We recently returned from the official opening of Hylea’s new brazil nut processing facility in the village of Fortaleza, Bolivia. We were most impressed by the scale and vision of this project . Previous factories we had visited in and around Riberalta are generally old, small and use manual labour for cracking. Although this gives some valuable seasonal employment to locals, it has always also led to issues surrounding local sustainability, sanitation, hygiene, contamination and deterioration of finished product. Hylea have built a modern European standard facility, where the focus is on producing a sustainable end product of exceptional quality. The strategic location in the heart of the collecting area means transport into the factory is not ever an issue, unlike facilities in Riberalta where water levels play a big influence in production scheduling. Furthermore, being closer to the collecting area has advantages in that transport time to the factory is minimized which has a big influence on aflaotoxin levels as the longer the kernels are held in damp/moist conditions prior to processing has a massive impact on the end toxin levels.
Brazil nuts are fundamental to the survival of the rainforests in South America, and shows us how ecoclogically sensitive and completely interdependent this wonderfully rich habitat really is. Their production and the regeneration of the trees that produce them illustrates the importance of diverse plant and animal ecology in maintaining a rainforest ecosystem. Euglossine bees (most often the females) are the only creatures regularly able to gain entrance to the Brazil nut tree’s flowers, which have little lids on them. The bees enter to feed on nectar, and in the process they pollinate the flower. Thus, the Brazil nut tree depends on female euglossine bees for pollination.
Male euglossines have a different role in this ecological process. To reproduce, the males must first prove themselves to the females. The males accomplish this by visiting orchids for the single purpose of gathering fragrant chemicals from the flowers. These fragrances are a necessary precondition of euglossine mating. Without the orchids growing in the rainforest, the euglossine population cannot sustain itself, and the Brazil nut trees do not get pollinated. For this reason, Brazil nuts can only be collected from the rainforest; they cannot be produced on plantations.
Finally, once the Brazil nut pods are formed, the tree then depends on the Agouti, a rodent, to distribute and actually plant the seeds. The Agouti is one of the few animals capable of chewing through the very hard pod to reach the nuts inside. Agoutis scatter and bury the nuts for future consumption, but some nuts manage to sprout and grow into mature trees.
Hylea was founded by the Hecker family , originally emigrating from Switzerland, and have been working with Brazilnuts since 1919. They own 25.000 hectares in the state of Pando, Bolivia. All of this is actually organically certified as well. Social responsibility and sustainability is extremely important for the Hecker family. This project has had a huge impact in the region. They are of course providing many jobs but have not stopped there as they have built a school, medical centre, and houses , as well as shops, and even a social club, for the families who will be working in the facility 12 months of the year and live in the village of Fortaleza. There are fruit and vegetable plots and plans to diversify with cacao and cashews, with the overall aim of sustainable production and safeguarding the rainforest habitat for future generations.
As Aime Hecker explained ‘We had been working for ages in collecting, packing and shipping and now don’t rely on others for the processing’. Being in control of ones future destiny allows for planning on a bigger and longer time scale than any previous business in this region would generally consider. Mostly timber extraction shows a short term gain for the a few , and devastation that never recovers for many. Hylea are in this business for the long term and have shown a commitment for generations to the people and to the area, to nature and sustainability. Lets all support this project and support nature. And remember the bees are dependent on you!