Half-way done with interviews

On our first Sunday, we woke up at 6am, and met with Pedro and two economists from Lima who would be assisting ACCA as the castañeros began work on a new business to sell castañas. We drove about 3 minutes until we reached the river, and, still waiting for the completion of the Inter-Oceanic Highway bridge, waited about 10 ten minutes for a wooden car ferry to load our van on, and ferry us across the river. We then drove around 2 hours north, in order to reach the forested areas where the brazil nuts are in enough concentration to allow commercial harvesting.

As we learned throughout the month, there are only three countries which can support brazil nut harvesting on a commercial level: Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. As brazil nut trees take many years to grow before giving fruit, artificially growing brazil nut trees is not worth it, and thus, commercial brazil nut harvesting is accomplished through purchasing large tracts of jungle, called concessions, which contain brazil nuts. The location of the trees are then mapped using GPS, trails are built to the trees, and during the harvest season (January-May), workers carrying baskets collect the brazil nut cocos (large coconut-like fruits which each contain around 20 brazil nuts) and then carry these incredibly heavy baskets (each around 50 kilos) along the trails to a central collection point. The nuts are then dried in their casing, and sold to a distributor.

This Sunday, as we would do for the following Sunday, we interviewed castañeros who had come to a meeting house in La Novia, the area where many concessions are, in order to meet with ACCA and work on ways to better preserve their harvest and the jungle. These meetings afforded us enough free time to allow multiple interviews with different ACCA brazil nut harvesters, as well as those who were not yet working with ACCA but wished to, which gave a different perspective for our interviews.

Through these interviews, we learned about a key method ACCA has used to assist the brazil nut harvesters. Once the brazil nuts are collected, castañeros would traditionally dry the brazil nuts on tarps spread on the ground. If it rained, the brazil nuts would frequently get wet. They also dried more slowly with only the top surface able to dry, and the bottom frequently remaining wet. This exposed many brazil nuts to harmful fungus, which would prevent them from meeting quality control standards to be sold, especially to more premium markets such as the US. ACCA works with the castañeros to build raised wooden platforms, which have retractable roofs, which not only allow drying from two angles, but also keep the brazil nuts dry during rainstorms. Through our interviews, we learned that this was a key way the castañeros had increased their income and well-being for their family. As more of their nuts passed quality control, their income therefore increased.

We spent most mornings in the ACCA office, waiting for ACCA castañeros to come in, perhaps needing some paperwork done, and we would snag them before they left and conduct our interview, which took between ten and twenty minutes, depending on the interest the particular interviewee had in our subject. Our questions, which ranged from asking them about their and their family’s education level, to their health coverage, to their view of ACCA’s program and how it could be best improved.