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Home » The world’s first certified açaí strengthens the identity of communities in Amapá

The world’s first certified açaí strengthens the identity of communities in Amapá

Within the forest of multiple greens, the plants touch each other charged with a dense freshness. 

To the sound of the saracura signaling high tide — or launching tide, as it is called here —, Josilene Ferreira Lopes threshes the bunches of açaí on the tarp spread out on the ground. 

The atmosphere, still warm from the sun, illuminates the faces of the relatives, gathered for another day of collection.

“I am the father of three daughters and two of my sons-in-law pick açaí. I do it too and I have a son who is already doing well. So we work together. 

Here, we raise different plants to keep the forest healthy and varied and, at the same time, cultivate the açaí tree. 

We take care of the seedlings and end up forming nurseries within each property”, comments Josilene’s husband, Manoel Miracy dos Santos Filho, known as Miro, an agro-extractivist and one of the leaders of Arraial, the most organized community in the Basilique Archipelago, in Amapá.

In the 51 communities of this archipelago located at the mouth of the Amazon River, approximately 10,000 inhabitants have been going through a process of reclaiming their territories.

The first step was a dialogue between residents in search of solutions to local problems.

The salinization of fresh water, erosion caused by the increase in herds of buffaloes, the construction of hydroelectric plants, and the change in the course of the Araguari River, which stopped flowing into the sea, becoming a tributary of the Amazon River, are some of the resulting environmental impacts of human intervention in the environment.

In 2013, farmers, fishermen, and extractivist from the Amapá archipelago got together to establish the Community Protocol, whose objective was to strengthen sociocultural identity as an instrument for the practice of self-management. And the path chosen for this strengthening was to invest in the açaí production chain.

“We are talking about achieving financial autonomy in regions that have always been exploited. Of activism and resistance to ongoing climate and social change. 

Food safety and awareness that work needs to happen from the inside out. Everything is in the community”, reiterates forestry engineer Amiraldo de Lima Picanço, president of the Bailique Agroextractive Producers Cooperative.

First certified açaí in the world

The biggest legacy of the protocol was the creation of Amazon bai, a cooperative that had the effective participation of 36 communities. “At the time, four production chains were defined, including fish, vegetable oils, and medicinal plants. The açaí was a priority because it generates more income, training, good practices, and minimal impact management”, says Amiraldo.

With 128 cooperative members in a dynamic that integrates more than 2,000 people in all Bailique communities, Amazonbai accumulates recognition: in 2016, its açaí became the first in the world — and so far the only one — to obtain FSC certification ( Forest Stewardship Council). 

Today, it has the FSC Forest Management, Chain of Custody, and Ecosystem Services Procedure seals. In addition, it has the Vegan Product certificate, the Amapá Seal, and is in the process of obtaining organic certification.

The next step — the registration of Geographical Identification of Origin (GI) — has a partnership with Nutex – Nucleus for Sustainable Territorial Development of the State University of Amapá (UEAP). 

According to Gabriel Araújo da Silva, professor and general coordinator of the Inclusive Community Economies project, carrying out a chemical study of the Bailique açaí and organizing data on the quality of the product aims to submit the application to the Inpi (National Institute of Industrial Property) from the register.

GI designates a product by its geographic name as originating in a delimited area when the link between the product and the geographic environment is proven, by the quality or characteristics attributed to this geographical origin.

“We collected 600 samples of açaí in Bailique, on the islands of Pará and other regions of Amapá, and we discovered that the chemical profile of the açaí in Bailique is different. T

he anthocyanin composition changes and the phenolic content is higher”, explains Silva, referring to substances with antioxidant power present in açaí, which act against free radicals in the body.

The total area of ​​certified açai groves in Bailique is 2,970 hectares. In Miro and Josilene, annual production ranges from eight to ten tons between consumption and sale. 

“I do the following: I take a part for food and sell all the açaí in my certified area to the cooperative, which corresponds to 90% of production”, says Miro, explaining that Amazonbai pays R$ 25.00 a can fresh fruit weighing around 14.5 kilos, plus an addition of R$5.00 at the end of the entire operation.

Miro also emphasizes one of the guidelines defined by the protocol: a political pedagogical project of education based on alternation. 

In the mutirão regime carried out by the families during the management and collection of the açaí, there is a wing for apprentices. 

They are young people and children who are divided between school and life in the community. “We are working on the issue of education, that is, 5% of all production delivered to the cooperative goes to the Escola Família project. A dream that we struggle to fulfill”, explains the agroextractivist.

One of Amazonbai’s structural bases is local development through the strengthening of education in rural areas. 

