk about the importance of conserving the forest. That it is more valuable to keep it standing than to knock it down, so that the extractivist can take all his sustenance from it”, says Jaqueline Lima, forestry engineer and technical manager at ASSOAB.
This awareness is disseminated throughout the production chain, from Pedro, who collects the fruit, to Maria das Graças, 44, who works in the final stage of processing, in the manual selection stage: “I talk to my children about the nature. I say that a tree brings resources for many years. That you can't knock down the chestnut tree. If the forest ends, our work will also end”, says Maria das Graças, who before working at ASSOAB worked as a maid and sold barbecue on the street to support her five children.
“We have to have our money, otherwise we keep asking the husband for money and he keeps asking what you want it for. It's very boring". Giving more conditions to her children and gaining financial independence were the reasons that led Mrs. Maria das Graças to knock on ASSOAB's door to ask for a job. She started out breaking nuts and now works on final quality control. He nourishes deep admiration and respect for the president of the association, whom he calls a “warrior”. Currently, women account for 60% of the workforce and the trend is increasing.
There are several stages of nut processing and women are already part of all, even the heaviest. According to Jaqueline, their work still starts in the field, usually in the part of collecting, selecting and washing the nut. They stay 10 to 15 days camped in the chestnut grove with the whole family. In parallel with extractive activities, they take care of the children and food of the workers. In the agroindustry, they work in the breaking area, which requires technique as well as strength and, mainly, in the final selection process that will guarantee the quality of the nut.
“Our president gives us strength, courage and motivates us not to feel less for being women. Here at ASSOAB there is no difference between male and female work. The activities that women perform are no less valuable, less important than those of men. We are working to recruit even more women into the nut production chain”, says Jaqueline.
Gender equity in the world of work is still a challenge around the world and has been a guide for USAID-supported projects in Brazil. For Alex Araújo, from USAID, caring for the collective has made the work of women a differential in all projects supported by the institution: “The impact is very positive and we are working to encourage even more the participation of women in the projects” , says Araújo.
In order to expand its activities and continue helping to protect 1.2 million hectares of native forests, ASSOAB has relied on some key partners. The entity is part of the Value Chains project, implemented by the International Institute of Education of Brazil (IEB). “USAID believed in our work and helped us reach out to communities. This partnership opened doors for us and protected us during the pandemic”, celebrates Sandra.
This partnership made it possible, for example, to build sheds in some communities that were essential to properly store the nut during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the plant had to stop activities, not being able to continue with the logistics of collecting the nut and the beneficiation.
“The results that the Value Chains project achieved are great. Regulating legislation, access to markets, public policies, improving prices for various socio-bidiversity products, engaging many communities and leaders. Our partnership with ASSOAB comes from Formar Castanha, also funded by USAID. This partnership is highly valued by us at the IEB”, says André Tomasi, an environmental analyst at the IEB.
NESsT Amazônia – Incubadora da Floresta, a strategic partnership with USAID, Plataforma Parceiros pela Amazônia (PPA), Erol, Cisco Foundation and CLUA, is another supporter of ASSOAB and is helping the association improve its impact monitoring and tracking process and equip the association to diversify its product lines and reach new markets. A group of foreign students visited the mill last month to present studies of international markets that can import the nut. The works at the plant to extract oil from various seeds in the Amazon will begin in 2022.