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Story Publication logo December 28, 2022

Certified Açaí From Amapá Shows That Traditional Solutions Are the Future for the Amazon (Portuguese)



There is fire that destroys, and there is fire that builds by driving cycles that, according to...

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This story excerpt was translated from Portuguese. To read the original story in full, visit National Geographic Brasil. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

Afternoon falls in the community of Arraiol, where mud is a constant element in the lives of the residents. The tide determines absolutely everything in the local daily life: going to the forest to work, visiting the cemetery, waiting for the pororoca, fishing, hunting, and even playing ball and bathing in the river in the late afternoon. Image by Mauricio de Paiva/National Geographic. Brazil, 2022.

The presence of the fruit in the regional diet is as old as the occupation of the forest — and its use has to do with rational fire management.

The collectors get ready to leave after packing the açaí into large bags of 28 kilos each. With the bales on their shoulders, the men leave the forest while the women organize their pots, jugs, cans, and other tools for their work. Finally, they fold the tarpaulins that were opened close to the ground for the threshing and separation of the Amazonian palm fruit.

The ribeirinhos carefully place the bags inside the boat, which will continue its journey in the next hour. The paneiros, hand-braided baskets, are loaded with a small açaí, the so-called chumbinho.

Another day comes to an end in Arraiol, a community in the Bailique archipelago, a group of eight islands in the region of the mouth of the Amazon river, 200 kilometers from Macapá. The açaí harvested will be processed by the Cooperative of Agro-Extractive Producers of Bailique, Amazonbai. It is the first community enterprise in Brazil focused on açaí to achieve the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification of forest management, chain of custody and ecosystem services procedure. The Amazonbai açaí also has a certificate of Vegan Product and the Amapá Seal, which promotes the valorization of the state's native products.

This success story in the production and commercialization of an emblematic fruit of the Amazon began to take shape in 2013, when farmers, fishermen and extractivists got together to institute the Community Protocol, which allowed the management of the operation by the residents based on the strength of the local sociocultural identity. "In Bailique, many men and women hold traditional knowledge," the residents subscribe in an excerpt from the document. These are people who have a deep knowledge of the region's plants, using the biodiversity for food and healing. "For the maintenance of such knowledge, it is necessary to have the full guarantee of the territory and natural resources," the text continues.

"I describe the forest as a place of coziness. It has given me everything I have. My relationship is one of immense affection with this place and that's why I treat it with so much respect," says Manoel Miracy dos Santos Filho, known as Miro, one of the founding partners of the cooperative, created in 2017.

A peconheiro — açaí collector — from Mazagão Velho, an area of archeological sites in Amapá, comes down from the açaí tree with a bunch of the fruit and the knife on his back. The terçado, a type of machete used by the riverside caboclos, is crucial in their work and in their agro-extractivism in the forest. The açaí grove belongs to quilombola families. Image by Mauricio de Paiva/National Geographic. Brazil, 2022.

The fire also serves as a repellent against insects, lit on dry palm leaves and termite remains, in the areas where açaí is collected. In the floodplain terrain, the carapanã mosquitoes proliferate. The peconheiros also wear long rubber boots to protect themselves from snakes and scorpions. Image by Mauricio de Paiva/National Geographic. Brazil, 2022.

Around the fire, fishermen gather at the end of the day in the Lago Piratuba Biological Reserve, in the region of the mouth of the Amazon. Amazonian fishing is ancestral, with techniques passed down from generation to generation, as evidenced by the remains of fish and bones found at archeological sites. Image by Mauricio de Paiva/National Geographic. Brazil, 2022.

Collector Carlos Vilhena dos Santos carries a sack of açaí during his workday. The job takes all day in the floodplain forest of Bailique. Image by Mauricio de Paiva/National Geographic. Brazil, 2022.

Collector João Marcos Lopes Chaves, 22, hands over one of the bags of the day's production before it is loaded into the canoe that will take it to the Amazonbai cooperative boat. The açaí from the cooperative producers is then transported to Macapá — a trip that is made once a week. Image by Mauricio de Paiva/National Geographic. Brazil, 2022.

Farmer, extractivist and community leader of Arraiol, José Cordeiro dos Santos Lopes, aka Zeca, threshes bunches of managed açaí in his plantation area. A master of regional family extractivism, Zeca is responsible for a good part of the production in Bailique's açaí harvest. Image by Mauricio de Paiva/National Geographic. Brazil, 2022.