For the Zoró indigenous people of Brazil’s northwestern Mato Grosso state and southern Rondônia, the Brazil nut is no longer just a traditional staple but a vital means of making a living and preserving the forest that they, like so many indigenous peoples, depend on.
The Zoró reserve is part of the Tupi-Mondé ethno-environmental corridor, a 8.6-million-acre mosaic of seven connected reserves between the states of Mato Grosso and Rondônia, which are home to five different Indigenous tribes. Throughout the 20th century, the territory was progressively invaded by rubber extractors and mining companies. Over the last decade, deforestation in the corridor has nearly doubled, reaching 2,470 acres in 2020, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
The situation in surrounding areas is even worse, as the deforestation rate in unprotected areas is four times higher than inside the corridor, with 10,870 acres of forest destroyed in 2020 along the peripheral border of the reserve. Furthermore, despite mining activity in Indigenous territories being illegal under Brazil’s Constitution, several applications have recently been filed to mine for diamonds inside the Zoró reserve. Illegal logging is another threat to the reserves as, on the Zoró reserve alone, more than 9,400 acres of forest was logged between 2016 and 2020, according to data from the Life Center Institute (ICV), an environmental NGO.
The Zoró people, in response to impending environmental disaster, turned to the Brazil nut as a sustainable means of generating income and protecting their land against the illegal extraction of natural resources. In 2018, the Zoró partnered with the Vale do Amanhecer Farmers’ Cooperative (COOPAVAM), based in the municipality of Juruena in Mato Grosso.
The cooperative has access to a 17,800 acre community reserve in the Amazon Rainforest, which has become a model for sustainable, non-timber-focused businesses, and offers support to local farmers and Indigenous peoples in the form of logistical resources and sales of Brazil nuts through more ethical and transparent contracts.
COOPAVAM’s supplier network now allows it to sell approximately 400 metric tons of Brazil nuts annually, a statistic that is expected to rise to 700 metric tons in the coming years. According to Funai, “management of the territory is one of the main ways to protect it, since Indigenous presence in different parts of the Zoró reserve inhibits the presence of and pressure from recruiters and loggers in the villages.”
Before the COOPAVAM partnership, 23 villages on the reserve were associated with illegal logging. After the first few months, however, only five of those villages remain involved. In 2019, Zoró leaders demanded that all illegal logging companies be removed from their territory and, by the end of the year, only one village was still involved.
The COOPAVAM partnership and other initiatives like it, which bring together local farmers and indigenous tribes, reveal the importance of grassroots efforts in setting into motion long lasting change. Furthemore, it emphasizes the importance of fair labor conditions, which facilitate the community’s transition to a more socially and environmentally responsible means of generating income.
Clara Rabbani is a rising sophomore at the University of Chicago, majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Urban and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about poetry and is the editor of “The World is Waking Up: Poetry of Resistance from Youth Around The World”. With a Brazilian and Iranian background, she is also fascinated with the diversity of human cultures and their intersection with environmentally sustainable practices. She will be collaborating as the Environmental Writer for Brazil.