Alex Burns is a second-year international development student focusing on gender, governance and conflict management.

Every minute an area the size of a football field is destroyed in the Amazon. [i] Last month, panic following a black sky in São Paolo exposed Brazil’s intensive deforestation. These efforts are bolstered by President Bolsonaro promising “not one centimeter more” of the Amazon will be dedicated to indigenous reservations. [ii] The Amazon’s survival has significant global implications as its 400 billion trees absorb millions of tons of carbon, curbing global warming. Environmentalists and politicians have presented remedial ideas, while the voices of indigenous groups have been largely sidelined. However, their ancient standing as protectors of the rainforest suggests that they may provide the solution.

By supporting agri-business lobbyists and weakening extractive farming regulations, Bolsonaro is determined to transform the Amazon into a hub of economic development. Soy and cattle farming require clearing of the rainforest and nutrient rich soil depletes quickly, causing farmers to expand at disturbing proportions. This year, there have been over 120,000 deforestation fires in Brazil, an increase of 52% since last year. [iii]

Growing global demands for beef and soy products are driving economic ambitions. Last year Brazil exported 1.64 million tons of beef to buyers such as Walmart and McDonalds, making it the world’s largest supplier and making cattle ranching the leading cause of deforestation. [iv] [v] [vi] Deforestation surrounding Highway BR163, also known as ‘soybean route’, is alarmingly high as well. BR163 connects farms in the Amazon directly to the port of Santarem, which is used by Cargill, the world’s biggest agri-food company and Brazil’s largest soy exporter. [vii] Moreover, the US-China trade war resulted in tariffs on US soy, causing the demand of Brazilian soy to surge. [viii]

The Amazon finds itself in the crossfires of a relentless battle between extractive agri-business ideals and conservation efforts. However, indigenous communities contend that the key to preserving the rainforest is in the rainforest itself. [ix] By harvesting Brazil nuts, indigenous communities present a ‘third way’ to save the Amazon. Investing in supply chains which convert nuts into valuable cash crops will pay larger dividends in the long-term, without deforestation. [x] COOPAVAM, a small-farmer cooperative, serves as proof of the viability of non-extractive industries. [xi] By processing nuts, their value increases by 20%, while creating sustainable livelihoods. The cooperative sells nut flour and refined nut oil to food and cosmetic corporations. [xii]

The harvest and production of Brazil nuts faces many challenges, particularly with enormous economic pressures and quick profitability alternatives in the soy and beef industries. However, climatologists calculate that if another 10% of the Amazon is lost, the entire region will dry up irreversibly. [xiii] It is estimated that the “dieback scenario” will cost between $957 billion and $3.59 trillion in social and economic damages over 30 years. [xiv]

A paramount course of action is to expand upon supply chain models which offer a deforestation-free model with capital financing opportunities and economic gains. A single Brazil nut tree grows up to 160 feet, lives for 1,000 years and contains 1.3% of the Amazon’s carbon. [xv] It is essential that Brazil and the world at large begin to value indigenous communities as allies and Amazonian trees as biological assets for economic alternatives.

[i] David Shukman, "'Football Pitch' of Amazon Forest Lost Every Minute," BBC News, July 2, 2019.

[ii] Tom Phillips, "'He Wants to Destroy Us': Bolsonaro Poses Gravest Threat in Decades, Amazon Tribes Say," The Guardian, July 26, 2019.

[iii] Situação Atual, Programa Queimadas, INPE,[2019]).

[iv] Slaughtering the Amazon (Washington DC: GreenPeace,[2009]).

[v] SECEX-MDIC, Exportações Brasileiras De Carne Bovina Brazilian Beef Exports.

[vi] Glenn Hurowitz, et al., The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon, Washington DC: Mighty Earth.

[vii] Glenn Hurowitz, et al., The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon, Washington DC: Mighty Earth.

[viii] "China Ramps Up Brazil Soybean Imports, Rebuffing U.S. Crops." Bloomberg, August 16, 2019.

[ix] Catherine Armitage, "The Search for Solutions," Nature 558, no. 7711 (Jun, 2018), S1. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-05490-6.

[x] Sam Eaton, "How Brazil Nuts are Helping Protect the Amazon Rainforest," PBS, October 4, 2018.

[xi] "Forest Sentinels," , accessed Sep 18, 2019,

[xii] International institute for environment and development, June 13, 2012,

[xiii] The Week, September 1, 2019,

[xiv] David M. Lapola et al., "Limiting the High Impacts of Amazon Forest Dieback with no-Regrets Science and Policy Action," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115, no. 46 (Nov 13, 2018), 11671-11679. doi:10.1073/pnas.1721770115.

[xv] John Upton, The Amazon Trees that do the most to Slow Global Warming, Scientific American,[2015]).

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