Brazilnut Industry

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Brazilnut Industry

The castanha do Pará (Pará chestnut) grows on black, Amazonian rain-forest giants (castanheiras) that tower 150 feet in the air and have a girth of 20 feet. Gatherers wait until the grapefruit-sized ouriço (outer casing) falls to the ground before collecting the fifteen to twenty nutritious nuts (17% protein) found inside the hard casing. One tree produces between 250 and 500 pounds of nuts in a good season. The nuts are so important to the Amazonian economy that the Brazilian government passed a law in 1965 making it illegal to cut down castanheiras.

In January, gatherers, who often double as seringueiros (rubber gatherers), begin harvesting the nuts. They break open the shells with machete-type knives (terçados), leaving the heavy, bulky ouriços on the forest floor. Some seringueiros collect more than three tons of Brazilnuts in one rainy season. They take their harvest to the trading center (barracão), where in 1989 they were paid three or four cents a pound for unshelled Brazilnuts. Shelling plants process the nuts, which are soaked for twenty-four hours, placed in boiling water for a few minutes, then shelled with a hand-operated machine. The majority of shelling plants are located in Pará and Bélem.

Before World War II, most Brazilnuts were exported to Europe; afterwards, the United States received most of them; and by 1990, the United States imported $16 million worth of Pará chestnuts annually. In 2007, Brazil shipped approximately 27,000 tons of Brazilnuts abroad. Bolivia has also entered the market, becoming a major competitor for Brazil. The nuts became such an important part of the extractive reserve program begun in the 1980s that manufacturers soon produced and marketed other Brazilnut products, such as hair conditioners, based on its oil, to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. Many environmental groups promote Brazilnuts because gathering them harms the rain forest far less than other types of agricultural development.

See alsoExtractive Reserves; Seringueiros.


Benjamin H. Hunnicutt, Brazil: World Frontier (1969).

Andrew Revkin, The Burning Season (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Homma, Alfredo Kingo Oyama. História da agricultura na Amazônia, da era pré-colombiana ao terceiro milênio. Brasília: Embrapa Informação Tecnológica, 2003.

Kainer, Karen A. "Enrichment Prospects for Extractive Reserves in a Nutshell: Brazil Nut Germination and Seedling Autecology in the Brazilian Amazon." Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, 1997.

Wood, Charles W., and Roberto Porro. Deforestation and Land Use in the Amazon. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

                                    Carolyn Jostock