A few years ago, the tucumã palm – also known as tucumanzeiro – was seen by rural people as a “plague of the woods”, due to its thorns.
In Pará, unlike what happens in the state of Amazonas (where consumption of tucumã by local people is widespread), the fruit was used only to feed animals.
Currently, the scenario is different, after the agroindustry recognized the potential of the bioactive compounds present in the butter and oil from tucumã for the production of biocosmetics.
However, this change would not be possible without the support of cooperativism, organized around family farming.
Tucumã (or tukumã) is the fruit of tucumanzeiro (Astrocaryum vulgare), a palm tree that can reach up to 15 meters height. It has a fibrous pulp and greenish-yellow or reddish peel.
The fruit’s name that means “fruit of a thorny plant” originates from Tupi language and reveals a characteristic of the tree’s black thorny leaves.
Although it is hypothesized that the species came from Colombia, its fruit became very popular in the Amazon, especially in Manauara cuisine, with the traditional “X-Caboquinho” sandwich and other delicacies.
This is because, in addition to being tasty, tucumã is highly nutritious and rich in omega 3, vitamins A, B1 and C, properties that improve body functioning.
Although its oil is still little used by the Brazilian food industry, It is largely employed in cosmetics, mainly tucumã butter. Scientific research towards its use in biodiesel manufacture is also underway.
Two varieties of tucumã stand out in the Amazon: tucumã-do-pará (Astocaryum vulgare) and tucumã-do-amazonas (Astocaryum aculeatum).
The first variety is a smaller tree that reaches 10 to 15 meters and regenerates easily, as it possesses several stems. Conversely, the second variety can reach 25 meters and has a single trunk.
The fruit of tucumã-do-amazonas is larger and its pulp is more “fleshy” (with less fiber) and less sweety than tucumã-do-pará. The seeds of both species – native to the Amazon region – take up to two years to germinate, have a slow growth and start producing from the eighth year onwards.
In the northeast of Pará, there are families and rural producers, organized in properly regulated cooperatives, who plant, collect and sell tucumã for the Brazilian cosmetic company Natura.
In sequential steps, the multinational spheres – including groups working on commercial, research and supply areas – evaluate the substances found in tucumã aiming at the possibility of meeting demands for new products by Natura.
Then these groups map traditional communities that are familiar with the fruit and start structuring the tucumã chain.
For this purpose, it is necessary to authorize access to the genetic heritage and associated traditional knowledge of these societies, so that the holders of popular knowledge also receive the benefits generated by scientific studies.
The company has established partnerships with 41 communities in the Amazon, 23 of them are located in Pará, and deal with andiroba, murumuru, ucuúba, patauá and tucumã bioactives.
The relationship between the farmers and the business organization is mediated by Sociobiodiversity Relationship and Supply Management.
In the Lower Amazon area, Natura is supplied with tucumã almonds and butter (without an exclusive contract) by the Mixed Agroextractive Cooperative of Santo Antônio do Tauá (Camtauá), in Santo Antônio do Tauá; Agricultural Cooperative of Irituia Family Producers (D'Irituia), in the municipality of Irituia; and the Fruit Growers' Cooperative of Abaetetuba (Cofruta) in the city of Abaetetuba,. That is, the cooperatives also sell the inputs to other businesses. The three cooperators were visited by LIBERAL AMAZON on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of April this year.
Raw material for female protagonism
D'Irituia cooperative, with 12 years of existence, is made up of 42 members, 19 women and 23 men, from different rural communities.
At present, the board of directors is 100% made up of women. Maria Valquíria Cordeiro, 41 years old, partner and founder of D'Irituia cooperative is responsible for the financial sector.
For her and her companions tucumã – previously seen as a “plague of the woods” – is now recognized as “gold”, capable of contributing not only to the fight against deforestation, but also to improving economically the lives of the traditional families that live in the communities and work with extractivism.
“I live in Vila São Francisco, which is 14 kilometers far from the center, where our production headquarter is located. Other cooperative members live in Vila do Itabocal, Penha, Remanso, Santa Rita, Hebron, and in other rural communities. In the beginning, our board was made up only of men, so when I was able to be part of the board of directors, I realized, from inside, the need to bring in more women. With this change, we were taken by surprise by the best progress the cooperative ever had, generating positive energy and more determination to work. In 2019, we had the first demand for tucumã from Natura, we gathered a chain of women to work in this tucumã network, it was great! Everything went well!”, remembers Maria.
“In 2020, we had a new challenge, which was to work with dry tucumã. The fruit is not new to us, but we always work with it fresh, in natura. So, working with dry fruit was challenging, even more so during the pandemic. We were worried, apprehensive at first, and at the end of the year it worked. The positive result of this work was the purchase of our own headquarters, our identity, which until then was rented. In 2021, we had new demands, with that, we started a production center, which we inaugurated at the end of that year. In 2022, we had the immense challenge of delivering the tucumã almond, we had no direction whatsoever, we did not know how to do it, but thank God we fulfilled our contract. Today, we say that with the help of the women within the cooperative, our neighbors, who are also members, we have honored our commitment and kept our contract up to date with Natura”, concluded Maria Valquíria.
