holiday snack under attack

What would the holidays be like without those almost-impossible-to-crack dark-brown Brazil nuts on the table? We might find out if the Brazil nut industry doesn’t change its ways, says a study in the Dec. 19 Science. Brazil nut trees are among the oldest and largest in the Amazon forest — they can live 500 years or more and grow 160 feet tall — and their grapefruit-sized fruits hold 10 to 25 nuts each, which are collected when the fruit drops to the ground. The nuts are the only internationally traded crop collected entirely from natural forests. In the Brazilian Amazon alone, 45,000 tons of nuts are collected annually, with sales of more than 33 million US dollars, according to the study. Now Carlos Peres of the University of East Anglia and an international group of scientists warn that “current Brazil nut harvesting practices at many Amazonian forest sites are not sustainable in the long term.” After examining Brazil nut tree groves in 23 sites in the Bolivian, Peruvian, and Brazilian Amazon, the researchers found that new trees are not adequately replacing aging trees where nuts are intensively collected. Young trees “were most common in unharvested and lightly harvested stands” and “virtually absent where seeds had been persistently collected,” they wrote. Due to the longevity of the trees, there will be no shortage of nuts in the near future, but the researchers recommend steps to avoid the collapse of the industry, including planting more seeds and limiting and rotating harvests so the stands may have a chance to regenerate.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 12/30/2003.
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