How Are Brazil Nuts Harvested?

A Brazil nut tree about to be harvested

Brazil nuts are harvested by waiting for the fruit to fall from the tree and then removing the seeds inside. It is a process that does not need technology, climbing the tree, or even shaking it. 

When Is the Brazil Nut Harvest Season?

The harvest season for Brazil nuts is typically between December and March. But the last pods can fall in April.

How Many Brazil Nuts Can Be Harvested From One Tree?

One tree can produce up to 300 fruits (or pods). Considering that each fruit contains 8 to 24 seeds, it’s safe to say that one tree can provide thousands of Brazil nuts per season. 

Even if we make a conservative estimate of an average of 16 seeds per fruit on a single tree, we would have a total of 4800 nuts.

Where Is Brazil Nut Harvesting Taking Place?

The harvesting happens in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. There is a good portion of the Amazon forest in each of these countries. As we discussed in another post, Brazil nut trees are present in several countries, but not in the same density as in these three.

Even though we are talking about different countries, the harvesting process is similar in all three.

Who is Harvesting Brazil Nuts?

The Brazil nut is harvested by producers holding a land concession, which grants them the rights to a specific area of the forest. Most concession holders are indigenous communities that have been harvesting Brazil nuts for many years. Many of them depend on this business.

The concession holder usually employs workers to help with the harvest. These can be members of the community and migrant workers, depending on the needs of a particular concession.

What Tools and Precautions do These Workers Use? 

It’s a dangerous job, as the Brazil nut trees can grow up to 160 feet tall, or 49 meters, and the fruits can weigh up to 5 pounds, or 2.3 kilograms. When the fruit falls, it can seriously injure anyone who is nearby. Many of these workers do not work on windy and rainy days for that reason. Some even use a special helmet to protect themselves.

Because the fruit that contains the seeds is hard and thick, the harvester needs a machete to cut it open and remove its seeds. Besides that, they will need large bags or baskets to store the nuts.

How Does the Process of Harvesting Brazil Nuts Work?

First, the workers collect the pods from the floor and make a pile. These are the fruits that fall naturally from the tree. Once they have a sizable amount, they use a machete to open the pods and remove the seeds (or nuts).

Then, they place the seeds in big bags and carry them on their backs to a boat or truck. The nuts are transported to a collection center, where they are washed and dried under the sun (this is not the final drying process).

What Happens to Brazil Nuts After They are Harvested?

The nuts are sold to cooperatives who try to stock up on Brazil nuts during the entire harvest season, so they can keep working even after the season is over.

There are several steps at the processing factories owned by the cooperatives. It may change a bit from cooperative to cooperative, but the process is usually the following: 

1. The nuts are dried and steamed

As soon as they get to the factory, the first thing they do is to place the nuts in an industrial drier, where they will remain for up to 12 hours. In some places, they will be dried again under the sun for a few days to extend durability. Finally, they steam the nuts to loosen up the shell.

2. Removing the shell and sorting nuts

After that, the Brazil nuts are shelled, sorted by size, and checked for damaged nuts. 

If you think removing damaged nuts is a waste, just to make the little bags in the supermarket prettier, think again! They will use the damaged nuts to produce Brazil nut oil, which sells for double the price of the raw nuts.

3. Packaging and selling

Finally, the nuts are packaged and sold to national distributors and exporters. The biggest markets are outside South America, so most Brazil nuts will still have to make one more trip.

Is Harvesting Brazil Nuts a Sustainable Practice?

If you read our post about the brazil nut tree, you know how delicate it is, and the conditions it needs to grow and produce fruits. When humans are not the ones planting and taking care of the tree, the ethical side becomes a very delicate matter. 

A few wrong moves may compromise future harvests for years to come. According to experts interviewed by the Mongabay, two factors are of extreme importance to keep Brazil nuts sustainable:

Overharvesting the seeds

If harvesters remove all the pods and seeds, there won’t be any left for the seed spreader, the agouti, to bury them. That means a reduction of new trees and future harvests in danger.

Overhunting the seed spreader

In the case of the Brazil nut, there is only one seed spreader, the agouti. This animal is responsible for burying the nuts in the ground, assuring the repopulation of the trees. If people hunt them excessively, they may jeopardize the future of the trees and crops. Unfortunately, the agouti is considered game meat and is popular in some regions.

Conclusion

The harvest of Brazil nuts is a simple process; it only takes a worker, a machete, and a bag. After that, the nuts go through a series of steps until they are ready to be sold at your local supermarket or organic shop. The main challenge is to do it sustainably, so we can keep eating Brazil nuts for a long time.

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