To this end, a fund was created with the purpose of promoting the financial self-sufficiency of Family Schools in the regions where the cooperative operates — schools maintained by families from the community itself to inhibit the rural exodus. 

The 5% of sales per can of açaí are used to build schools. The work is carried out by the Bailique Traditional Communities Association (ACTB) in partnership with Amazonbai. In the archipelago, the sponsor of the fund is the Bailique Family Agroextractivist School Association (Aefab).

the acai market

The açaí and derivatives production chain generate more than US$ 720 million a year worldwide, according to a bulletin published by the National Supply Company.

Brazil, considered the largest producer of fruit, has a percentage of more than 1.5 million tons per year. In the last 6 years, there has been an increase of 39% in the volume of açaí produced in the country, an indication of the growth of around 6.5% per year.

It is an equation that benefits around 150,000 families of agro extractivist and family farmers in almost 200 community enterprises in the Amazon, among cooperatives and associations.

The portion that includes the principle of an economy based on standing forests results in environmental conservation and social development of traditional populations – revealing a path to the future.

Amazonbai operates from Monday to Saturday, all year round, between the regions of Bailique and Beira Amazonas. 

Its processing center is located in the port of Matapi, in Macapá (AP), and was inaugurated in December 2021. The president of the cooperative comments on the production volume: “There are 36 tons of açaí processed per month and 480 per year, in a total of 20,000 liters of pulp produced during the harvest and between harvests”.

According to environmental manager Mariana Chauvet, from the InterElos Institute, the main challenge in relation to açaí was, and still is, marketing and access to markets with higher added value.

“There was an expectation that certified management açaí would be valued and this did not happen as expected. It was when.

In 2020, we developed studies to understand and position the cooperative’s brand in the market and, subsequently, in 2021, Amazonbai carried out the strategic planning for the next 10 years, which will guide all the cooperative’s actions”, he confirms.

Amiraldo confirms: “We ended up getting into disputes with other companies, megacorporations, that don’t have the certifications that Amazonbai has. 

Everything is about getting added value to our product. This has always been the biggest difficulty. We need to create ways to reach retail chains and niche markets, in addition to diversifying production. We are now assessing the feasibility of manufacturing freeze-dried açaí and sorbet,” he says.

Açaí groves at risk in the coastal region

In the case of the Amazon, the idea of ​​natural heritage cannot be separated from the idea of ​​cultural heritage. The landscape is also heritage – the heritage of management practices of traditional populations.

Within a scenario in which the demands related to the degradation process in the forest are growing, the problem that revolves around the gradual increase in the flow of salt water in the estuary of the Amazon River opened a debate among local communities.

A study carried out by the Nucleus for Sustainable Territorial Development of UEAP in partnership with Amazonbai, not yet published, raises the hypothesis that the higher incidence of phenolics in açaí from Bailique may be related to the existing variety on the islands and the influence of water salted. 

It was verified that all the samples are of the Euterpe oleracea species , but there are several types due to mutations and improvements that occurred in the palm trees in the territory. 

Over time, the addition of human management to the evolutionary aspects that permeate the Amazonian environment generated agroforests.

Silva clarifies that there is a catch. “The natural phenomenon of salinization during the entire period of forest formation brought us to the current context. 

However, the abrupt salinization process that is underway can be harmful because the salty monsoons lasted a week, fertilized the soil and that was it. 

Today is different. Last year, it lasted four months in some locations. The salinization of the sea has reached Vila Progresso, something absolutely unprecedented”, he says.

Among the factors that cause the imbalance is the decrease in the flow of the Araguari River and the consequent advance of seawater over the archipelago, phenomena caused by a mixture of climate change and human interference — such as the construction of power plants in Araguari and the creation of buffaloes.

Geosat, a European company that works together with scientists from Nutex – Nucleus for Sustainable Territorial Development, has provided satellite images, since 1999, of the area that encompasses the entire mouth of Amapá, from Macapá to Sucuriju. 

“We are going to analyze how much salt has entered the Bailique over the last few decades and how it has acted on the açaí tree canopy”, explains Silva. 

“The question is: will salinization put an end to açaí or not? We need to understand whether the lack of control over the phenomenon will influence culture or not.

If the result is positive, we will look for clones that are resistant; if not, we will encourage the maintenance of management in the way it is already done by the communities.”

According to the report by The Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA), the formulation of forest conservation strategies is a priority for the maintenance and restoration of 83% of the remaining undisturbed Amazon Forest and the associated biological and cultural diversities. 

Mechanisms include law enforcement inside and outside protected areas, integration of Conservation Units and agroecological systems into sustainable supply chains, incentives to restore degraded areas, civil society engagement, and new forms of environmental and resource governance.

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