Eat Brazil Nuts, Save The Amazon!

Feb 25, 2011 By Arati Rao
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This is a fascinating story about two friends who cannot live without each other. One is one-foot tall; the other is one hundred and fifty feet tall. They never speak to each other, but have come to a perfect understanding. Together, they make forests.

Meet the tiny agouti and the mighty brazil nut tree.

So what’s their story?

The brazil nuts come in very hard shells and are the size of small coconuts. No animal can crack the shell open, save for one. A small rodent called the agouti is the only animal with teeth strong enough to break through the brazil nut shell. And once open, the agouti gets a tremendous food source from the nuts. But it doesn’t eat all the nuts at once and it buries some for later. In this simple act of burying the seeds, agouti helps a forest grow. If no animal finds the buried seeds – and often none do - new saplings sprout that will eventually grow into mighty brazil nut trees. And the cycle continues.

Secret of the brazil nut tree

The brazil nut tree has a secret. A secret that makes it a champion for saving the forests of the Amazon. You see, it does not bear fruits if the forests around it are destroyed! So if you were to plan a brazil nut “plantation” – like a farm, it would not bear fruit! Why is this important? Well, because this means that the brazil nuts can only be gathered from remote, good forests where the fruiting brazil nut trees are happy.

Brazil nuts are valuable nuts, with markets around the world totaling about $44 million in a year. The nuts are called castanas in Spanish and the harvesters are called castaneros. The castaneors have been doing their job for centuries. Their livelihood depends upon the fruiting trees. And it’s a rare situation that benefits both sides: the health of the Amazon forests, since it preserves the trees around the mighty brazil nut trees and the prosperity of the communities, since their livelihood is protected with access to the trees for harvesting the nuts. The brazil nut tree is itself a champion of “good forests,” and the people fighting to save the Amazon use it as a weapon.

The hardwood of the brazil nut tree is highly valued. If the price for the nuts around the world falls, the castaneros might be tempted to harvest the wood itself! This is what has prompted conservationists to use the slogan “Eat brazil nuts, save the Amazon!”

As long as there is a good demand for these nuts, the trees themselves, their surroundings, the agouti and a host of other creatures that the tree supports will thrive. It’s an ecosystem worth preserving, don’t you think?