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The ‘forgotten’ people picking your Brazil nuts – for a fraction of the price | Global development

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On a steamy March morning, Edivan Kaxarari walks with a few other villagers in single file down a trail in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil’s Rondônia state, near the border with Bolivia.

His sister-in-law Cleiciana carries her 11-month-old son in one arm and a rifle in the other, and his brother Edson clears the path ahead with a machete. It is hunting season for the seeds of the Amazonian Brazil nut tree.

Brazil nuts have never been successfully cultivated at scale on farms, and in the wild are dependent on the conservation of the forest around them.

Harvesting Brazil nuts
Harvesting Brazil nuts is labour intensive and 170 Kaxarari families help to bring in the crop. Brazil produces about 39% of the world’s supply

Reaching up to 60 metres, the trees are among the tallest in the vast South American forest, living happily for 500 years, and not uncommonly up to 1,000 years. But as the Amazon is ever increasingly under threat from legal and illegal industries – agriculture, logging, mining and cattle farming – the future of Brazil nut harvests look uncertain.

“We work with Brazil nuts because they have no environmental impact,” says Edivan.

From December to March, like thousands of others across the Amazon, the 170 families in this community fan out over their 146,000-hectare territory, walking for hours along ancient trails and sometimes camping out for days deep in the forest.

March is the rainy season, and finding fruits that have fallen into dense undergrowth, shared with venomous snakes, is a wet and muddy activity. The nuts come in husks similar to coconuts, with 12 to 24 wedged inside.

With well-honed technique, Edivan steadies one in his hand, using the other to bring down the machete, slicing it neatly and shaking the contents into a plastic sack. Eighteen-litre metal pails – or latas – are the trade’s unit of measurement and the Kaxarari fill 30,000 to 40,000 every harvest. The buyers paid about 45 to 50 Brazilian reais, about £6, for each lata this year. The Kaxarari know their nuts fetch substantially more at their final selling points but, “we do not have access to the retail market,” says Edivan. “So we sell to middlemen, who pay very little.”

Brazil nuts
The Kaxarari fill up to 40,000 ‘latas’ – 18-litre pails – every Brazil nut harvest, which they sell to middlemen

Edivaldo Kaxarari, a schoolteacher, buys and sells Brazil nuts to complement his income, marking up each lata by 5 reais. Once he has a few dozen sacks in his yard, Rosenilson Ferreira, who lives in the nearby town of Extrema, comes to collect them in his truck, transporting them to other buyers nearby and across the border in Bolivia. Ferreira worries about how long this trade, so reliant on nature, will last.

“We are losing the forest and I’m worried that, over time, the crop of nuts will decrease,” he says.

Illegal logging has been an issue on Kaxarari land for years, with little effort from the authorities to stop it. The unsolved murder of a community leader in 2017 made people reluctant to speak out; they believed the killing was meant to intimidate them.

“If the government can’t stop this activity, imagine us,” says Edivan, who recently unsuccessfully ran for municipal office to try to win Kaxarari representation. “We’ve suffered many threats from the invaders. We’re afraid.”

Brazil nut collectors
Alessandro carries a sack full of Brazil nuts, as Edson follows him on the trail. The nuts are found in remote corners of the rainforest

And some of their own have joined the criminals.

“When they saw the wood being hauled out, they started selling, too,” says Marizina Kaxarari, chief of Pedreira, one of the region’s nine villages. “They said they needed the money.”

To reduce this temptation, the Kaxarari want to make the nut business lucrative, to build a small processing factory, buy a truck and sell direct to retailers. Elsewhere nut collectors – castanheiros – have made progress in cutting out the middlemen. One co-operative formed in Pará, called Coopaflora, has a supply deal with a bakery, enabling the group to pay 20–40% more to members.

But Leo Ferreira at Imaflora, the NGO behind the project, says they’ve had limited success reaching foreign markets, and they haven’t completely done away with the middlemen.

bagging up Brazil nuts
Edivan sells his harvest to Edivaldo, who fills a lata with Brazil nuts

Brazil nut prices fluctuate, and when they are scarce, prices rise far above what the co-operatives can pay. Agents also offer payment in advance, creating dependence among castanheiros held “hostage” by the system, says Ferreira. “This is one of the biggest difficulties in establishing a long-term partnership with the castanheiros. Many depend on the harvest as their main source of income, so we understand that it is difficult to be loyal in years when the local middleman pays a price significantly above the co-operative.”

So far the Kaxarari have been unable to get a co-op to support them and have been unsuccessful in their petitions for government help.

In the forest Edson throws the sack with his day’s harvest of nuts over his shoulder and begins the trek back to his motorbike.

“We feel forgotten here,” he says.

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Texas Deputy AG Apologizes for Slamming Simone Biles as ‘National Embarrassment’

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US gymnast Simone Biles received immense support from Americans this week after announcing she would not be competing in the Team USA final, nor the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final, due to personal mental health concerns. At the same time, the 24-year-old has received backlash from many individuals who viewed her pull-out as weak.

Aaron Reitz, deputy attorney general for Texas, took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to issue an apology to Biles, and recant a statement in which he panned the record-setting US gymnast as a “national embarrassment.” 

“In a moment of frustration and disappointment, I opined on subjects for which I am not adequately versed. That was an error. I can’t imagine what Simone Biles has gone through,” Reitz claimed. “Simone Biles is a true patriot and one of the greatest gymnasts of our time.”

“I apologize to her, and wish her well,” the deputy AG concluded, emphasizing that his “personal social media comments” do not represent the views of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nor the Office of the Attorney General. 

Reitz’s since-deleted tweet against Biles, who was born in Texas and still resides in the Lone Star State, quoted another post that applauded the 1996 Olympic performance of Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug. Strug, one of the US’ “Magnificent Seven,” severely injured her ankle during the first half of the vault competition, but refused to bow out of the event and ultimately led her team to win the US’ first gold medal in women’s gymnastics. 

“Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles,” Reitz said in his quote tweet. 

The deputy AG’s attempt at using Strug’s story to chastise Biles fell flat, as the two-time Olympian threw her support behind the 24-year-old on Tuesday. 

Furthermore, it is worth noting that Biles is no stranger to performing with adversity. When the US Women’s Gymnastics team took home gold at the 2018 World Championships in Qatar, Biles dominated in nearly every competition, despite intense stomach pains from what was later confirmed to be a kidney stone. 

Despite her pull-outs this year, Biles has continued to root for her fellow Team USA gymnasts. She also expressed in a Wednesday social media post that “the outpouring [of] love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”



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Aid cuts make a mockery of UK pledges on girls’ education | Zoe Williams

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With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.

The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.

There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.

The issue has never been more important than during this pandemic, which in many countries is hitting a peak having already affected girls disproportionately.

These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.

Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.

The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”

This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.

Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.

Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.

“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”

Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.

There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.

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[Ticker] US backs WHO plan for further Covid-origin investigation

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.

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