A naturally sustainable opportunity, the Peruvian Chestnut.

Every Wednesday on the Radioprogram AMIGOS (from 7 to 8pm Dutch time), I comment (in Spanish and in Dutch) on a topic related to sustainability and trade in/with Latin America. Ofcourse with a special attention for Peru. The program is broadcasted through Radio Capellehttp://www.radiocapelle.nl. You can also tune in to 105.3FM. After the program I publish my comments on this blog. So if you missed it last Wednesday you can read about it here below:

The chestnut, also known as the Brazil nut, the Amazon nut or the Almond grows within the “cocos” (nutshells) on a tree native to South America, “el Castaño”. This tree grows especially in the Amazon of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Guayana.

The chestnut is considered a superfood because it is a very nutritious and healthy dry fruit. It is rich in fibers, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, has high quality vegetable proteins, it contains all important amino acids, is gluten free, and has the omega 6 and 3 acids. It is not only applied for nutrition but also for beauty products. For example the oils of the chestnut are applied in cosmetics such as moisturizers.

In Latin America, Bolivia is the main producer and exporter of Brazil nuts, followed by Peru. Just for illustration: Bolivia exported almost 25,000 tons, which is more than half of the total exported by the world in 2016. Peru in that year was far behind with some 5500 tons. Among the main importers of shelled chestnuts are the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

In Peru, most of the national production of Brazil nuts is concentrated in Madre de Dios, which is a big jungle region in Peru. 20% of the population of Madre de Dios is working in the chestnut sector, which equals about 20,000 people. 30% of the surface of Madre de Dios is covered with chestnut trees.

There is a sustainable use of the chestnut, especially since it is the only species in the nuts-market that comes from wild collection. So it is not something that needs to be cultivated, because it is a fruit that falls from the trees. It only needs to be harvested by the chestnut collectors (los castañeros).

The Peruvian government is the official owner of the chestnut trees, but it gives concessions for 40 renewable years to groups of families that traditionally work this resource. What does it mean to be a concession holder? This is important to explain because it implies both the right to harvest the chestnut as well as the obligation to defend the forests of loggers, illegal mining and the passage of drug trafficking. These are one of the biggest threats in the Peruvian jungle.

The “castañeros” are organized in associations and have generally managed to obtain the organic certification. There are also those that have achieved the fairtrade certification.

The chestnut is a relevant source of income for those who work in the chestnut sector in Madre de Dios, and therefore important for the economic development of this region. In 2009 Madre de Dios declared the chestnut as its flagship product.

The chestnut activity also helps to contribute to the protection of forests and nature. There have been made efforts to expand the chestnut through reforestation, not only in Madre de Dios, but also in other territories of the lower jungle of Peru. The National Institute of Agrarian Innovation (INIA) has managed to develop a technology that has introduced the chestnut in Iquitos and Pucallpa, in order to expand the business possibilities of small producers and recover extensive areas of degraded soils. In conclusion, the chestnut does not only provide healthy fruits and economic development, but it also has an enormous ecological and tourist potential derived from the care of the forests.