- Issue: Fall 2018
For communities living in the Amazon rain forest of Bolivia, rainfall and Brazil nuts go hand in hand. Both are critical for the families who live within and around the Manuripi-Heath Amazonian Wildlife National Reserve, where people collect Brazil nuts, or castañas, as a source of income and food. But as climate change is causing longer, more intense droughts and changing rainfall patterns in the region, the nuts—which require consistent rain to grow—aren’t doing so hot. The economically ascendant Açaí berry, however, can handle drier conditions. So, the question is whether the more climate-resilient açaí can help communities in the Bolivian Amazon as Brazil nut harvests take a hit.
Need reliable rainfall to thrive
Despite their name, 80% of the world’s Brazil nuts are produced in Bolivia.
SLOW GROWTH, LOW RETURN
Brazil nuts take up to 15 months to mature. A severe drought and a delay in the rainy season in 2016 meant that the 2017 harvest fell by as much as 80% in some communities.
Number of families living near or within the Manuripi-Heath Amazonian National Wildlife Reserve that depend on Brazil nuts to provide 75% of their income.
Can thrive in drier conditions
Climate projections suggest that by the 2050s, rainfall in this region could be reduced by another 30% during the driest parts of the year.
Analysts forecast that the global açaí berry market will grow roughly 10% each year over the next five years.
AN IRON BERRY
Unlike Brazil nuts, açaí berries have survived recent droughts. The açaí palm appears to be better equipped to handle drier conditions and reductions in rainfall. Some research suggests that these fruit trees can go up to 61 days without water.
Advancing the options
Through a program called ADVANCE, WWF, Columbia University scientists, experts from Bolivia’s national parks department, and community representatives are working together to understand how worsening drought might impact the Bolivian Amazon, and to help people find alternative sources of income that are less dependent on rainfall.