The Landworkers' Alliance, Roddick Foundation, Hodmedod and Kayapó-led cooperative COOBÂ-Y have come together to build a new direct trade relationship in solidarity with the Indigenous fight for survival, bringing wild-harvested nuts directly from the Kayapó people of Brazil to the UK for the first time.
By buying PI'Y - the Kayapó name for Brazil nuts - you’re strengthening the Kayapó people, their culture and the Amazon rainforest they protect and depend on. Trading the nuts provides financial autonomy for around 600 families in over 50 Kayapó villages, and helps protect Indigenous lands - 40 thousand square miles of Amazon rainforest.
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The Amazon basin supports a staggering 25% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity and more fish species than any other river system. The Kayapo protect the last large block of forest surviving in the highly threatened south-eastern Amazon, at about 40 thousand square miles it's roughly the size of Iceland. Kayapo communities risk their lives to monitor and protect the forest they live in from deforestation, but there's constant pressure from illegal invaders seeking to mine, fell trees and farm the land.
“The health of the forest, the well-being of the people, and the preservation of Kayapo culture is linked to a single sustainable economic activity – Brazil nut harvesting.”
The Kayapo Project
The Brazil nut tree is widely distributed throughout the Amazon; one of the forest’s tallest trees, it can reach 50 m in height. Despite their great size the trees depend on two small animal species for their survival. One of those is an orchid bee, the female of which is strong enough to pry open the Brazil nut flower and reach its nectar, pollinating as she does so. Meanwhile the male bee feeds on a very particular orchid and, as well as being its primary pollinator, uses orchid perfume to attract a female. Once pollinated by the bee the mature Brazil nut pods, filled with seeds, fall to the forest floor at which point the tree relies on the Agouti, a rodent with toughened teeth that can break into the pod, to disperse the seeds. It's these extraordinary relationships between bee, orchid, mammal and tree that ensure that Brazil nuts can't be grown in commercial orchards, and instead must be collected from wild stands in undisturbed forest.
For the Kayapo people, the Brazil nut is an important source of food and every year they travel through the forest to collect pods from under the trees. The seeds are removed deftly with machetes, collected in baskets and carried back to the villages. The distribution of the Brazil nut tree through the Amazon indicates that over the centuries the Kayapo have become, like the Agouti, critical in the spreading of seeds. The collection journeys and weeks spent at the Brazil nut groves are an important cultural event for the Kayapo; knowledge is shared between generations, families hunt and pick fruit, plants are gathered for traditional medicines and materials collected for crafting tools, utensils and ornaments.
“I want our forests to remain standing, I want our land protected, our rivers, our fish, our game. And I will always defend that. Why? So that my grandchildren also have the wealth I have today.”
Takak nhotire Kayapó, an elder from the village of Kamoktidjam
Collecting Brazil nuts helps protect the forest and Indigenous way of life by encouraging territorial monitoring and defence by the Kayapo and building cultural resilience through the transfer of traditional knowledge and practices. But Kayapo communities remain vulnerable to co-option into illegal mining, forestry and other destructive industries, and finding alternative Earth-centric economic activities is increasingly important. Here too the Brazil nut can play a crucial role; by selling the surplus from collection each year the Kayapo are assured a degree of financial autonomy to protect themselves and their territory on their own terms. Income from nut sales are equitably distributed between 4000 Kayapo people from 50 Kayapo villages. Together these villages protect over 9 million hectares of forest.
In the struggle for their right to exist and steward their territory, the Kayapo formed 21st-century alliances with conservation NGOs. These support networks strengthen the Kayapo with tools for territorial surveillance, sustainable economic autonomy and give them an international platform.
Our alliance with COOBA-Y continues this philosophy of collaboration – an Indigenous-led solution formed in response to the Piaraçu Indigenous Summit, 2020, funded by The Roddick Foundation, and attended by our friends Sam Roddick of the Roddick Foundation and Jyoti Fernandes of the Landworkers’ Alliance.
Piaraçu saw the bringing together of more than 600 Indigenous peoples to unite and strategise against the Brazilian government's project of genocide, ethnocide and ecocide. When asked what was needed from the UK to support Indigenous justice, building a regenerative supply chain for rainforest products was suggested as a critically important response.
Trade can be exploitative, and modern supply chains which externalise negative ecological, health and social impacts are rightly vilified. But it doesn’t have to be that way and our new alliance is attempting to do things differently; trade built on direct relationships, shared values, equity and transparency across the Atlantic. Hodmedod’s role is one of facilitation, using our UK network of customers and supporters and our existing distribution infrastructure to help sell the Brazil nuts and tell the story of the Kayapo and the forest they live in and defend.
📸 Photos of the Kayapó are courtesy of Simone Giovine, Coletivo Beture, AFP
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