After many hard working weeks in the forest the Brazil nuts arrive in Riberalta by truck or on the Rio Madre De Dios on riverboat barges. Raw in-shell nuts are received at the factories in large sacks. At this point the nuts have a very high humidity level because they have been lying on the floor of the Amazon for a number of weeks. The materials are then calibrated (sized) into tiny/midget/medium/large, the international sizing format for Brazil nuts.
Once calibrated, the nuts pass down the line to the Autoclave, which is a large heated cylinder. This begins the drying process and helps to separate the protective nut shell from the nut kernel.
Traditionally most processing factories have used the hand cracking method but more recently several plants have converted to a mechanical cracking system to remove the individual nut shells from the kernels. Hand cracking is a huge source of employment for the town – normally a whole family unit is employed, sitting at one cracking table where they rotate on shifts, each taking their turn to crack the nuts and earn an income for their families. Hand cracked nuts are also seen by many to be of better quality because it results in less damage to the kernel when compared to mechanical cracked nuts. Plants switching to mechanical cracking feel they are getting increased throughput in the factory and saving on labour costs in the long term.
The majority of factory employees are woman as the men tend to be out collecting the nuts in the forest. The kernel materials also pass under aflatoxin lights. Aflatoxin is a bacteria mould that can grow on nuts when there is prolonged exposure to wet conditions. These conditions are characteristic of the forest floor of the Amazon, so it is important that the collectors recover the nut pods from the forest at the right time. This is a critical part of the production process because to allow export and import of Brazil nut materials, aflatoxin levels need to be within a specified range.
Next the kernels are dried in metal trays for anywhere between 15 to 20 hours at high temperatures to take the humidity level down to a moisture level of about 4.5%. After another check for kernels with defects and one more aflatoxin check the goods come off the production belt and enter the packing room. Kernels are packed into 44LB cartons, ready for export. The export journey begins in Riberalta where trucks full of finished goods travel the 3 to 4 day “good weather” journey to La Paz to be warehoused in El Alto, a natural cool store at 4800 metres!!
La Paz is the export hub where all documents are prepared before the containers leave to travel to the port of Arica in Chile.