A BETTER LIFE
Master in rural development and enterprise management by the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Pará (IFPA), at the campus of Castanhal, Maria Fernanda Lima, 31 years old, resident of the Santa Rita community, has been a member of the D'Irituia cooperative for 9 years.
She claims that working with tucumã goes beyond a purchase x sale relationship with Natura: “I could only leave in order to take up the master's degree due to the commercialization of the tucumã raw material. This partnership is really a matter of encouraging, empowering, owning and knowing how to manage our enterprise”, she analyzes.
“The benefits are perceived in different aspects. As our municipality is 85% rural, we used to depend only on public transportation for a long time. Our people used to go to the city on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, when there was this transport. After this commerce started, many of us could afford to buy a car or a motorcycle, so it was possible to travel to the city, not directly depending on public transportation. People also could afford to buy their homes. There were people who had only a small piece of land, but they succeeded, improved their lives due to the food we produce. So, for us, there are several benefits resulting from this partnership for the commercialization of tucumã raw material”, she said.
Cooperative multiplies its market value
The population of Abaetetuba exceeds 160,000 inhabitants, according to estimates by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
Production and commerce of açaí is the main income source for the municipality nowadays, while in the past, around 40 years ago, market was leveraged by the harvest of sugar cane for the production of cachaça.
Vanildo Quaresma, 51, from Abaetetuba, is the production coordinator at Cofruta's. As a holder of traditional knowledge, he said that due to the decadence of sugar cane crops in the region, the forest was regenerated after years of deforestation.
Originally from the Ilha Sirituba rural community, the extractivist producer owns a settlement area of approximately four hectares - the equivalent of four soccer fields.
Vanildo's property is one good example of income generation without removal of the local forest. The system used in it is agroforestry.
Unlike monoculture, which aims to cultivate only one species within a common space, agroforestry aims at cultivating many species within the same area.
Vanildo explains that tucumã has become an addition to family income in the region, as well as the harvesting of andiroba, murumuru, ucuúba and, of course, açaí.
Raimundo Brito de Almeida, 59, is the president of Cofruta, founded in 2002. The cooperative initial value was estimated in R$6,700; now, its value is estimated around R$8 and R$10 million. There are 22 members working in the cooperative, from which 50% are men and 50% are women.
According to “Seu Brito”, as he is nicknamed in the region, currently, the board of directors of the ruit Growers' Cooperative of Abaetetuba is constituted mostly of women (70%).
For him, the recognition of women's work is important to empower other women, who, in the past, due to structural machismo, experienced few opportunities and were delegated to take care of the family and house chores.
He also states that family farming is an activity that not only contributes to the reduction of forest deforestation, but also provides job opportunities for rural people, reduces the rural exodus and, indirectly, reduces violence in the region.
“One of the issues is to find an answer for the rural citizen, because sometimes we don't find it, and family farming has the possibility of finding a destination for the products created there, from this sociobiodiversity. If you find business opportunities for them [rural people], they are most likely to remain there, in the rural area, working there in the forest, taking care of the plants and, particularly, of the environment, since there is no need to degrade everything. They won’t need to sell their land cheaply, nor go to the urban area to cause problems to the cities. So, we have this work to strengthen these people, including their families, in family farming”, said the president of Cofruta.
"Government does not look at cooperatives"
Camtauá has been operating on extractivism for 13 years, contributing as a source of income to more than 100 families in the municipalities of Santo Antônio de Tauá, Colares, Vigia de Nazaré and São Caetano de Odivelas. Currently, the cooperative develops various products extracted from sociobiodiversity, including andiroba, murumuru and tucumã.
“We have worked for more than ten years here in Tauá, contributing to the local development and to traditional families. We have a great partnership with Natura company, which supports us, providing all financial management assistance, and always monitors our routine”, says Gilson Santana, 34 years old, production coordinator at Camtauá.
“Our work is exactly to prevent and preserve. Camtauá's motto is 'preserving and producing in the Amazon'. So, we first preserve, later we start producing and, due to everything we do nowadays, we keep the forest standing. There are people who say ‘the Amazon is ours’, but there are few ones who make it happen, working side by side with nature”, he highlighted.
Gilson says that, although the Amazon attracts the world's attention, mainly because it is the largest tropical forest on earth in terms of biodiversity and despite having a biome, with a rich flora and potential for sheltering many species of plants not yet discovered, the inhabitants of the region still lack prestige.
“Often people want to come and see the Amazon, but in fact, there are few ones to encourage and preserve it. Just as there are few companies that support us. Currently, our main supporter is a private company, the public power itself does not look at cooperatives, at extractivism people, who make this balanced forest still stand. Private companies are the ones doing this, the ones that have an interest in somehow encourage this to happen. But, in fact, the government, and even the municipality, is still too far from looking at nature. Many people just speak up, and I think it is to try to please the critics, I don't know, but the truth is we still expect a lot that the government will come to invest in our communities that are already doing this in practice", he said.