There has been a long history of extraction and collection of Brazil nuts from the forest in Pando, Beni and Acre (PBA). In fact, since as early as 1633 Brazil nuts have been exported to Europe, however this early trade was primarily focused in the Eastern Amazon (Wadt, et al., 2005).
The Brazil nut is widely recognized as a delicious nut that is high in natural oils and is seen as a significant source of naturally occurring selenium, which the health food culture highlights for its cancer fighting qualities.
In northern Bolivia the tradition of Brazil nut extraction is very important to the local communities. It was found that more than 50% of the local population derive their livelihoods from this crop, with the collection and processing of the nuts employing around 15,000 people for 8 to 9 months of the year (Soldan, 2003).
The Brazil nut is termed a non timber forest product (NTFP) because the seeds or “nuts” are primarily wild harvested in the Amazon forest. It accounts for around 45% of Bolivia’s forest-related exports, contributing more than $70 million USD to the national economy annually (CIFOR, 2007).
The total Brazil nut export in 2010 was around 24,000 metric tonnes; this volume varies little annually (Zuidema, 2003, Kainer, et al., 2007). The nuts collected in PBA are processed in the northern Bolivian urban centres of Riberalta and Cobija before being shipped to international markets.
Nowadays the majority of nuts are cracked and extracted from their individual shells. This is done to reduce the risk of a widely naturally occurring substance called aflatoxin that can accumulation in the product. The occurrence of aflatoxin can prevent shipments being accepted in some importing countries like the UK.
The demand for the Brazil nut as a food commodity is of key importance to the local economies that depend on them, but is also of key importance to the survival of the rainforest in which the nuts are found.