Half of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests are located in the Amazon Basin. Of these, the Brazilian part, which occupies almost three quarters of the Amazon rainforest, forms the largest contiguous forest area in the world. The rainforest plays an important role in the global ecological balance, for example because of its size and the correspondingly large storage capacities for carbon dioxide or as a reserve of genetic diversity for flora and fauna. At the same time, forests also play an important regional role. For generations, it has been home to many indigenous peoples and serves as a natural source of food and income. A traditional, sustainable use of the natural wealth of the rainforest is the collection of wild Brazil nuts.
The Brazil nut is the fruit of the Castanheira tree (Bertholletia Excelsa), which has been on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List of Endangered Species since 1998. The biggest threat to the trees is the deforestation of tropical rainforests. Large-scale deforestation reduces genetic diversity and destroys the unique habitat of the trees. Almost all Brazil nuts consumed worldwide come from wild collections. Scientific attempts to cultivate the plant have so far failed. The Brazil nut tree only thrives in the Amazon rainforest in complex interaction with other organisms.
The traditional Brazil nut collectors, the Castanheiros, have also come under pressure as a result of the penetration of timber companies, cattle breeders and soy plantations into the rainforest. The hope of maintaining their lifestyle and not being displaced is the official recognition of their territories as a nature reserve for extractivism. The IUCN considers sustainable use in conservation areas to be the most sensible way to protect the plant.
Friedrich Hecker laid the foundation stone for the entrepreneurially successful and socially committed family business Hylea1884 in Riberalta and Fortaleza in northeastern Bolivia: in the late 19th century he established the trade in natural rubber (Hevea brasiliensis). The Hecker family also pioneered Bolivian Brazil nut production and is today one of the six largest exporters of Brazil nuts in the world.
Since the foundation of the town of Riberalta in 1884, the Hecker family has taken care of the concerns of the local population. As early as 1932, they founded the first rural schools, built a health station and are an important employer for the local rural population.
In an area of around 220,000 hectares, most of which is covered with rainforest, 15 indigenous communities live with whom Hylea works in partnership: More than 1,000 collectors are busy during harvest time collecting the capsule fruits containing the nuts and delivering them to Hylea collection stations. In this way Hylea ensures a solid income for the collectors and their families.