Photographer Gavin Andrews follows traditional castanheiros through the jungle in Brazil, as they map the trees thought to have given the country its name.
By Gavin Andrews
It was barely noon on my first day accompanying the mapping team on the mountains of the Cajari River Extractive Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon state of Amapá, but I could already appreciate the difficulties faced by the castanheiros who have collected castanha do Pará– Brazil nuts – from the forest floor under the castanheira trees [Bertholletia excelsa] for over 100 years. We struggled to keep up with the castanheiro as he moved from tree to tree with unfailing precision, guided only by the map passed down to him from his father.
The map is an imaginary one, of course, existing only in his mind – at least for now. The forest engineers from Brazil’s Embrapa and the Amapá state Forest Institute (IEF) have been working with the local association of castanheiros on a project financed by Petrobras’ environmental fund to map more than 300 castanhais(the area traditionally exploited by each castanheiro and his family) throughout the Reserve. To date, Project Carbon Cajari has identified more than forty thousand individual Brazil nut trees; the next step is to calculate what this amounts to in terms of carbon fixation, permitting the castanheiros access to possible financial rewards through carbon emissions offsets.
Further South, in the Jari river valley, the castanheiros of the Iratapuru River Sustainable Development Reserve are also working hard to improve their lives after decades of exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous middlemen. Where once the individual castanheiros sold their unprocessed Brazil nuts at well below the market value, the cooperative now negotiates better prices for the oil extracted in their plant in the middle of the forest; a lucrative partnership with a cosmetics company, which purchases Brazil nuts, resin and copaíba, but also accesses the traditional knowledge associated with the region’s biological diversity, has resulted in a fund that supports the community.
Gavin Andrews is a Canadian photographer and documentarist based in the Brazilian Amazon.