Study of the açaí chain in Amapá can become a reference for other initiatives

Study of the açaí chain in Amapá
Model presented for a sustainable value chain seeks development in the shortest time and with the minimum investment

An experience of many years in a given region can bring innumerable lessons, but if the experience is not studied and, above all, structured, it will hardly be able to be used and replicated in other territories.

The inhabitants of the Bailique archipelago, a district of the municipality of Macapá, at the mouth of the Amazon river, approximately 185 km from the capital of the state of Amapá, live predominantly for fishing and subsistence agriculture. Most people who live in the region belong to rural communities and depend on river transport to move between the islands and the mainland. Access to the archipelago is only via the Amazon River, with an average duration of 12 hours by boat. 

Electricity is generated through diesel generators, and access to potable water is limited, often obtained through artesian wells. Schools are generally small and poorly resourced, and the provision of health services is very limited. Local communities have struggled to obtain basic government services such as regular transportation, quality education and adequate medical care.

It was in this insulated territory that a cooperative emerged in 2017 that would forever change the lives of residents of that region and the fruit of this cooperation had a well-known name.

Acai, a case study

Since the end of the 90's, açaí began to expand and gain acceptance in the national and international market with the increase in consumption of its pulp. Nowadays, it is considered one of the fruits with the greatest socioeconomic prominence in the Amazon and has become the product with the greatest potential for income distribution for the local population.

Brazil is a major producer of açaí and the main exporter of its frozen pulp, while the United States is the main import market for the fruit. And this açaí export market tends to grow around 10% per year until 2026, mainly driven by the growing demand from the juice industry for so-called “superfoods”.

The issue is that the açaí extracted in Bailique can take 15 hours by boat to reach the agroindustry in Macapá, and another four days to reach the consumer centers, and the fruit needs to be refrigerated from the moment it leaves the tree until it reaches the mouth of the consumer. How to overcome this huge logistical challenge, maintaining the quality and competitiveness of the product, is one of the biggest challenges found in the case study of this particular value chain. The cooperative, which was named amazonbai, referring to the Bailique district, was born out of the desire of the community to professionalize and promote fairer incomes from the extraction of açaí, the experience and knowledge acquired over the years was essential to support the studies and growth programs developed by consultants and partners. Later, the cooperative also expanded to the territory of Beira Amazonas, which covers the 26 communities from the northern channel of the Amazon River to the Bailique Archipelago, but the challenge is the same.

"You don't reach the territory by proposing good practices without understanding what the community does. Good practices are built from the connection with traditional knowledge."
Mariana Chaubet

From community protocol to agroindustry

Implementing value chains based on sustainable extractivism depends on simultaneous intervention in all its links, from the community protocol to the arrival of the product on the market.

In the case of the Bailique açaí chain, the story began in 2013, with the installation of a community protocol that engaged community members about their rights as traditional communities and motivated them to defend their territories. During the two years of its construction, several public managers and partners visited the Bailique to collaborate in the articulation between community members and public policies and the result was the creation of the first community protocol in Brazil with this methodology. It turned out to be an important tool for structuring a local development model that took into account community demands, strengthened and engaged producers to confront predatory extractivism so common in the Amazon.

The creation of the cooperative, in 2017, was a consequence of this protocol, with the community choosing açaí as the main productive chain to be developed in its territory, which stimulated a sustainable socio-economy that values the work of extractivists and forest conservation through socio-environmental guarantees obtained with the certifications. The following year, already aware of the need to invest in education, the community created the first Agroextractive Family School in Bailique (EFAB).

In 2019, the business expanded with the creation of the Beira Amazonas community protocol and the adhesion of 43 new cooperative members to Amazonbai. At the same time, the Interelos Institute began studies for the development of the implementation of the basic infrastructure of the agroindustry, which was inaugurated at the end of 2021, giving more autonomy to the cooperative members.

"Systematizing means joining lessons learned and challenges overcome and proposing improvements to optimize the process, making the construction of the chain more structured."
Mariana Chaubet

The step by step to structure a productive chain

The idea of systematizing the entire process of creating the açaí chain aims to contribute to strengthening and facilitating the implementation of future initiatives of a similar nature and emerged in 2021. The mission is ambitious and requires highly complex achievements, such as creating consensus, organizing production bases , articulate territories, act environmentally correctly, add value to a community-based product, open markets for a new product, gain production scale and, above all, generate self-sufficiency within a solidarity economy action. In order for the açaí chain in the region of the mouth of the Amazon River to continue growing, the Interelos Institute carried out, together with partners in the region, a study with replicability power for other production chains entitled “Sustainable Value Chains: Inclusion and Community Autonomy in the Açaí Amazônico” and carried out by consultants Eduardo Nicácio and Mariana Chaubet, with general coordination of Aerton Paiva and financing of JBS Fund for the Amazon.

The document presents the assumptions, fundamentals and step-by-step process for structuring a sustainable production chain in traditional communities in regions with an economy based on extractivism. The study was based on two challenges common to the development processes of a sustainable value chain in the Amazon: how to structure a productive chain in the shortest time and with the minimum investment, based on the assumption that it is essential to encourage low-income economic activities environmental impact and intensify sustainable production practices combined with the preservation of the environment. But none of this can, in fact, happen without one of the most important pillars for the development of territories: education. 

"With sustainable practices, the community's relationship with the territory becomes not one of exploration, but of cooperation, reciprocal care and learning."
Eduardo Nicácio

Education is the soul of the business

Conceived from a broad approach, which educates in all its aspects, with tools that contribute to the integral learning process, encouraging people to become protagonists in the transformation of their own reality and, especially, in the action of socioeconomic development in course, education is a fundamental pillar of this transformation. 

On the other hand, for these value chains to become not only sustainable, but also profitable and permanent, it is necessary to invest in the principles of cooperation and community leadership, socio-environmental responsibility and improvement of the quality of life of the communities involved. This leads us to a second question: value chains take time to mature, as well as the strengthening of the social fabric and the transformation of producers into protagonists, and therefore need continuous investments until they become self-sufficient.

The study proves, finally, the importance of acting simultaneously in all the links of the production chain, from its beginning, with the community protocol, until its final point, when the product reaches the market, always prioritizing a project of development based on the education of its members and that can be replicated in other territories. Developing a region takes work and time, but it's perfectly possible.

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