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Postcard from Peru: Seeking Beauty Products Deep in the Rain Forest

By: Edward Millard

It takes something special to get seven busy professional people together—two from Copenhagen, three from London and two from Minneapolis—for a day’s boat trip up the river Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon. The species the group wanted to see can only be grown in its natural and undisturbed environment which most people in the world have never given a second thought—making the trip certainly special.

I joined, in March, the two senior executives from the personal care company Aveda, their media specialist, a United Kingdom PR agency representative, a journalist, photographer/ model Helena Christensen and her assistant, CI-Peru and its local partner Candela to see Brazil nuts growing and local people harvesting them.

When I grew up in England, Brazil nuts were a treat we'd eat at Christmas. Sitting together round the fire shelling the nuts was part of that special time of year. I would never have dreamed then that one day I would know where the nuts came from and learn the special role they play in providing a livelihood for so many families as well as conserving the Amazon forest.

You know you are looking at something special when you see a Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa). It towers more than 30 meters high above most of the forest canopy and provides a nesting area for eagles. The Brazil nut tree depends on intact rainforest ecosystems for survival. The flower is exclusively pollinated by the orchid bee, which is rarely found in disturbed forest. And one third of the population of Madre de Dios depends on Brazil nuts for their livelihood; harvesting, drying, shelling, packing and sending the nuts across the world where they still provide a special part of Christmas. These jobs keep people in the forest and stop the area being lost to loggers or converted to pasture.

Aveda wanted to record this story of the living rainforest because it uses protein from the Brazil nut in its hair care products and supports CI-Peru’s work with the local communities. These days, consumers are really interested in where their products originate. Watching the family and neighbors of Elda Vera, the secretary of a local Brazil nut organization, sitting on a sack on the wet forest ground cutting open with a machete the Brazil nut pods that fall from the tree, I thought what a large leap it is in distance, culture, and lifestyle to an Aveda salon. But through the partnership CI has with Aveda and locally with Candela, we have brought these worlds together and are helping people understand that actually we all live on a single planet whose resources bind us all together in the unique interdependency of nature.

Edward Millard is CI’s senior director of the Conservation Enterprise Program.

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The Brazil Nut



Conservation Enterprises
CI Peru

 Photo credits for banner image: (Zebras in Botswana) © CI, Chris Brooks