By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
A formerly obscure berry from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has become a global marketing success. The açaí berry – a dark, small fruit similar in appearance to blueberries – has surged in popularity around the world and brought newfound prosperity to poor communities.
The açaí berry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Açaí_Palm) has seen its popularity take off because of its purported antioxidant properties (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antioxidants). It is marketed as a way to reduce cancer and heart disease, although hype has sometimes portrayed the benefits to be higher than scientific studies have found. But whatever the truth of the berry’s overall health-giving properties, it has become an economic success story in Brazil.
A rapid success story – açaí was first exported from Brazil after 2000 – the berry is now sought by health-conscious consumers and the diet industry for its antioxidant properties and slimming effects.
Harvesting the berries is providing poor communities with an alternative source of income in the Amazon rainforest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Rainforest). And the successful marketing and selling of the berries offers a good example to others trying to improve profits for agricultural products from the South.
Prior to its global popularity, a bowl of açaí berries was a staple for poor families in some parts of Brazil. The pulp is traditionally eaten as a side dish. It is a common sight in Brazil to see street vendors or shops selling crushed açaí pulp. Trendier places in Rio de Janerio sell sweetened açaí berry smoothies. In Belem, the capital of Para State, two ice cream chains sell açaí flavoured ice cream. A white and purple swirl of açaí and tapioca is a common favourite. Other treats include açaí candy and açaí tarts in bakeries.
Some claim the taste of the berry when sweetened is earthy, while left in a natural state it is more grassy. The berry grows wild on palm trees lining rivers or on farms.
Orisvaldo Ferreira de Souza is an açaí farmer on the island of Itanduba, an hour by boat from the town of Cametá, population 117,000. Açaí harvesting has become the main livelihood for many families in the area. Orisvaldo harvests açaí from 8,000 palm trees on a 14 hectare farm.
“Two or three years ago, we had a lot of trouble selling the product,” he told the New York Times. “We had to bring it to town, and sometimes we came back without selling it.”
But times have changed and the buyers now come to the farmers.
“Just yesterday, six buyers came by,” he said. “We sold 10 baskets each to two of them.”
At the CAMTA cooperative (http://www.camta.com.br/companyE.htm) in Tomé-Açu, a town with a population of 40,000, the berry is a significant source of income. The co-op’s director, Ivan Saiki, notes the boost to local incomes: “Before the boom, the harvest came and the açaí was worth practically nothing. Before, nobody had television, nobody had a motorized canoe. Now many have their own electricity at home. It’s greatly improved the life of the river communities.”
The co-op has a fruit pulp processing factory to improve the profits for the farmers and, by controlling quality, raise the reputation for their products. In order to avoid over-dependence on one commodity, the co-op members grow many other fruits as well, including papaya, mango, lemons, and local favourites abrico, uxi and bacuri.
Another initiative is Sambazon (Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon) (www.sambazon.com). This small company, founded in 2000, combines business with a partnership to ensure local communities benefit from the berry’s success story. Sambazon buys the berries from over 10,000 people in the Amazon and is certified organic (http://www.organicfarmers.org.uk). Through its SAP (Sustainable Amazon Partnership), over 1,100 local family farmers are able to harvest açaí berries as an alternative income source to logging, cattle ranching and monoculture plantations – all of which are threats to the Amazon rainforest. The company sells a range of products, from sorbet to supplements to juices and energy drinks. It also uses athletes to promote the products and encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Other companies like Açaí Roots (www.acairoots.com) – founded by three Brazilians in Rio de Janerio – also associate the product with an overall healthy lifestyle. It sells drinks, smoothies, energy shots and liquid concentrate. Founded in 2005, it is selling the concept of the healthy Brazilian lifestyle and proudly claims its founders “were born and raised on açaí.”
Published: May 2010
1) Just Food is a web portal packed with the latest news on the global food industry and packed with events and special briefings to fill entrepreneurs in on the difficult issues and constantly shifting market demands. Website: www.just-food.com
2) International Cooperative Agricultural Organisation: The ICAO is the democratic organisation representing agricultural co-operatives and farmers worldwide. Website: http://www.agricoop.org
3) Waitrose Supermarket: It regularly sources fair trade and organic food products from the global South. Website: http://www.waitrose.com/index.aspx
4) Food Safety – From the Farm to the Fork is the European Commission’s guidelines on food safety and how to prepare food for import into the European Community. Website: http://ec.europa.eu/food/international/trade index_en.htm
5) An article about research into the berry. Website: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081006112053.htm
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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