BOGOR, Indonesia — Certification of Brazil nuts, a regionally important non-timber forest product (NTFP), can have multiple benefits for the tropical forests of the Western Amazon and the livelihoods of people living in them, a new study has found.
Whether billed as fair trade, organic, or accredited under Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) guidelines, certification systems may have a better chance of success when combined, since the study showed complementary social and environmental outcomes associated with the different systems.
The authors of the study, led by scientist Amy Duchelle from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), interviewed more than 230 Brazil nut producers in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, comparing those that had fair trade, organic or FSC certification for their Brazil nuts with those that were not certified.
Huge fruits containing nuts fall to the forest floor each wet season, where they are collected by small-scale producers living in or near the forest. These producers can gain access to certified markets if they adhere to certain management practices.
To qualify for fair trade certification, nut gatherers must be organized in cooperatives. To qualify for organic certification, they must ensure the nuts are quickly transported and carefully dried to make sure they are free from a native fungus that can produce carcinogenic aflatoxins.
To gain FSC certification, producers must adopt sustainable management standards that include complying with national forestry laws, following a detailed management plan, limiting hunting and embracing workers’ safety practices.
In Bolivia, in communities that had both organic and fair trade certification, certification was viewed especially favorably, Duchelle said.
“The organic and fair trade certification success that we saw in Pando, Bolivia, seemed absolutely worth it for local producers,” she said.
Certified Bolivian producers were around four times more likely to dry nuts and keep them away from contaminants than their non-certified counterparts.
It also gave them a financial benefit. Producers who sold raw, unshelled nuts to certified cooperatives instead of going through middlemen received nearly double the price — and they were 2.5 times less likely to have debt.
Crucially, part of the additional income was paid at the time of sale, and another portion was received after the nuts were processed, before the start of the following year’s harvest, Duchelle said.
“The second payment was a clear bonus that producers got from being affiliated with the certification systems. It came at a very nice time of year when middlemen were coming into the communities and offering deals about the upcoming harvest, giving producers greater negotiation power,” she said
In Acre, Brazil, however, things turned out differently. The Brazil nut cooperative the researchers studied went bankrupt, producers received no extra financial benefit, and they viewed certification much less positively.
However, because they had engaged in organic certification, they were twice as aware of the problem of aflatoxins, and 15 times more likely to dry nuts than non-certified producers.
Duchelle says this highlights the importance of sound local cooperatives.
“There were some pretty well-functioning cooperatives in Pando, Bolivia, at the time, and because of that you had producers really gleaning the benefits of certification,” she said.
“But when a cooperative fails, as it did in Acre, it really does have big ramifications, including for how likely producers are to embrace certification schemes in the future.”
Only one of the communities studied, in Madre de Dios, Peru, had FSC certification at the time. The scientists found that these producers were twice as likely to have mapped their Brazil nut stands and have a management plan, and did not bleed trees — a technique used to stimulate fruit growth but which has negative impacts on the tree in the long term.
However, the producers in Peru did not view FSC so favorably, complaining that it required extra work for no additional financial benefit.
One way around this problem could be to make clearer links between all three kinds of certification systems, Duchelle said.
“The more you can dovetail these systems onto one another, the better,” she said.
“What you don’t want is a producer who’s facing multiple systems designed to promote sustainability, all with different sets of rules and indicators — they don’t even know where to start.”
This isn’t necessarily straightforward — complying with certification standards can be challenging for small producers — but Duchelle said that simplifying and linking standards may be key to their success.
“The more these standards between different kinds of certification systems can actually be linked to make the rules easier for producers, the more it could actually work in practice,” she said.
But producers can’t necessarily do it alone.
“Smallholders often have trouble accessing these specialized markets without major networks of partners,” Duchelle said.
“Producers need a lot of information to want to be involved in these initiatives, and there’s an important role for various different kinds of groups — companies, NGOs, government agencies, cooperatives — in supporting and simplifying certification,” she said.
For more information about this research, please contact Amy Duchelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.