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Harvesting Brazil's Beauty

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: December 3, 2008, from the December 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

The weighing room at Belém’s Ver-o-Peso (“see the weight”) open air market.

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The communities grew as ranches and farmlands expanded, followed by the expansion of highways in the 1970s. Farm workers across the state of Pará settled in Tomé-Açu to work the black pepper crop. These workers bought land, and, when cultivation of the spice began to slump due to disease, the workers united, formed communities and set up leadership. Among these, the Santa Luzia de Tomé-Açu community formed the Association of Farmers and Rural Family Farms of the Town of Tomé-Açu, a group consisting of 22 members. Separately, Beraca, as a supplier of natural raw ingredients, began a program to empower such communities while maintaining biodiversity in raw materials that had equitable benefit sharing (starting at the community level) and to promote regional development and the conservation of the Amazon forest. The company sought new partners to produce organic cupuassu butter, produced from the fruit’s seed for the cosmetics industry, and formed a partnership with Santa Luzia de Tomé-Açu in 2005. The community had ceased using hardwood beyond its own maintenance needs 20 years ago, and were aware of open and active ecological programs.

The community, according to Beraca, distinguished itself through its respect toward education and farmers, who face a certain amount of discrimination in the inland Amazon region. Community members were not in favor of forming a land holding, and they preferred to make the best use of the land they owned.

In order to meet some of its needs and to help ensure its ecological mission statement, Beraca worked to convince the community to become an organic community, which meant changing techniques and philosophies. Black pepper farming techniques depended largely on systemic insecticides and chemical fertilizers. The community, however, realized the potential to reach new markets with alternative crops.

“We had talked with other associations that had produced organic products and already knew it was profitable before talking with Beraca,” said Manoel Silva, the president of the association, who owns 40 hectares, or 98.8 acres, of farmable land. “After we signed documents that said we would stop using chemicals to treat the trees, Beraca began to buy.”

After an Ecocert certification assessment, Santa Luzia received the approval of the certifying body and became the first Amazon community to produce organic cupuassu, becoming a production benchmark for the state. In 2006, the cupuassu produced by the association totaled 100 kilos of seed. In 2007, the figure rose to 3,900 kilos. The production volume forecast for 2008 is 92,000 kilos (16 ton organic; 76 ton non-organic), an amount representing only 10% of the goal stipulated by Beraca for organic cupuassu farming in Santa Luzia.