Friday, May 22, 2009

Açaí- a positive force in the Amazon

In 2000 we first experienced Açaí and observed that it had become a huge success within Brazil and was destined for international fame. We also recognizing that this non-timber forest product (NTFP) had the potential to become a sustainable force in the Amazon Rainforest rather than an exploitive industry as countless others had before it (sugarcane, soy). As social entrepreneurs, we set out on a mission to prove the case for sustainable development in the Amazon and founded Sambazon - “Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon”. We developed a Fair Trade “market driven conservation” business model around bringing açaí to the worldwide marketplace that would ensure positive environmental and social development in the açaí harvest regions – thus linking each dollar of sales with economic and environmental gain on the ground, fighting poverty and protecting biodiversity and social justice. We knew that with sound business practices and a lot of hard work, Açaí could be an overwhelmingly positive impact for the local communities and the environment.

Today all of the hundreds of independent family farmers and cooperatives we work with are USDA Organic certified and have been assisted and/or trained in wild crop harvesting to ensure a sustainable source of the fruit. We remain the first and only source of Açaí to be certified Ecocert Fair Trade, providing sustainable employment for over 3,000 people and fostering environmental stewardship on over 1.7 million acres of biodiverse agro-forestry farms in Amapá and Pará States. Both the IEPA (Institute for Environmental Research of Amapá State) and the IBAMA (Brazil's equivalent of the EPA) have officially confirmed that Sambazon’s açaí extraction does not harm the environment.

Sambazon’s efforts in developing industry standards over the years have been felt on a large scale, working directly with the Brazilian authorities on Food Safety and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). This influence has caused significant positive change throughout the entire Açaí supply chain, from the tree to the processing plants to the community at large.

In 2003, as part of our commitment to our mission, Sambazon founded the Sustainable Amazon Partnership (SAP), a public and private collaboration with the Brazil Foundation and the Peabiru Institute to ensure the lasting sustainable management of the Açaí regions and communities in the Amazon. From inception, this organization has been supported by the Nature’s Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, and through collaboration from its partners, the SAP has been able to add value to the social, environmental, and economic issues for thousands of families and acreage. This has included Açaí training programs, technical assistance, establishment of baseline bio-social indicators for future statistical evaluation, sustainability programs and alternative income generating activities for thousands of woman, youth and small family farmers.

But it’s not just us saying this: Greenpeace, claimed that Açaí may be one of the best ways to "save the rainforest". The Royal Tropical Institute, stated that "Sambazon's work with açaí is aimed to contribute to sustainability in the Amazon Rainforest and alleviate poverty". We also received the 2006 “US Secretary of State Award for Corporate Excellence" from Condoleezza Rice along with the Ashoka Organization’s 2006 Changemakers Innovation Awards: "Market Based Strategies to Benefit Low Income Communities".

We are proud to have built a state of the art Açaí plant in the State of Amapá, which has become the global reference for excellence in Açaí processing. Run by Brazilians, our plant has developed leading edge manufacturing technologies and new açaí products and remains an environmental and industrial relations landmark in the Açaí industry.

Recently, an article was published in the press which irresponsibly suggested that a “Superfood on Oprah (Açaí) was robbing the Amazon poor of their staple”. To the contrary, Açaí has been the source of significant economic gain for the Amazon’s poor family farmers and fortunately when harvested in a way which is consistent with Sambazon’s benchmark industry practices, protects the bio-diversity of the world’s most important source of flora, fauna and scientific potential. It is true that the local price of Açaí has risen over the last 20 years as one might expect when it is “discovered”. But it is also true that 98% of this fruit has been purchased and consumed in Brazil. Further, the increased prices have resulted in a better standard of living and financial freedom to thousands of family farms, not to some multinational. Supporting family farmers while protecting the world’s most important rainforest is what Sambazon’s mission has been all along.

Yesterday, Fox News gave us the opportunity to go on national television and tell the plain facts. I encourage you to check out the segment here and help us spread the word so we can continue to make positive change in the Amazon Rainforest and beyond.


Ryan Black
Founder and CEO


bHealthier said...

I am really curious why ground flaxseeds and an apple with cinnamon , which provides 7,000 ORAC units and all of the sufficient amounts of Omega-3's would not offer the same benefits as Acai?

I am a food blogger and a graduate student in Nutrition. I am really curious about what makes your product worthwhile.

Please let me know! I recently posted about Acai after researching for a class presentation

sambazon said...

Good question! You know, views on nutrition are so often myopic. With all the talk about antioxidants and specific fatty acids, one might logically think that our food can simply be judged via a nutrition table or ORAC results. If we look at the trends of perceptions on nutrition over the last few decades we see: Margarine was part of a strategy towards avoiding unhealthy saturated fats. Then we realized hydrogenated fats might not healthy at all. In the 80s is was all about complex carbohydrates. Then with the Atkins craze, cabs were to be avoided and a high protein diet looked to be the answer and that saturated fats weren’t necessarily bad. Now we’re learning a bit more about the subtleties of phytonutrients and getting really excited about the implications of antioxidants as they pertain to anti-aging and people are enthusiastically loading up on ‘healthy saturated fats’.

Apples and cinnamon are fantastic foods which support our health in many ways which we understand clearly and likely in many ways that we have yet to become aware of. Acai is more like an olive than most fruits we’re familiar with in N. America. 50% of acai’s macronutrition comes from fats. If you break down its fatty acid profile, you’ll find that it contains negligible levels of Omega 3 (a very different fatty acid profile from that of flax which is comprised of the polyunsaturated, essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6). Acai’s fatty acid profile is very similar to that of olive oil with the monounsaturated, Oleic acid (an Omega 9) comprising over 60% of its total fatty acids. The positive effects of olive oil on human blood cholesterol levels is well documented. As you’ve learned in your studies, polyunsaturated fatty acids such as the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6 are ‘essential’ in the sense that our bodies can not synthesize them on their own. This being said polyunsaturated fats can lower both good and bad cholesterol. And so, we should consume these types of fats in moderation and seek sources of monounsatured fats like olive oil and acai for the bulk of our fatty acid intake.

In the west we have an incredibly high incidences of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The causes of each is likely to be closely related to a prevalence of refined foods in our diet i.e., a deficiency in colorful plant pigments (read: phytonutrients with antioxidative properties), an abundance of refined carbohydrates (simple sugars) & unhealthy fats (oxidized, hydrogenated or containing traces of toxic solvents used to liberate oils from foods we wouldn’t normally eat – read: cotton seed oil, canola, corn, etc. - cheap byproducts from industrial commodities). I see acai as the antidote to the pitfalls of the western diet.

Hope this helps!

sambazon said...

bHealthier, thanks for your questions and comment! Feel free to contact us at should you have any further questions!